Friday, March 12, 2010
The race to become the next governor of California will be the highlight of the statewide ballot. What are the key issues that will effect the governor's race? And, what are the key political differences between the Republican candidates, Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Okay, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to stick with the elections but we’re going to now turn to the State of California primary races. And now that Jerry Brown has declared for the Democratic nomination for governor and with no other major names submitted in that race, the focus is on the Republican candidates. Former eBay chair Meg Whitman is a billionaire. State insurance commissioner Steve Poizner is super rich. John, how will all this wealth affect the race for governor?
JOHN WARREN (Editor/Publisher, San Diego Voice & Viewpoint): Well, outside of those of us at the table, it will make the media very wealthy.
BARBARA BRY (Assistant Publisher/Opinions Editor, SDNN.com): We thank you. We thank you, Meg and Steve, right?
WARREN: That’s the first thing that’s going to happen because Meg’s got the money and she’s spending it and she’s doing brand name development just like she did on eBay but this is not a eBay product and I think it can backfire on her. Jerry Brown has the baggage of 28 years and people not knowing who the real Jerry Brown is depending on what you call – what time in his past career you’ve called upon him. And poor Steve is now trying to decide, you know, which way should he go. I mean, the whole idea is a part – on Steve’s part, the idea is one of trying to capitalize on the Republican backlash against the Obama administration. On Meg’s part, it’s an effort to create a position for herself based out of wealth and smart business skills. And Jerry Brown, unfortunately, he represents the only hope of the Democratic Party at this time because there’s nobody else running. And so, you know, it’s going to be a race with a great deal of money spent in it but I don’t know how representative the candidates will ever become of the issues that the people of California are bothered by at this point.
PENNER: Barbara, it’s true that Meg Whitman apparently is trying to seek the middle ground to appeal to California voters who generally are in the middle but Steve Poizner has moved to the right. He’s saying I am a conservative. This is kind of new. And he’s even said now he doesn’t approve of federal funding for abortions.
BRY: And he’s saying he’s pro-choice at the same time.
PENNER: Yes, he is, yeah. Well, you know, people play with that word.
PENNER: But the point is, what’s going on? Why is he moving…
BRY: Well, Steve is looking, first that he has to win a Republican primary and conservatives are – you know, turn out in a Republican primary so he’s thinking first I have to win this primary in June and then I can worry about the general election. If I don’t win in June, there is no November for me. And I think that’s what he’s trying to do.
PENNER: All right, but if conservatives, although they tend to dominate the primary, if Poizner wins the primary—I’m going to ask you this, Scott, it’s a real political question—by appealing to those conservatives, how will he appeal to the moderates that prevail in the general?
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): Well, I think that’s a great question. I mean, in you – in the ads and in the presentations he’s making, he’s scapegoating or however you want to call it very, you know, passionately attacking illegal aliens and what he would call undocumented immigrant – or what he would call illegal aliens, what some would call undocumented immigrants or whatever you want to call it. But the situation is that plays well for a Republican primary but it was jarring to some of us who remember him as a fiscal conservative with, you know, charter school goals and that kind of thing, reform goals, and I think that, you know, did it jar us enough? Did it jar people like that enough that they – that now when he runs against—if he does run against—Jerry Brown, that they’ll be able to still embrace him or does he completely alienate himself from a constituency in California that doesn’t necessarily see the major problem being immigration? So I think that he’s got – he’s dealing with fire but maybe the fire can scold (sic) somebody else, so – scald.
PENNER: But it’s an interesting climate that they’re all running in. The polls indicate that Californians are distressed with their governor, they’re distressed with their legislature, they believe the state is on the wrong track. They believe the nation is on the wrong track. Which of the candidates will benefit from that kind of an attitude that seems to be prevalent throughout the state, John?
WARREN: I hate to depress you but in the final analysis, what’s being said about how people feel and the outcome of the election are going to be two entirely different things. We saw two years ago with all the budget crises we had in the state and the stalemate that people still got reelected and it was as if there was no election year taking place. It comes down to the amount of money that’s going to be put into the campaigns and the endorsements and the groups that are going to rally. The citizens of the state will express some concern going into the primary. I believe that the primary results will be that Meg Whitman will come out of the primary as a winner and that then the state, the conservative, Republican, whatever you want to call the interests on the other side of Jerry Brown, will have to rally behind her and the Democrats will have to rally behind him. And it will be a done deal to the extent that people will be frustrated by it even though millions of dollars are being spent under the guise of addressing whether or not, for instance, we’re a failed state.
