Left Coasting : Governor Jerry Brown, by default ?

The race to be the next Governor of California

by Rosalea Barker

At 3.10pm on Friday, 30 October, one of the journalists who contribute to the ‘Political Blotter’ blog on the Bay Area News Group’s website posted the following:

“San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has withdrawn from the governor’s race. Here is Newsom’s statement sent a few minutes ago:

It is with great regret I announce today that I am withdrawing from the race for governor of California.

With a young family and responsibilities at city hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to – and should be – done.

This is not an easy decision. But it is one made with the best intentions for my wife, my daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco, and California Democrats.”

(The full text of the press release is in the blog here.)

Six minutes later, at 3.16pm, I received an email from the man whose poll numbers and overwhelming fundraising ability had forced Newsom out of the running to be the Democratic candidate in the 2010 gubernatorial election, former Oakland mayor and current California Attorney General, Jerry Brown:

Recently I formed the “Brown for Governor 2010 Exploratory Committee”. Through this committee, I intend to raise funds for a possible campaign for governor next year.

As you may know, two very wealthy Republican candidates have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get elected. This financial takeover of the electoral process is unprecedented. For any Democrat to have a chance requires a massive grassroots outpouring. [SNIP]

P.S. I obtained your e-mail from the county registrar of voters. (I’m registered as Decline to State—that is, I’m one of those much-sought-after independent voters who aren’t registered to any political party. The PS goes on to tell me how to unsubscribe if I don’t want to be on that mailing list.)

Those two messages, sent just minutes apart, are merely a hint of the weird and wonderful world of politics in California, where someone who isn’t even in the race can become a black hole, sucking all the money and the attention away from the candidates who have officially declared themselves to be in the running. In his email, Brown made no mention of Newsom’s decision to withdraw.

On September 24 and October 8 the results of two polls were released. The first was conducted by Rasmussen, and showed that in possible November 2010 match-ups, Jerry Brown was leading all three Republican candidates by about 10 points, and Gavin Newsom was trailing them by about five. The second, more damning, Field poll showed Brown running “comfortably ahead” of Newsom by 47 percent to 27 percent in voter preferences for the Democratic nomination.

And then there was the money. By the end of June, Newsom had raised less than $2 million for his gubernatorial campaign; Jerry Brown for Attorney General had raised more than $7 million in the kitty. Newsom’s campaign pot was still hovering around $2 million when he withdrew from the race last week. Brown’s exploratory committee had raised nearly half a million in the first three weeks of

Jerry Brown’s electoral history is an interesting one. You can read it on Wikipedia, which credits Our Campaigns as its source. Son of a former Governor of California, Brown began his political life on the Los Angeles Community College Board. In 1970, he ran for CA Secretary of State and won with just over fifty percent of the vote. He received twice the votes of his nearest rival in the 1974 Democratic primary for Governor, and won that office with just over fifty percent of the vote. He’d hardly become Governor than he set out for the White House. At the 1976 Democratic National Convention, he received 300 times more votes than Ted Kennedy’s one vote, but was third behind Jimmy Carter–a long way behind.

In 1978, Brown contested the Democratic primary for CA Governor again, trouncing his rivals, and won re-election to the office with 56 percent of the vote. In 1980, he made a dismal showing as a presidential candidate. Two years later he beat Gore Vidal to become the Democratic candidate for US Senator from California, only to be beaten by Republican Pete Wilson (who went on to be California Governor from 1991-1999).

Between that 1982 Senate bid defeat and 1992, when he ran for President again and came in a very distant second to Bill Clinton, Brown didn’t eschew politics—for a time, he was the California Democratic Party chairman. It’s interesting to note that Brown has no experience whatsoever of serving in the legislative branch of either California, or the United States.

In an interview published in “Mindful Politics: A Buddhist Guide to Making the World a Better Place”, Brown says of politicians:

The people they represent can’t agree and yet they only have one representative, so that builds into the process a certain footwork on the part of the politician that leads to cynical interpretations.

The phantom candidate

In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that Jerry Brown began his 2010 footwork for Governor by running for mayor of Oakland back in 1998. During his six years as mayor (he won election again in 2001), the city’s reputation as a hotbed of violent crime was cemented—yet crime statistics show that, apart from a spike in 2001-2002, crime rates were falling. From there, he spring-boarded to the role of what he likes to call “California’s Top Cop” even though by definition it’s all about law, not order—Attorney General. That office allows him to be in control of news about public safety and corporate wrongdoing and just about anything else the polls show that voters are worried about.

