Sunday, July 26, 2009





At long last a federal court has recognized that efforts to save the endangered, minnow-like delta smelt actually have some impact on humans and non-marine parts of the environment.

This sea change means that effects on humans will also be considered in appeals of another federal effort, this one to revive river spawning of Chinook salmon.

The natural reaction to this sudden shift in legal thinking might be as simple as, “Well, duh.”

But the fact is that for at least five years, and certainly for the last two springtime water seasons, in which use of runoff from snow melt in the Sierra Nevada mountain range has been restricted, effects on humans were not any kind of factor in legal thinking.

Rather, operations of the huge pumps on the south side of the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers were shut down for weeks at a time during the most productive water season in order to preserve the silvery smelt.

It simply didn’t matter that shutting the pumps had no discernible effect on smelt population, but did have a major impact on farmers, farm workers and urban water users from the San Francisco Bay area through the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

That was the meaning of rulings by U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger of Fresno upholding the 2008 biological opinion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which presumes the pumps feeding the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project are a major cause of the smelt’s problems.

But Wanger’s thinking apparently changed because of the near-depression caused in much of the region around where he lives by the combination of natural drought and his edicts. His new ruling came in an appeal of the FWS biological opinion by farming members of the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority. It’s not yet known if or how much water flow might be restored as a result of the new thinking, but there is bound to be some effect.

Wanger stated it baldly in forbidding further new restrictions in water pumping designed to save smelt, which environmentalists consider an indicator species whose health and numbers reflect conditions around them.

His list of effects from lower water supplies included damage to permanent crops including orchards and vineyards that sequester carbon and help combat global warming, job losses, reductions in public school enrollments, greater toxic pollution of farmland, groundwater overdraft, increased electricity consumption and air pollution from dust caused when farmland is fallowed for lack of water. About 500,000 acres have gone unplanted this year, about 800 square miles of the world’s most fertile farmland.

Those items produced no surprise in farming communities like Firebaugh and Mendota, where numerous businesses have gone broke because the farm workers who long patronized them disappeared as jobs dried up. Unemployment in some areas now exceeds 30 percent – at what is normally the height of seasonal farm work.

All this took on new importance when the national Marine Fisheries Service (MFS) dropped a potential new bombshell on California farmers and urban water users. MFS issued its own springtime biological opinion, another name for an order, this one demanding even more cuts in pumping water from the delta to allegedly benefit the Chinook salmon and one species of killer whales.

Besides less pumping, the MFS opinion demands construction of about $1 billion worth of fish ladders on currently existing dams, the idea being to enable spawning salmon to migrate upstream from the Pacific.

The MFS ruling is certain to be appealed quickly, unlike Wanger’s original order in the smelt case, which went unchallenged through two water seasons before it was altered by his new ruling in the water district appeal.

If effects on humans must be considered in the delta smelt case, they will surely have to be a factor in the Chinook salmon matter, too.

And the disastrous human effects of smelt-induced pumping shutdowns make it clear that any further reductions in pumping will only make things worse for people, without any assurance they will benefit other fish any more than they helped the smelt.

All of which means the water picture in California just got somewhat wetter, because a key judge has at last realized that cutting water supplies affects much more than just fish.


Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit




Few state officials or activists have been more vocal during California’s long-running budget battles than Jack O’Connell, the state’s two term school superintendent who hopes to become its next governor.

O’Connell has spoken often and loudly against the approximately $5 billion in cuts to education that have either been enacted in the last year or proposed by current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders, decrying them as the worst possible thing California could do.

“This is devastating the schools,” he said, noting that his office has just handed Oakland’s public schools back to the local school board after years of running them because previous managers had run out of money. When a school district becomes insolvent, the state often takes it over. O’Connell notes with bitterness that the current and proposed cuts threaten to push 89 other districts into that sad condition.

O’Connell has appeared peripatetic in recent months, traveling almost anywhere to tell parents, voters and reporters that the state has no business shortchanging the future.

Since public schools are about the most popular political cause in this state, that might – just might – create a political opening through which O’Connell might waltz in his effort to beat the far more visible and better-funded Attorney General Jerry Brown and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the other significant Democratic candidates for governor.

