Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | October 13, 2009

Who will Californians deserve?

California’s gubernatorial primary is nearly nine months away, but it’s not too early to study the candidates seeking to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has as least brought most Californians together on one score: most of us agree that he’s been a big disappointment. The Los Angeles Times reported in July on a Public Policy Institute poll showing that “only 28% of respondents were happy with Schwarzenegger’s performance, the worst rating of his tenure and the lowest since Gray Davis stood at 26% two months before voters recalled him from office in 2003.”

Much like the nation yearned for the polar opposite of George W. Bush in last year’s presidential election, I suspect that Californians yearn for the polar opposite of Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor.

Left, right or middle, I think Californians are tired of gubernatorial grandstanding, like Schwarzenegger’s recent threat to veto bills based not on whether the bills are good for Californians but based on whether the legislature approved his plans for overhauling California’s water system by an arbitrary deadline.

The tactic reminds me of a two-year-old’s grocery store tantrum when mommy won’t buy the frosted choco-sugar-bombs cereal. Smart parents know that giving into tantrums encourages more tantrums. Let’s hope that legislators don’t enable Schwarzenegger’s boorish ultimatum.

Three Republicans and two Democrats hope to replace Schwarzenegger next year. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, former state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, and former Congressman Tom Campbell are vying for the GOP nomination. Former Governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom are seeking the Democratic Party’s nod.

Which one is the anti-Schwarzenegger? Not Meg Whitman, who reminds me of Schwarzenegger in multiple ways. Like Schwarzenegger, she made her name and considerable fortune in a nonpolitical arena; like Schwarzenegger, she decided to run for California governor as a Republican in her 50s.

Also like Schwarzenegger, she posted a spotty — and that’s putting it politely — voting record before deciding to seek elected office. This irks me to no end.

The same year that Schwarzenegger first ran for governor, 2003, Mary Hohenbrink ran for mayor of Gilroy, and it came to light that her voting record was also less than stellar. Here’s what I wrote at the time: “If you can’t be bothered to vote when your name’s not on the ballot, you’ve got a hard sell to convince me that I should be bothered to vote for you when it is.” It applies to Whitman, too.

I take this evidence of hypocrisy and neglect of the most basic duty of citizenship so seriously that a spotty voting record almost completely disqualifies any candidate from securing my vote.

However, the GOP has a candidate who has shown himself to be an anti-Schwarzenegger: Tom Campbell. I’m a registered Democrat, so I won’t vote in the GOP’s primary in June, but if Republicans nominate Campbell, they’ll have a real shot at getting my vote in the general election in November. I suspect that lots of other socially liberal, fiscally conservative Democrats will feel the same way.
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However, getting the Republican nomination is not an easy task for a moderate; moderate Republicans tend to sit out the primaries, and thus the GOP often fields far-right extremist candidates who cannot win a California general election. If the GOP bucks this trend and nominates Campbell, they’ll be running a thoughtful, moderate candidate (Campbell has a record of supporting reproductive rights and equality for homosexuals) who’s a strong fiscal conservative. They’ll also be fielding a candidate with a temperament completely different than the flamboyant Schwarzenegger’s, and a candidate who has offered specific proposals for how he’ll achieve his goals, not the vague platitudes that most politicians spout.

Campbell and Whitman are in a statistical dead heat among Republican voters right now, despite her huge fundraising advantage, with Poizner running a very distant third. However, the undecided pool is nearly half of registered Republicans, so it’s anyone’s race at this point.

California’s next governor must lead what the Los Angeles Times recently called “perhaps the most ungovernable state in the nation” during turbulent economic and social times. What qualities does that leader need? What specific actions will that leader take to fulfill his or her promises?

Make sure you’re registered, study the candidates and issues, and vote in June’s primary and November’s general elections. It’s up to us to choose, and in a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

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