In fact, his communications staff at the Office of Attorney General are SO in control that they’re out of control. In California, it is illegal to tape record conversations without all parties to the recording being aware of it. Just last week, it transpired that California Attorney General spokesman Scott Gerber has been violating state law by recording phone conversations with reporters. It’s a sad day for California citizens when the AG’s office thinks it’s above the law; and maybe an even sadder one for a candidate for Attorney General—which is the only office Jerry Brown is officially running for at this time—when he betrays the trust of the press.

Yes, it’s taken me a long time to get back to that fundraising email, but here’s the nub: Jerry Brown is not yet a candidate for Governor of California. He did not even register his exploratory committee—a legal mechanism that allows candidates to run a donation bucket down a flag pole to see who pisses in it—with the CA Secretary of State until the beginning of October. But ever since November 2008, the media has portrayed Brown as a gubernatorial candidate.

Little wonder then that the polls have included him.

Who is pissing in Jerry’s fund bucket?

Because of an ballot initiative that was passed in 1974, creating the Fair Political Practices Commission, it is relatively easy to see who is contributing how much to which candidate’s campaigns. The FPPC has created a one-stop webpage for media and the public, where you can find a spreadsheet of campaign donations that have been reported to the Secretary of State’s office. At time of writing, however, it only shows the amounts reported up until the end of June. For Brown’s exploratory committee, you have to go to the SOS website itself.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (prison guards, parole officers, etc) was quick to empty its collective bladder. Two donations were recorded on October 8, one for the campaign finance limit of $25,900 and another for $15,900. The Secretary of State’s press office has never responded to my email asking if that’s because the primary and general campaigns are considered as separate campaigns, hence the two donations. Let’s assume that’s the case, and make a guess that the smaller one was for the primary in June, and the bigger one for the November election.

Newsom’s ACTUAL campaign for Governor poor fundraising was not surprising because of the bad press he gets in conservative parts of the state on account of what are seen as his too-liberal views and actions concerning gay marriage, universal healthcare, minimum wage, and a host of other distinctly San Francisco off-the-wall ideas. More surprising, perhaps, was the lambasting that Newsom received at the hands of the media in the SF Bay Area.

One story that implied Newsom was misleading people about having a foster brother caught up in the state’s notorious prison system had to be withdrawn when it was found that California prison officials had provided the reporter with erroneous information. The fact was that his foster brother really had been incarcerated at San Quentin, and Newsom wasn’t misleading the public at all. It’s just a coincidence that one week after the error-ridden story was published, Jerry Brown launched his exploratory committee, and a week after that, the CCPOA made those donations, but that union has always strongly supported Jerry Brown in his bids for Attorney General as well.

Just as it’s a coincidence that the SF Chronicle reporter who was made aware her calls to the AG were being recorded had previously written less critically of Newsom’s campaign, and dredged up some Jerry Brown quotes that show him to be extremely vulnerable to a prolonged assault by the Republicans if he wins the Democratic primary. Things in the Democratic camp were turning very ugly, very quickly, and it’s not surprising that someone had to go, even if it was the current CA Democratic Party Chair’s protégé, Gavin Newsom.

It was an impossible task for Newsom, anyway. Even with Bill Clinton’s endorsement, he couldn’t get the CA Democratic Party endorsement because the Chair instructed all candidates not to seek it. And he couldn’t debate the issues with Brown, because—as Brown said in his letter declining the invitation—he isn’t a candidate for Governor.

Newsom has ruled out running for any other statewide office, and local reports seem to indicate he means it. Of course, there’s always the possibility that he struck a deal with the CA Democratic Party Chair that he would get the party’s endorsement for the office of lieutenant-governor on a Brown-led ticket, but the wording of his withdrawal press release would easily be used against him if he does.

And, in the red corner…

Now that Wily Coyote vs The Velveteen Rabbit is over, all eyes are on the putative Republican candidates for Governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t run again because of the two-term limit set on statewide offices in 1990—something that doesn’t apply to Jerry Brown because his two terms occurred prior to that change. If Schwarzenegger wanted, he could ask the Secretary of State to decide whether the spirit of the law means two full terms—he came in as the result of a recall election so his first term wasn’t the full four years.