Just now, they are essentially writing him off. “There were four of us, and now I’m one of only two,” Newsom told a Democratic audience the other night, referring to gubernatorial dropouts Antonio Villaraigosa and John Garamendi, the Los Angeles mayor and California lieutenant governor, both of whom once were considered viable candidates. No mention of O’Connell.

O’Connell’s situation is a bit like that of Tom Campbell among Republicans. Both are underfunded underdogs hoping one issue can let them overcome prominent opponents. Campbell plans to use his budgetary expertise to get next year’s Republican nomination over two highly visible zillionaire opponents, while O’Connell hopes to parley his advocacy for schools.

“I would be the education governor, for sure,” O’Connell said in an interview. “That’s what motivates me. I have no desire to become President (Brown has failed in two national runs, but some suspect he still has presidential ambitions, and Newsom’s ambition knows no visible bounds). Education has always been my top priority.”

In fact, a conversation with O’Connell about his gubernatorial possibilities always comes back to schools. It’s almost as if, even though he’ll be termed out as superintendent after next year, he still wants to hang onto the job and becoming governor is the only way to do it.

Mention Schwarzenegger, and O’Connell says, “I’ve been disappointed. He’s been a failure in funding education, the budget and he’s had no new initiatives with the schools except wanting to require algebra in the eighth grade, which isn’t happening. But it’s not just education; he’s been a disappointment overall. Just look where he’s gotten the state.”

How would O’Connell do better? “As governor, my measure of success would be test scores and academic achievement. Also, government’s first and foremost objective is the health and safety of its citizens. So early release of prisoners as Schwarzenegger wants to do would not be an option for me. We need a better health care system and we need to work better with the federal government.”

O’Connell points out that when a state senator from Santa Barbara County, he wrote the law that now prohibits new offshore oil drilling platforms, a law he says has furthered economic development by encouraging the tourist and fishing industries. He says he’d expand California's green initiatives, advocating, for one example, that virtually every car in the state’s fleet should be a gas/electric hybrid.

All those other things are great, but O’Connell’s true love is the schools, which also provide his greatest opportunity. “Yes, it’s good luck for me that education funding is now a big issue. But it’s always been my emphasis,” he said, noting that in the early 2000s, he led the campaign for the neatly numbered Proposition 55, which lowered the threshold from a two-thirds vote to 55 percent for passage of school construction bonds.

O’Connell would fund his wish list and balance the budget, he says, by switching to a two- or three-year budget cycle, then encouraging economic growth in many ways to make his long-term financial plan work. And he would push for a statewide bond issue for ongoing school operations and activities.

It’s a different approach than any other candidate now suggests. But Newsom and others who take O’Connell lightly might want to study the 2006 election returns: In that year, O’Connell drew more votes than any candidate in the nation, his winning margin much larger than even Schwarzenegger’s.

“There’s an opening for him,” says longtime Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, who has helped run campaigns for both O’Connell and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “The real question is can he raise the money he’ll need to be competitive.”

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Thursday, July 23, 2009




For many months, Americans have heard politicians from President Obama to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and many lesser figures repeat the cliché that "every crisis offers an opportunity."

They generally mean that crises cause reevaluations of past practices, with the aim of fixing whatever caused the crisis.

But crises also offer plenty of chances for self-destructive flailing about, something California has seen in copious amounts as the state budget crisis unfolded this spring and summer.

First Schwarzenegger wants to save money by closing more than 200 state parks and beaches; then we learn the parks contribute far more to nearby local economies and tax coffers than they cost to maintain. He wants to release tens of thousands of prison inmates to save big bucks, but has no idea how much those releases might cost in terms of new crimes. And more.

Some moves he's proposed are things he tried - and failed - to get voters and lawmakers to approve in years past. A crisis, he obviously believes, gives him one last chance at pushing through some of his original agenda.

Legislators are no better. They also pursue old agendas with new urgency at a time of crisis.

So it is with the attempt by some liberal Sacramento Democrats to do away (temporarily, they say) with the state's high school exit exam. This verbal and math test offers employers the certainty that young people they hire will possess a certain set of knowledge and skills. Without it, high school diplomas would lose a great deal of their meaning.