PENNER: California’s a blue state. I mean, if you have Whitman versus Brown and there are more Democrats in California than there are Republicans and if they vote party or endorsements, I mean, is there any question…
LEWIS: It’s also…
PENNER: Go ahead.
LEWIS: It’s also a broken state and I think that there are a lot of people who want to see a solution, want to see some kind of track. And he’s saying—he has a great line—he says, I’m an insider with an outsider’s mind, and how does that sell? Do people buy that? I don’t know. Does he – who has the vision for being able to take this into a different direction? Because right now it’s falling apart.
PENNER: Rotarians? You know you’re going to have to vote come, if not June, in November. I’d like to get your opinions on what’s going on in the governor’s race and whether you’ve already made up your mind. I’d like to hear about that. The idea now is that Republicans are generally hoping to make great strides in this election because they want to capitalize on Obama’s slipping popularity and you can see the maneuvering going on. For example, let’s take Susan Davis. Susan Davis, who is the representative for the 53rd Congressional District, she doesn’t have a challenger in the Democratic primary at all but there are six Republicans competing for a chance to run against her. How do you interpret this surge of Republicans for that particular district, Barbara?
BRY: Well, I mean, there’s only two Dem – there are two Democratic districts in San Diego County, there’s Bob Filner’s district and Susan’s. And so, I mean, those are the only places you’re going to see challengers. You know, I’ve talked with Susan. She is taking her reelection very seriously. She is not taking anything for granted. She is out there fundraising. She is spending a lot of time in her district. I think she will be hard to beat in November no matter which Republican gets the nomination.
PENNER: Well, that district has gone back and forth.
BRY: Yes, well, the district…
PENNER: I mean, Brian Bilbray…
PENNER: …represented that district and he is not a Democrat.
BRY: Yeah, but the district is – sort of looks – is a little different than when Susan defeated Brian Bilbray. It’s – the lines are a little bit more different.
PENNER: The lines are different, a few more Democrats.
PENNER: Yeah, so do you think that Democratic incumbents generally, in congressional races in California and especially in San Diego, any of them are vulnerable? Or perhaps our U.S. Senator, Barbara Boxer?
LEWIS: Oh, sure, I don’t think they would be fighting that hard to run against her if she wasn’t. Now I – Getting rid of an incumbent is very difficult, as we all know, but there’s a reason that there’s an attempt to do it and there’s money being spent. And whether call it – Carly Fiorina can pull it off, I don’t know but I don’t think you should be relaxed in any case if you’re an incumbent in any – in any situation right now, whether it’s the county supervisor or school board or city council. Now, it depends on, again, the racking up just enough of the money, of the resources, to compete, not necessarily more.
PENNER: That’s – It’s interesting that he said Carly Fiorina. Have you dismissed the other two Republican candidates in that race? Tom Campbell, former congressman, former law professor, somebody with economic credentials, or Charles DeVore, Assemblyman, conservative?
LEWIS: I’m not authoritative enough to dismiss anyone, that’s for sure.
BRY: Yeah, yeah.
PENNER: Okay, John.
WARREN: Well, I think Scott is wise to put Carly at the forefront. She brings the same kind of background and experience as a businesswoman that Meg brings to her run for the governorship. But I think what’s happening here is we’re seeing a takeoff from the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts. You can call it the Tea Party or whatever labels they want to put on it out there. We have a situation in America where there’s a party that is no longer in power and that party outside of power has taken the position it will oppose whatever is done by the party in power and in doing so, it will hope to dis-sway enough people to pick up momentum and now we see that from the Brown victory in Massachusetts, more Republicans are running for office, many in places they would not have run before because they thing there’s a mood change in America that opens that door. And we are seeing the residual of that here with these local races where people are getting in who normally would not run.
BRY: Gloria, well, Californians like celebrities. They elected Ronald Reagan. We elected Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m not sure we like to elect wealthy CEOs or people with inheri – I’m thinking back to the Michael Huffington Senate race when Barbara Boxer defeated him in what was then I think the most expensive election in California’s history. So I think you can’t buy an election in California, you, you know – Jerry Brown will have enough money to be competitive against whether it’s Meg Whitman or Steve Poizner and it will, I think, will be very close in the end.