The two candidates that Brown refers to in his fundraising email as having “pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get elected” are former eBay executive Meg Whitman, and current CA Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. Both are multi-millionaires whose personal wealth stems from Silicon Valley technology companies. Brown’s email sets the stage for where the Democrats’ message will go:

Meg Whitman has already said her first act as governor would be to gut California’s landmark Global Warming law. Steve Poizner said he would chop billions of dollars in revenue from a budget which is already slated to be $7.4 billion in the red come January.

Despite Poizner’s current low poll numbers, he’s in a better position than Whitman to win the primary. As head of the largest consumer protection agency in the state, regulating almost ten percent of California’s economy, he could choose – like Jerry Brown has – to drive the news cycle to suit what the pollsters tell his campaign about voters’ concerns. Whitman, on the other hand, can play the “Sacramento outsider” card. Both of them have already put considerable sums of their own wealth into their campaigns and will no doubt have enough money in their fund-buckets to blanket the airwaves when it comes to the November election.

At a recent forum on What Ails California?, Poizner’s campaign chair—former minority leader in the CA Senate Jim Brulte—said he thought that the person who should be Governor is the current State Treasurer and former Democratic leader of the CA Senate, Bill Lockyer. (Lockyer has consistently cited as his reason for not running for Governor, his young family.) Brulte was referring to the present, not the future, and his expressed preference is probably based on Schwarzenegger’s ineptitude and Lockyer’s admonishments of the legislature for not getting things done. Then again, maybe Poizner’s campaign is going after the voters who like to think the people they elect are capable of putting party differences aside to solve California’s budget problems.

The wildcard in the Republican camp is Tom Campbell. He alone among the candidates for Governor has agreed to spending limits, which may count in his favor among voters who are disgusted by the amounts of money spent on political campaigns in this state. Campbell cast some pretty interesting votes when he was in Congress, bucking the right wing of the Republican Party, and his strength is in economics. A quick read of the comments on political blogs suggest that independents and some Democrats would rather vote for him come November than Jerry Brown. However, his case is probably not helped by having been Schwarzenegger’s adviser during these years of economic meltdown.

God forbid that the budget impasses in the California legislature are not just the result of the two-thirds vote it takes to get one passed, but also the result of the state committees of the Republican and Democratic Parties using Assembly members and Senators to engineer public opinion in the matter of who will become Governor.

What the future holds

That last paragraph might seem a bit outrageous, but consider this: In exchange for his tie-breaking vote to pass the budget in June 2009, Republican Sen. Maldonado forced the legislature to vote in favor of putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot for next year’s primary election. If the proposition passes, it will do away with partisan primaries. Any voter will be able to vote for any of the candidates in all the parties in primary elections, beginning in 2011. (The exceptions are presidential primaries and those for officers of party committees.)

The November election will then become a run-off between the top two vote getters. While Maldonado touts this as a much-needed reform to the state’s electoral system because of the growing number of decline-to-state voters, it has supporters of third parties and independent candidates up in arms. In particular, they dispute the “top two” promoters’ claims that it cancels out the advantage incumbents have in heavily gerrymandered districts.

However, none of this applies to the 2010 elections. Should Jerry Brown actually enter the race and win in November, he will go down in the history books as both the youngest (age 36 in 1974) and oldest (age 72 in 2010) Governor of California. He will also have followed a Hollywood film star into that office, not just once but twice.

The official candidate list for the primary will be announced by the Secretary of State on April 1, 2010. It will be interesting to see if the November 3, 2009, races have any bearing on who jumps into the race, given that the Conservative Party candidate in New York’s 23rd Congressional District forced the Republican out of the race at the last minute.

Jerry Brown http://www.jerrybrown.org/about
Gavin Newsom www.gavinnewsom.com/home

Database of all candidates in 2010 Primary election:
Fundraising data:

Field Poll October 8
Rasmussen report September 28
Public Policy Institute of California portal

Rough and Tumble http://rtumble.com/
Around the Capitol http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/
CalBuzz http://www.calbuzz.com/
Fox and Hounds http://www.foxandhoundsdaily.com/view/fhdblog
Flash Report http://www.flashreport.org/blog.php
California Majority Report http://www.camajorityreport.com/
Calitics http://www.calitics.com/