The proposal comes in the twin names of saving money and increasing fairness. It would do neither.

For the Democrats don't really want to end the exit exam; they just want it not to count. Yep, their plan would have schools keep on giving the test to all 10th graders (and pupils beyond that level who previously failed to pass). But students who fail would now be allowed to graduate anyway, with precisely the same diplomas as those who pass.

There's little or no savings here, despite the fact that the six-person Democratic majority in control of a joint legislative budget conference committee listed that as the reason for a change. If schools keep giving the exam, they're spending the same amounts on proctoring and other arrangements as they would if the test counted.

What's really at work here, then, is that some ultra-liberal Democrats, led by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, have long opposed the entire concept of the exam. They've argued for most of the last decade that the exam favors children of the wealthy, who often have educational advantages over poorer kids and children of immigrants. They also contend that poor test-takers are at a disadvantage, even if they've proved their skills and knowledge in ordinary course-work.

Trying to make up for the socio-economic factors, schools now run copious test-preparation classes, both during school hours and after school. But the exam's longtime opponents are not satisfied.

They say that as schools chop their budgets in response to state cuts, they'll offer less test-prep. "Why would you hold kids accountable to a standard that we're not providing the resources for them to meet?" Bass told a reporter.

Of course, myriad high schools long ago adjusted their normal curricula for "teaching to the test," meaning coursework is designed to prepare students for this test more than to give them general knowledge. Which should make the test-prep work of the exam's early years less necessary.

The attempt to suspend or kill the exam also ignores the simple fairness issue: If students who have already graduated under the exam system have diplomas with true meaning, why deprive future grads, including next year's, of the chance to get the same certification of achievement?

The fact is the exit exam has accomplished what it set out to do: force schools to improve instruction and compel students to take their work seriously for fear they won't get that all-important sheepskin. When kids fail the test, their parents also are put on notice to do something if they are concerned about their children's future.

Interestingly, test critics have mostly ignored suggestions for differential diplomas, where students who fail could still get a certificate, but a different one from that given pupils who pass exam. Their action says they'd rather try to get rid of the exam entirely than work to help poor test-takers and others find ways to compensate for failing.

The good thing is that Democrats are not united in the dump-the-exam camp, even if all six on the budget committee voted that way. State schools Supt. Jack O'Connell is one Democrat very much behind the exam.

"We do a grave injustice to our students if we don't ensure they have the minimal skills needed in the increasingly competitive global economy," he said.

He's outlined the bottom-line fact here: The exit exam boosts educational quality and therefore is important to this state's future. Using a budget battle as an pretext for dumping it would not only be deceptive, but destructive.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, July 19, 2009




Diamond lanes for the rich will soon be reality. Here in the land of legendary freeways, it will soon be mainly those willing and able to pay who can make really good time in congested areas.

That's the meaning of a plan promoted by Republicans who ran the federal Department of Transportation under ex-President George W. Bush and accepted gleefully by the Democrats who run the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Southern California.

By the end of next year, more than 60 miles of existing carpool lanes along two major Los Angeles area freeways - Interstates 10 and 110, better known as the San Bernardino and Harbor freeways - will be turned into toll lanes for cars with one or two occupants. Cars containing two persons will still be able to use some stretches free and those with three will continue to get free use in all areas.

The upshot, though, is that solitary commuters able to pay tolls will enjoy all the benefits that now accrue only to carpools and owners of the most fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid cars.

This won't sit well with commuters who already complain that hybrids with stickers issued prior to February 2007 have already so crowded things that carpool lanes often aren't much faster than others.

But this story is no harder to understand than many others: Follow the money.

The Republican-led feds dangled $210 million in front of the MTA, which is far better known for running a bus line than managing freeways. Democrats now in power have not changed this program because of its claim of easing rush-hour congestion and thus diminishing both automotive smog and greenhouse gas emissions. Which means that what's starting on two Southern California freeways will soon become policy in many other places.

