Saturday, October 10, 2009

Midterm Review

Since I was young, October has conjured up memories of Halloween, the World Series, and the respective births of my dear sister and mother (whose October 9th and 11th birthdays, I have just learned, sandwich Gavin Newsom’s 42nd birthday on October 10th).

Alas, now enduring my second-year foray in the wildly exciting world of the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, mid-October means one thing to me: midterms loom large. Since there have been many new developments in California state politics over the past week, I would be remiss not to cover these items in this blog. In the spirit of reviewing the work of this fall semester, this post will be dedicated to re-examining the topics of previous postings and providing new updates on issues past.

Endorsements: After weeks of build-up and speculation, on October 5, former President Clinton joined Gavin Newsom in Los Angeles at a series of highly anticipated campaign events. Clinton began his Los Angeles tour at an appearance at a closed-to-the-press, Newsom-for-governor fundraiser at the Biltmore Hotel. The pair then toured the LEED-certified Science and Technology Building at Los Angeles City College, and then spoke to a few dozen students, faculty and trustees in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. At the press event, Clinton spoke about the green economy, health care policy and the number of foreclosures in California – but his remarks said little about the Mayor’s bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, and reflected more about his own support for energy efficiency than his support for the gubernatorial candidate. The closest he came was when he said Newsom doesn’t “just talk it, he walks the walk” on energy and environmental issues.

Although there were more than a dozen reporters on hand, neither Clinton nor Newsom took questions after the hour-long event. According to one report, the mood was surprisingly sedated. There was little reaction from the audience, except for brief applause when Newsom mentioned San Francisco’s universal health care plan.

Newsom advisors hope that Clinton's high standing among Democrats will play well with primary voters who are more familiar with Brown, a former Governor and Oakland Mayor who is now the State Attorney General. It is, after all, highly unusual for a former President to throw his weight behind a primary candidate in a gubernatorial race. Dan Schnur, Director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, noted to City News Service that with the possible exception of President Barack Obama, "there's no more valuable endorsement in Democratic politics than Bill Clinton." However, given the low amounts of energy and excitement seen at the LA campaign stops, many begin to question Clinton’s real impact.

Many speculate that Clinton’s endorsement of Newsom had more to do with the former President seeking revenge on Jerry Brown, his rival in the 1992 Presidential elections. In an attempt to rebuff the critics, both Clinton and Newsom showed restraint toward their mutual adversary at the LA events. However, little subtleties – such as the fact that neither Clinton nor Newsom took questions at the end of the events – showed that both may be unprepared to address such criticism.

Initiative Reform - In a speech prepared for his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, California Chief Justice Ronald M. George scathingly criticized the State’s reliance on the referendum process, arguing that it has “rendered our state government dysfunctional.”

In a rare public censure of state government and policies delivered by a sitting judge, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court used the occasion of his induction to criticize the initiative process and call for reform. George, a moderate Republican, has been critical of the initiative process in the past, but his remarks to the national group indicated a sense of urgency as well as the state’s willingness to begin real conversations about reform.

George’s speech represented an outcry by the State’s judicial branch trying only to perform their obligations to the legal system. He said the court’s hands were tied by precedent and California laws that gave voters wide freedom to amend the state constitution. At the time, opponents of same-sex marriage were threatening to oust justices at the ballot if they voted to overturn Proposition 8.

George noted that in November, voters passed initiatives to regulate the confinement of fowl in coops and passed Proposition 8, which overturned part of a California Supreme Court ruling that gave gays and lesbians the right to marry. “Chickens gained valuable rights in California on the same day that gay men and lesbians lost them,” George said.

According to George, much of the California Constitution and many state laws “have been brought about not by legislative fact-gathering and deliberation, but rather by the approval of voter initiative measures, often funded by special interests,” George observed. The Chief Justice did not suggest a specific measure to be taken in coming months as legislators and other stakeholders decide the fate of a state Constitutional Convention. George speculated, “At a minimum, in order to avoid such a loss, Californians may need to consider some fundamental reform of the voter initiative process.”

Boxer’s prospects: According to a new Field Poll, Barbara Boxer remains comfortably ahead of Republican rivals Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore. According to the poll released today on voter preferences in the 2010 Senate race, Boxer leads Fiorina, who still has yet to declare her candidacy, 49 to 35 percent. Boxer is also well preferred to the other serious Republican contender, state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine. Boxer leads DeVore 50 to 33 percent. Among Republican primary voters, Fiorina was preferred by 21 percent (down from 31 percent in a March Field Poll), to DeVore's 20 percent. Fifty-nine percent of GOP voters were undecided.

Boxer’s current lead could be the result of many factors. First, both Fiorina and DeVore have yet to brand themselves with broad statewide name recognition. Once the two become better known, their numbers should improve. Secondly, Fiorina has not enjoyed a high level of positive public perception. The netroots have begun making fun of Fiorina’s campaign website's simplicity, by releasing this video titled, "Worst Political Website Ever." The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also recently released a web video targeting Fiorina's record. Since Fiorina is currently undergoing a medical procedure, she has been making fewer appearances than earlier in the year when she made campaign stops with John McCain.

However, Boxer was viewed unfavorably by 70 percent of the Republicans in the survey of 1,005 registered voters between Sept. 18 and Oct. 6, showing that the three-term Senator does not have an easy path to re-election. The support of barely half the voters "is not great" for an incumbent, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Known for her outspoken nature on liberal issues as well as her electoral resiliency, Boxer has never enjoyed the type of electoral cushion common to other incumbents. Boxer’s future numbers will be largely impacted by her ability to pass her climate change legislation through committee, and also the formal announcements of her Republican rivals. "Should Carly decide to run, you'll see these numbers change dramatically," said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for Fiorina.

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