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

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An Aggressive Strategy

As the Governor has tried to hijack the budget crisis to serve his own ends of punishing union workers and shredding the social services net, over the last couple days we've seen Democrats fighting back. For example, Dean Florez surgically took apart the Governor's idiotic smear attempt on legislators for doing their job of legislation. Considering that the Governor has never invited all 120 lawmakers into his smoking tent for a pow-wow, I think there's room for multitasking here. But understanding that would involve basic knowledge about how government works, as Florez said:

Assembly bill 606 creates a commission to serve the marketing interests of the blueberry industry. Another bill defines "honey" to mean the natural food product resulting from the harvest of nectar by honey bees, and a third bill adopts regulations establishing definitions and standards for 100-percent pomegranate juice.

"Look, we're pro-condiment, we're pro-fruit, but the focus needs to be on the budget crisis," McLear said.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Fresno) called Governor Schwarzenegger's criticism "childish" and said he is fed up.

"The governor's turned from an action hero into just another politician," Senator Florez said. "He should really, really take a course on fundamental government on how the legislature works."

"The fact that he doesn't understand these things worries me," he added.

Asm. Nancy Skinner held a press event with small business owners, again using the imagery of Arnold Antionette smoking a stogie in his Jacuzzi to contrast with the state's struggles:

Skinner called a news conference at the corner of Solano Avenue and The Alameda in Berkeley, outside the vacant storefront formerly occupied by A Child’s Place. Near her podium was a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger with a cigar in his mouth, with the headline “While the state drowns in IOUs ARNOLD DOESN’T CARE” and featuring a quotation from this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine article on the governor’s method of coping with the stress of the budget crisis: “I will sit down in my Jacuzzi tonight. I’m going to lay back with a stogie.”

Skinner said that’s pretty cheeky talk for a governor who nixed bills that would’ve helped solve the state’s cash crisis, avoided the need for the IOUs now going out and kept the deficit from growing by another several billion dollars. And it’s particularly distasteful, she said, to small businesses that are struggling through this recession even as Schwarzenegger proudly talks about vetoing a plan to collect sales tax from large online retailers doing business through California-based affiliates.

You can debate AB 178, the plan to collect sales tax on affiliate sales (I don't sell enough in affiliate sales to have much skin in the game, but there are decent arguments on both sides), but aligning with small business to attack a supposedly business-friendly Governor has good optics.

For the wonks, the Assembly produced an analysis of the Governor's so-called "reform" agenda, showing that most of it would be completely irrelevant to the current budget year, and all of it uses math that magically eliminates implementation costs but assumes outrageously oversized savings years down the road. These are cuts to social services pretending to be reform. I guess it's a step up from completely eliminating programs like CalWorks, but it's fundamentally dishonest.

Moments after the Governor's press conference yesterday about CalWorks "reform" (fact-checked here by the CBP), welfare advocates held their own press event that made most of the news items:

"I've never liked when people pick on the poor because they haven't got the ability to fight back," said John Burton, the state Democratic Party chairman and former Senate leader known as a fierce advocate for the poor. "It's a Republican syndrome. It isn't tough for Republicans to beat up on poor people. When finances are terrible, they go after the poor and blame the poor. Republicans constantly use that and don't worry about all the benefits government gives to businesses." [...]

Welfare advocates countered that nearly two-thirds of recipients are working or participating in training, and that half are making some kind of income. They also said that the governor's own May revised budget proposal estimated an annual savings of $100 million with that reform.

"He's reinforcing negative stereotypes and scapegoating people for the failure of his own administration," said Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California. "It's a reflection of a bully mentality, to go after the problems of struggling families when he doesn't get his way. The last thing those families need is to have a powerful figure accuse them of fraud, of not trying."

Furthermore, the CA Democratic Party has collected budget horror stories to highlight the human cost of the crisis. Here's one picked at random:

I am on Social Security Disability and with the amounts allowed to get SSI having been cut, it has also cut my income. Also, my medical coverage is being hit as well as so many of the social programs all of us depend on. Fortunately, I am not homeless yet, but it is a good possibility. I just do not understand how you could make all Californians suffer, especially those of us who are very low income, in favor of giving a huge tax break to oil and tobacco. This is not just or right and I believe that the solution is to sign the compromise bill, and tax the big corporations that are not now paying their fair share! – Christine, Victorville

The structural barriers in the state are so high that I'm not sure any of this can work. One thing is certain, however - this aggressive strategy creates energy in the grassroots, inspires changes to the system and can leverage public opinion far better than desperately seeking some compromise behind closed doors.

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