No one yet knows if the traffic-easing claims are true, but the best guess of many veteran commuters is they're wrong. Anyone who's been in the traffic jams that plague much of Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area and the Sacramento region knows allowing single-occupant cars onto carpool lanes won't ease the flow of ordinary lanes much, if at all. Putting more than 50,000 hybrid Toyota Priuses and Honda Civics there certainly didn't speed things up in the other lanes, but it has slowed down the previously speedy high occupancy ones.

This program is billed as an experiment, but the history of traffic management "experiments" over the last 20 years shows few disappear, even if they're ineffective.

So the rich will soon be moving more quickly than ordinary folks, even if they're not going quite as fast as carpool lanes once ran.

And what does everyone else get in exchange? The MTA plans to buy 57 new buses to use toll/carpool lanes and will spent $80 million on a new bus parking facility to house its vehicles.

All this without so much as an environmental impact study, the normal requirement before any major project affecting hundreds - let alone millions - of Californians can proceed.

At least the new plan isn't quite as bad as it was when originally proposed. In early 2008, the former Bush administration and the MTA said they intended to take existing carpool lanes and make them available only to those paying tolls. The new version still leaves them open to carpools.

So this isn't precisely a bait-and-switch, as first planned. That proposal would have taken carpool lanes paid for with tax dollars and turned them over exclusively to those who can afford to pay extra. But it still makes the carpool lanes something far different from what voters thought they were buying when they aproved new gas taxes and bunches of highway bonds over the past decade.

Beyond all that, though, is the simple idea of justice. It's bad enough that gas taxes are as regressive as can be, with rich and poor paying precisely the same levy on each gallon. This plan will also let the rich zip right past the working poor when carpool lanes are running properly, morning and evening. The best ordinary commuters can hope for is that it so congests carpool lanes that wealthy drivers eventually conclude paying tolls isn't worth the trouble.

The bottom line: Here we have further evidence that money can persuade elected officials to do almost anything. Just think how much better off we might be if those same politicians actually tried to do something creative about traffic jams, like changing the work hours of government employees for a start, a simple notion that could instantly switch tens of thousands of rush-hour commuters into off-peak times.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Saturday, July 11, 2009




The tale of a great exodus from California has traveled from the cover of Newsweek magazine to the opinion pages of the great (if nearly bankrupt) Eastern newspapers and has even snuck onto the op-ed pages of some California newspapers and into some so-called news reports on California TV stations.

There's just one problem with this big national story: it's mostly a myth, largely a fiction useful only for political purposes.

Sure, some Californians have moved to other states over the last few years, 275,000 more leaving the state than moving in from other states between 2004 and 2007. Those who leave often tell reporters they left to avoid heavy traffic or a wave of illegal immigrants or high taxes.

But the real motive for many has been clear to anyone who cares enough to follow the money: Most were cashing out houses at or near the height of the California real estate boom and buying new and larger homes in nearby states like Arizona and Nevada and Idaho and Washington for far less. The balance went into their bank accounts or investments, some of which have since tanked.

That's reality, but reality often is less politically useful than myth. So the tale of a miserable business climate driving away jobs is pushed endlessly. This fable was used successfully - if untruthfully - by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the recall campaign when he won election in 2003 and it's constant fodder for the Republican minority in the state's Legislature which can never become a majority unless it can convince a lot of voters that Democrats are exclusively behind the state's many demonstrable problems.

Not the least of those difficulties is a seemingly perpetual budget impasse. California highways, once the envy of the nation, now are pitted and potholed, often hazardous to tires and other automotive parts. School dropout rates are officially reported at about 30 percent, while they're actually much higher. Hospitals are perpetually in financial trouble. And there's more. But go to other states, and the problems look quite familiar, everything from recessionary budget cuts and impasses (Arizona, Pennsylvania and Indiana) to large numbers of illegal immigrants (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and more).

So yes, plenty of former Californians have emigrated to other states in recent years. Many are retirees; a relative few are still productive workers. But who bought the high-priced homes they left behind? Most likely productive, middle-class working families.

The related myth, that California's environmental laws drive away businesses in droves, is equally false. Sure, some businesses leave, attracted by offers of several years of property tax exemptions and other benefits, offers California would be foolish to match. But a thorough study by the Public Policy Institute of California conducted just after Schwarzenegger exploited this theme ad nauseum in 2003 found no such flight. In fact, the PPIC now says there are so many thriving businesses here that there's an impending shortage of college-trained workers to fill the jobs they now offer or will create over the next few years.