PENNER: Before we wrap up the whole idea of elections and state elections, there’s going to be something on the ballot that’s kind of interesting. It’s called – well, it’s called many things but what it would do, it will turn up as Proposition 14. It will allow voters to choose any candidate regardless of the candidate’s or the voter’s political party in primary elections for congress, statewide elections and legislative races. And then the top two candidates will go to the general, so you can end up with two Republicans, two Democrats, all going to the general. When we come back, I would like to have your thoughts, we’ll go around the table just once on this, on whether you think that this is a good idea, whether we should change our primary approach or whether you think that it’s not good and you hope it’ll be defeated. This is the Editors Roundtable. We’ll be back in a moment. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner. I’m here at Rotary Club 33 with John Warren from San Diego Voice & Viewpoint, and from SDNN.com we have Barbara Bry, Voiceofsandiego.org, Scott Lewis. And just before the break, I asked the editors would they please reflect on the top two primary change that will be on the ballot in June where the top two vote-getters will go on to the general, regardless of party affiliation. And let’s go quickly around and see what you think about this. Scott.
LEWIS: Well, I like it. I like moderating influences on politics. I think that these primaries can get ugly sometimes and that you can pander to the people that you don’t necessarily really support or want to be a part of. On the other hand, they need to have their voice so there are consequences. It’s like the strong mayor thing, there’s great arguments on both sides.
PENNER: And Barbara?
BRY: I like it. I like it. Like if I live in a Republican district, I like that in November I’ll get to choose from the top two Republicans and vice versa if I live in a Democratic district. I think it’s a great thing.
PENNER: But the parties that feel they will lose an opportunity to be on the general election ballot, the Libertarian Party…
PENNER: …the AIP Party…
PENNER: …they’re having some objections to this.
BRY: Yes, I understand but they weren’t going to win anyway probably so…
WARREN: No, it would make sense that they would have objections because their whole political existence has been built around being an alternative party, quote, unquote. And so – But I believe that the proposition represents a whole change in terms of the American attitude toward the political process where we are more interested in people being able to participate than protecting labels and archaic entities that go with those labels.
PENNER: Okay. So let’s turn to our audience and get some of their comments and questions. Your name, sir?
JOE DA ROSA (Balboa Travel): Some – when they first were making sounds of interest, it was widely reported that both Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman had some pretty bad voting records. We haven’t heard much about that since then. Obviously, they’re not bringing it up. And I’m wondering what the editors – how the editors think this will play in the election?
PENNER: Thank you. John.
WARREN: Well, it’s been suggested that Meg didn’t take an interest in voting at all until she decided to run for office. But I think that she has enough money with a campaign that, as they do the spins and the damage control, people are going to be more interested in how they’re handling the issues that are shaped in the campaign than their voting records. The opponents will stick to the voting records but the public will want to know what do they represent in terms of the changes they’re looking for.
PENNER: Okay, thank you. Do we have another question here? Yes.
ROY BELL (Businessman): Thank you. My name is Roy Bell. I’m in the carbon and minerals business. I’m a recovering trial lawyer. I had a meeting the other day with a number of young people in my company in their twenties and thirties. And I rhetorically asked them how do you think Moonbeam will be able to recover from some of his past antics, and I got a total blank look from these people. They had no idea who Governor Moonbeam was. And as the discussion went on, it was clear to me that they were either not born or they were very young. And I think there’s a huge part of our state population who’ll be voting who did not know and were never exposed to Governor Brown—then Brown’s—antics. And I’m wondering if your panelists have a view as to whether or not he can, in fact, reinvent himself?
PENNER: Let’s find out. Barbara.
BRY: Well, I covered Jerry Brown in the 1970s at the Sacramento Bee. I feel like my life has gone back to the future. Jerry is older than me, by the way. Jerry Brown is a master at reinvention and I think, Roy, what you found out from the young people who work in your company is very true and he is already starting to reinvent himself again. He is one of the smartest politicians I’ve ever, ever met, and he is going to run a very smart campaign. And you can believe me, if his opponent is Meg Whitman, he will be talking a lot about her lack of voting.
PENNER: Okay, one more question on this, please.
PAUL (Photographer): I’m Paul, I’m a photographer.
PENNER: Yeah, go…
PAUL: I’ve got a quick question. We’re reading lately how the Assessor/Tax Collector’s office is kind of a mess. Why are – why is that elected office? Wouldn’t that be better as an appointed office like we do for a city manager where we do a search?
PENNER: Okay, Scott, can you answer that?
LEWIS: Yeah, I think that professional positions should be appointed.
LEWIS: That’s just my opinion. But there are inherent problems with that as well with machines that get built and – in politics and such, so…
PENNER: All right. Thank you very much. Time to switch topics.