As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Come HOME, California

From secrecy and deception in high places; come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation; come home, America ... Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.

-George McGovern, 1972 DNC acceptance speech

I've actually been happy to see a number of California diaries on the big group sites over the past couple days. As the most populous state, it's clear we have a large number of progressives in the netroots working for change. But it's critical that we start building that progressive infrastructure internally. California is a large and unwieldy state and it's on the verge of giving the Republicans their only bright spot on Election Day. We can try to stop that now but we MUST ensure that this doesn't happen again by coming home and taking care of the Golden State.

John Kerry made his now-infamous gaffe (which is what happens, as Howard Dean said, when a politician tells the truth) not in Montana, or Pennsylvania, or Connecticut, or Indiana, or Kentucky, or Ohio, or any of the other states poised to ride the Democratic wave on November 7th. He said it at a community college in Pasadena, California, and it was actually the second time he has been here in support of Phil Angelides. California, in fact, has hosted pretty much every major candidate for the 2008 election, as well as President Clinton (who was in Stockton for Jerry McNerney and John Garamendi just yesterday), Vice President Gore, and so on. What do these politicians know? Why involve themselves in what increasingly looks to be a quixotic gubernatorial campaign?

Of course, they understand that California is a giant ATM machine. But at some level I have to think that they also understand that who runs California MATTERS. We're the 6th-largest economy in the entire world, with a population of 39 million, larger than all but 33 countries. We routinely initiate legislation that gradually makes it across the country and even into the Congress. With a robust (and, admittedly, broken) intiative process we are an idea factory for dozens and dozens of public policy ideas, good and bad, that also whip around the nation.

And we are NOT a guaranteed blue state. Not by a long shot. Until 1992 California had delivered for the Republicans in 6 straight Presidential contests. Incidentally, it was Phil Angelides, as head of the California Democratic Party, that helped bring the state into the Democratic column, in the same year electing two women Senators, unprecedented in our nation's history. We are staring in the face at a 16-point deficit in this year's gubernatorial election, where a flip-flopping actor without principles or a guiding philosophy save for protecting his corporate contributors, who's raised $113 million in special interest money while pretending to be a moderate, is blowing away the most progressive candidate we've had a chance to elect in the past 30 years. Phil Angelides has run a terrible, flailing campaign, in many ways because he had to in order to get any attention from a star-struck, lazy media who refuses to cover issues in favor of personality. This is impacting the downballot races, where outside of the Attorney General and the Treasurer are all threatening to sweep to the Republicans. With all the money in the hands of the top of the ticket and the propositions, it's literally impossible to put up an air war in a downballot race unless you have millions of your own (like Republican Insurance Commissioner candidate Steve Poizner). Coattails have historically had a major impact on those races. We're in severe danger of losing them, including races with great progressives like Secretary of State nominee Debra Bowen, the most important candidate IN THE ENTIRE NATION. Who runs the elections in the largest state in the Union MATTERS.

And yet, despite all that, were you aware that Arnold Schwarzenegger has pumped $5.5 million dollars of his own money into his campaign IN THE LAST TWO WEEKS? If the race hasn't significantly moved in the last month, which it probably hasn't, why would Schwarzenegger waste a fortune like that?

The answer is pretty simple once you understand that you're dealing with a megalomaniac to whom image is everything. Arnold doesn't just want to win, he wants to blow out the competition. I'm thinking he really wants to get over 50% to claim a broad mandate (remember there is a Libertarian running a single-issue anti-immigration campaign and a Green in the race). That way he won't have to govern from the center anymore. He can return to the "good ideas" of the 2005 special election and crush the unions who attacked him once and for all. He can take away the job security of teachers and privatize state pensions and undercut budget priorities and institute union-busting policies like "paycheck protection." Anyone who thinks he won't do this, that he's learned his lesson, is out of their minds.

The other reason Arnold lent himself that money recently is because he means to build up his war chest, and now is a good time to quietly do it. He will be term limited after 2010, the same time that the next Senate race in the state will occur. There will be tremendous pressure for him to challenge Barbara Boxer in that race. Boxer was not seriously challenged in 2004, and while a darling to the progressives and liberals in the state, is not especially well-liked in the many deep red pockets here. It would take a lot of money, but I don't think Boxer is invulnerable. Schwarzenegger will be seen as a successful two-term governor and a rock star, the only survivor of the 2006 wave. It would be a formidable race that would garner national attention. And if he wins, you can very well expect to see legislation on a 25th Amendment allowing non-citizens to run for President.

And the sad thing about all of this is it all could have been avoided. This chart from the Field Poll shows the shift in Arnold's favorability ratings:

Table 5
Trend of voter image ratings of Arnold Schwarzenegger
(among likely voters)

Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
Late October 2006 55% 37 8
Late September 2006 49% 41 10
July 2006 51% 44 5
Late-May 2006 46% 46 8
February 2006 44% 49 7
October 2005* 38% 54 8
February 2005* 62% 33 5

After an extremely successful 2005, we let Schwarzenegger up off the mat, and he gradually built his ratings back up to where you see them today. After the election he'll match where he was in February 2005, I guarantee it.

The California Democratic Party, though seemingly successful in 2005, wasn't the reason for Arnold's fall. It was the union coalition of Alliance for a Better California who hounded the governor from day one, facing him down at every event, forcing him into hiding to fundraise, putting up ads months in advance, going broke in the process but winning and winning big.

But we in the netroots were not there to back them up. Sure, California is home to some of the best progressive bloggers in the nation, including the proprietor of this website. But they are practically all nationally focused. Jane Hamsher, Kevin Drum, Maryscott, Digby, Tbogg, Kos, Howie Klein, John Amato, and dozens more. I don't begrudge them; they're great at what they do, and obviously who controls the White House and Congress is very important. The problem is that nobody ever bothered to ensure that the state's progressive infrastructure was robust. We have Calitics, and Brian does a great job, but IMO the California blogging scene consists of a bunch of freelancers who don't connect to form any kind of cohesive message. We aren't closing Daou's Triangle in this state, and as such we're probably on the lower tier in terms of local blogging. I think it's because of our cosmopolitan outlook in California and the fact that we have so many transplants. But it's unacceptable.

While I am also guilty of this national focus, I have tried to do something about this. I was happy to be asked to write for Governor Phil and try to generate buzz for his candidacy. The point is that there is so much creativity and talent in this state and we outsource it to the national scene. We need bloggers to come home and take care of their communities.

Kid Oakland is a tireless promoter of local blogging and this post largely comes out of discussions we've had of late. His open letter to Californians treads upon the same ground. We clearly need to communicate, offer critiques, and figure out how to get this state back. We have a broken Democratic Party with a lot of old-pro hacks who don't understand how to compete in the modern environment. They rely on labor because they are clueless as to how to do it themselves. It leads to corruption and a Sacramento that's bought and paid for. They don't care because their legislative majority is safely gerrymandered and they're fat and happy. But it's killing us in statewide races and will continue to do so.

We need to both help build progressive infrastructure in the state and inject new talent into the state party, changing the system from within. Only then will the nation's biggest electoral prize be safely blue.

UPDATE: Continuing to fund-raise, this time with John McCain behind closed doors. McCain-Schwarzenegger 2008? Could happen. So we clearly have a lot of work to do to stop this.