Then there are the latest population figures, somewhat startling. Against the myth of population loss comes the reality of an actual 400,000-plus population gain over the last year, just about the same pace as most of the last decade.

At the same time, Californians who formerly moved an average of once every seven years - with a lot of that movement in and out of the state - are now staying put.

One result is that the state will soon have a home-grown majority, as more than 70 percent of Californians aged 15 to 24 were born here. Yes, there are some children of illegal immigrants in that group. But they total just 14 percent, meaning the vast majority of adolescents and young adults here today were born here to parents who were either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. Even that percentage will be dropping soon, as the illegal immigrant wave wanes amid hard economic times.

For the sake of those young people, and for the sake of the many businesses that will suffer from any shortage of competent, college-trained workers, it's vital to spare schools and universities from any more of the budget cuts they've suffered in the past year.

Perpetuating those cuts can only create an even greater need for highly skilled immigrant labor than is now forecast, at the expense of home-grown talent.

The bottom line: When tales of a mass population and business exodus emerge from the mouths of Eastern pundits or California politicians, laugh. For these are mostly myths and lies, not worthy of being taken seriously.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit




Few California officials have done more than Lt. Gov. John Garamendi in recent years to protect California's coast from the predations of oil drilling and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

So you'd think environmentalists should be his strongest backers as he seeks the 10th District congressional seat long occupied by Democrat Ellen Tauscher, who gave it up to be undersecretary of state in the Obama Administration.

But the Sept. 1 special primary election to replace Tauscher in a district that runs from the East Bay suburbs of San Francisco to the northern San Joaquin Valley is much more complex than it looks. And that's complicated enough, with two popular state legislators among those running against Garamendi on the Democratic side.

For if Garamendi goes to Congress, he must immediately resign his current office. This would give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a rare opportunity to appoint someone of his choosing to a statewide office that has sometimes been a dead end and other times served as a convenient step on the ladder leading to the office Schwarzenegger now holds.

More importantly, perhaps, if Garamendi leaves his present office, the balance of power would change instantly on an obscure but sometimes powerful commission he now chairs because he is lieutenant governor.

That would be the state Lands Commission, which controls use of state-owned tidelands and other less controversial properties. As chairman of the Lands Commission, Garamendi presided over hearings that led to the defeat of a seemingly-greased plan to import LNG from Indonesia and other foreign points through a floating terminal off the coast of southern Ventura County. Schwarzenegger's representative on the commission voted for the LNG project, even though the governor - who had long backed the plan - later gave it a superfluous, token veto.

More recently, Garamendi and state Controller John Chiang, another Democrat who sits on the Lands Commission by virtue of his office, outvoted Schwarzenegger's representative on the commission to thwart a Schwarzenegger-backed plan to drill oil from state tidelands in the Santa Barbara Channel from an existing platform.

Make no mistake, Schwarzenegger wants new oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel as much as he ever wanted the putative LNG project.

Every time he looks at the channel, he sees dollar signs. Schwarzenegger contends an agreement he negotiated with a Houston oil drilling firm that now operates a platform in federal waters off Santa Barbara would produce $1.8 billion in royalties for the cash strapped state over 10 years, about $180 million a year. His deal would allow slant-drilling under state-owned waters from that existing derrick, known as Platform Irene. The deal also demands the platform be closed by 2022.

But environmentalists worry about oil leaks from new drilling and they contend the language promising a shutdown in 12 years is also leaky.

Most of all, they worry about symbolism. Democratic Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara, now running for state attorney general, contends that if new oil drilling can be permitted in the Santa Barbara Channel, ground zero for the worldwide environmental movement, noplace is safe, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But Schwarzenegger wants to push ahead, even if it means an end run around the Lands Commission. He's now pushing legislation to do that by taking authority over the Platform Irene project, and only that project, away from the commission. Odds are his proposal will not get far against environmentalist opposition in Sacramento, which would then make going back to the Lands Commission the only way to push this through.

