While it is premature to declare any winners in the June 8th California primary races, one loser is already evident – the citizens of California. If the election of President Obama was the embodiment of hope, this election is the embodiment of all that is wrong with the state’s political process. Instead of “Change You Can Believe In,” we face “Continued Decline You Can Count On”.
California is the mirror image of Toyota – struggling with uncontrolled deceleration. The once prosperous Golden State that was the envy of the nation for its infrastructure and education system has the third worst unemployment rate in the country; it ranks 40th in overall infrastructure spending while its bridges and dams fall into disrepair and its education system is now compared to Mississippi. Even worse, budget cuts have taken their toll on the jewel in the crown – the state universities that have produced 57 Nobel Prizes and fueled the state’s economic growth. Not only is the UC system losing some of its luster as rankings decline, but its intellectual capital as well as top professors look elsewhere.
In years past, especially during hard times such as these, the race to replace a termed out Governor has yielded a spirited primary fight. This year, however, Jerry Brown is virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Term limits now make it difficult for a state Senator or Assemblyman to build up a record of accomplishment and/or name recognition needed to run for Governor. What is even worse is that there is little opportunity for the party’s rising stars to build name recognition through lower statewide offices since these have become pre-retirement homes for termed-out members of the old guard such as Brown.
There may have been a time when Jerry Brown was seen as a force for change – but that was 35 years ago when he first took office. The one immediate bright side of the party’s restoration of Brownosaurus Rex is that it creates a vacancy and Chris Kelly (no relation), a former Clinton aide and Facebook executive with great promise is coming on strong in the primary for the seat.
On the Republican side, Meg Whitman is adhering to the proven formula of e=mc2(election=mendacity x cash2) by spending nearly $60 million of her own fortune and peddling what George Skelton (the Los Angeles Times Sacramento correspondent) called “blatant baloney.” If anyone doubts that California voters could be fooled by such a cynical campaign, I have two words for you – “girlie man”.
Far worse are the efforts of Anthem Blue Cross, AIG, BP and Philip Morris working through the “Civil Justice Association” along with other industry PACs to use the same formula to take out the front runner in an open Assembly seat for LAX and nearby beach communities. California Assembly races already are the most expensive in the country as a winner on average must raise nearly $800,000 (more than the average for the bottom 26 states combined), yet industry groups have already spent more than half that amount in the primary alone to smear a single candidate.
The target is Betsy Butler, a Clinton administration alum who has worked tirelessly for environmental and consumer groups and whose endorsement list is the equivalent of who’s who in Southern California politics. I know Betsy and she is bright, committed and a force of nature who will get things done in Sacramento — which is exactly why she is being targeted. It is the John Connor strategy – kill the leader before she becomes one. Welcome to the post Citizens United world where money talks loudly.
If things are this ugly before the primary, imagine what the fall will be like? As bad as things are, there is still hope.
Maybe a Governor Brownosaurus, seeing how we have allowed his father’s legacy to crumble, will motivate Californians to fix our broken political system and tackle these problems. It would be fitting that the final chapter for this political chameleon, who spent much of his career struggling with his father’s legacy, would be as its savior.
Maybe this election will serve as a wake up call and spur efforts towards political reform efforts such as California Forward. The reality is, however, is that we can start that reform now by simply rejecting corporate smear campaigns and false promises and choosing principled candidates who can get things done. Until we do, you do not have to be a political Einstein to realize we will continue to be governed by e=mc2.