But the moment Garamendi leaves the commission and is replaced by Schwarzenegger's pick for lieutenant governor, the governor will control the commission for the year or more left in his term. As a rule, his appointees do precisely what he wants even when - as would be the case here - he lacks the power to remove them.

One example is the state Public Utilities Commission, whose members serve fixed five-year terms. Independent as that's supposed to make them, commissioners named by Schwarzenegger have consistently favored his causes and the utilities, oil companies and others who are major donors to his various political committees.

All of which creates a striking political irony: Garamendi's continued presence on the Lands Commission is vital to environmentalists who want to keep the lid on new oil drilling and the several LNG proposals that are still active. And that can be assured only if he loses in the upcoming special election.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, July 5, 2009




Maybe California voters have had enough of a celebrity fix for awhile. Back in 2003, they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor largely on the strength of his movie stardom. Not even his admitted personal peccadilloes could bother the bulk of the voters, who wanted to get rid of the grayest governor this state might ever have seen, Gray Davis.

Maybe it’s also true that voters will continue a long tradition of rejecting hyper-wealthy self-funded candidates and opt against the likes of Insurance Commissioner and ex-Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Poizner and former eBay chief Meg Whitman in the Republican primary next June.

Democrats did something similar in 1998, nominating Davis over Northwest Airlines mogul Al (Checkbook) Checchi and Congresswoman Jane Harman, whose husband made at least $100 million awhile back selling off a home electronics company he founded.

The list of ultra-wealthy would-be officeholders in this state goes back to Norton Simon’s failed 1970 bid to wrest a Republican Senate nomination from then-Sen. George Murphy. The bipartisan list also includes shipping scion William Matson Roth and oil company heir Michael Huffington, among others.

So what do Republicans get if they reject the big-money candidates and go for something a little more modest? That would be Tom Campbell, who lost one primary race for a U.S. Senate seat to far-right Bruce Herschensohn and was soundly beaten by Democrat Dianne Feinstein in another Senate run.

Since then, Campbell has taught law at Stanford University, served as dean of the business school at UC Berkeley and spent about two years as Schwarzenegger’s state finance director.

He yearns to be governor so much that a few months ago, he took a leave from Berkeley and moved to Orange County, where he teaches law at the conservatively-inclined Chapman University. Campbell, who spent more than a decade representing liberal portions of the San Francisco Peninsula in both Congress and the state Senate, plainly moved to the OC so he’d become more familiar and palatable to conservative Republicans there.

“Chapman has a lot more Republicans than Berkeley,” Campbell observed in an interview. “I’m the only Republican dean at Berkeley, but the environment is certainly different where I am now.”

And Campbell would certainly be a different sort of governor than his former boss Schwarzenegger.

“I would surely use the governor’s line-item veto to hold down spending more than he has,” Campbell said. “He gave too many quid pro quos to the Legislature, promising not to veto their pet items if they would go along with his. Also, after his 2005 initiatives failed, the governor signed a number of public employee union contracts that he did not have to. State law lets you operate under the last best offer made if there is no new agreement. He could have done that, but did not.”

Campbell says he would limit any budget increases to a combination of the rate of increase in population and inflation, no more.

Schwarzenegger blanched at criticism that he’s let state spending increase too much. “The number one thing I could have done is to stop the world economy from going down,” he wisecracked at a press conference. “I’m very proud of my record. If you look at the past governors, the average increase of Ronald Reagan was 13 percent, of George Deukmejian was 8 percent, of Gray Davis was 6 percent, of Pete Wilson it was 4.9 percent. Mine is 3.7 percent.”

Those percentages reflect increased spending over and beyond what it would take to match population increases and inflation.

Campbell also said he would back gay marriage, rather than vetoing the idea, as Schwarzenegger did early in his tenure. That goes against the overwhelming majority view of California Republicans.

But Campbell knows his only hope for the nomination is to attract virtually all moderates and independents who vote in the Republican primary and let Whitman and Poizner, both running as far to the right as they comfortably can, split the conservative vote that normally dominates GOP primaries.

No way can he spend with them, dollar for dollar. And yet, early polls show him running either first or second in the GOP. “I’ve spent wisely,” Campbell said. “I’ve hired the best webmasters and I’m getting a positive response to the message I get out on the Internet. I also have the issue of finances. I am right there on the subject of the day.”

Whether the state budget will still be the subject of the day 11 months from now is anyone’s guess. But if voters next year are looking for not for stardom but expertise, experience and intellectual qualities, they may just turn to Campbell, who remembers well that even though California is often considered a reliably Democratic state, four of its last six governors have been Republicans.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit




From the moment results of the May 19 special state election were announced, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other powerful California officials have maintained the vote was an absolute rejection of any new taxes.

"The voters wanted to send a very clear message," Schwarzenegger said. "They said, 'Don't come to us with these complex issues, do the job yourself, live within your means, get rid of the waste and inefficiencies and don't raise our taxes.' I have heard that message loud and clear. And I always respect the will of the people."

But what if no-new-taxes wasn't really the message voters meant to send when they nixed five of the six propositions put before them by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature?

The governor, after all, polled no voters on what they intended in rejecting his proposal for two additional years of expanded sales, income and car taxes, combined with a plan letting him and the lawmakers spend as they wished almost $6 billion the voters had previously earmarked for specific uses like schools and mental health.

In fact, most election results are political Rohrsharch tests, rather like blobs of ink in which everyone sees something different.

There is plenty of evidence this time that voters weren't saying no to extended taxes so much as they emphatically rejected an attempted deception by public officials. Public polls turned harshly against the propositions only after it became widely known that the ballot arguments for and against Proposition 1A, the tax extension measure, didn't bother to mention the tax extensions.

Pollster Mark Baldassare, whose surveys for the Public Policy Institute of California have been consistently accurate for many years, notes that his recent research shows "a plurality of Californians saying they favor a mix of tax increases and spending cuts" to solve the state's budget woes.

And Mark DiCamillo, director of the usually accurate Field Poll, says his surveys show voters were angered by the misleading ballot arguments.

Unlike Schwarzenegger, Baldassare and DeCamillo actually quizzed voters about their motives, while the governor relies purely on instinct and guesswork as he determines vital public policies.

There's also convincing evidence voters will tax themselves when they believe the money will go to causes they like and when they think officialdom has been honest with them.

This evidence lies in the results of local elections since the threshold of approval for school construction bonds dropped from two-thirds to 55 percent early in this decade.

More than two-thirds of such proposals have won approval in this decade, even though voters knew the bonds would increase rents or property taxes. This performance has been consistent in all parts of the state. In hundreds of local elections, voters knew what they'd be getting for their money and believed the local school board members backing the proposals.

Just as striking are the results of several recent local votes on parcel taxes to help fund school districts. Many districts shy away from seeking property tax increases to fund their operations, knowing much of the money would be diverted to other districts around the state under terms of the 1970s-era Serrano v. Priest court decision. By contrast, all parcel tax money stays home. But these levies require a two-thirds majority for passage.

So far this year, 10 such local proposals have succeeded in places as geographically varied as Piedmont in the East San Francisco Bay area and the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino. Only five parcel tax plans have failed.

Parcel taxes force all property owners to pay an identical amount each year, regardless of the size or value of the property. They are the least fair of all taxes, because they take the same amount from rich and poor, commercial and residential properties. So when they win, it's a sign of great public support for local schools. The amounts approved this year vary from a $180 per parcel yearly addition to an existing levy to $2,000 per parcel in new taxes approved in well-to-do Piedmont.

How can Schwarzenegger argue that Californians are absolutely opposed to any new tax when they're passing two-thirds of the most regressive tax plans ever proposed?

There's no logic to what he says, only a form of panic and a great desire to avoid taking any responsibility for the state's fiscal condition.

The evidence of both school bond elections and parcel tax votes clearly shows that when Californians believe institutions they love and value are in real need, they will reach for their wallets even in the worst of economic times. But when they feel deceived and they're unsure how their money will be spent, they say no.

Which means the message of May 19 was not no-new-taxes, but something more like this: "Tell us the truth and be honest about what you'll do with our money. Then we might give you some."

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