Sunday, November 29, 2009




Maybe it's because growers of medical marijuana are sitting ducks, not nearly as hard to find or as nasty to deal with as the Mexican drug cartels that run many large marijuana farming operations deep in forests on federal- and state-owned land, in parks and forest reserves.

Maybe it's because of the enduring contradictions between state and federal laws -- about to become more severe if Californians next year pass a pending initiative to flat-out legalize marijuana.

For despite his campaign statements, President Obama has not ended confusion on the medipot front, dashing some hopes of patients, growers and operators of the medical marijuana dispensaries that have proliferated in many California cities. (Sure, some of those patients and dispensaries are phonies out for nothing but a high or a profit, but there are also plenty of legitimate medical users.)

More than six months after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder promised twice (sort of) to stop federal raids on state and locally sanctioned medical marijuana operations, raids continue. Not as many as under ex-President George W. Bush, but still some.

And federal prosecutors show few signs of ceasing efforts to convict and imprison cannabis defendants arrested before Obama became president.

Holder, of course, was never very specific in his promises. "What the president said during the campaign will be consistent with what we're doing in law enforcement," he said.

Here's one thing Obama said while running for office: "We will not be using Justice Department resources to circumvent state laws." Here's another: "Whether I want to expend a whole lot of political capital (on marijuana issues) is not likely." He also observed that he has "problems with mom and pop shops…because that becomes difficult to regulate." But he also said that "If it's an issue of doctors prescribing or recommending marijuana, I think that should be appropriate."

That's enough to let Holder and the Drug Enforcement Administration that answers to him do pretty much what they like.

So, in late summer and early fall, the DEA made several raids on medipot growers in California and elsewhere. One netted five persons in Lake County, north of San Francisco, where 154 pot plants were confiscated.

The grower, a local contractor, had a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana and was a designated supplier to several others with similar recommendations. That seemed to meet terms of California's 1996 Proposition 215, which allows use and supply of medipot when doctors' recommendations are involved.

The raid apparently resulted from official suspicion that the grower was involved in pot sales beyond the medical realm, making a raid in line with Obama's observation about regulating small operations.

If all this sounds confusing, it is. That's one reason the state Senate by an eight-vote margin in late summer passed a non-binding resolution urging the federal government to end medipot raids of all kinds - on growers, dispensers and users alike - and to "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it.'

This may be a sensible sentiment, but Obama gave notice while a candidate that he would not devote energy to such an effort. Which is one reason a bill co-sponsored by the ultra-liberal Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank and the ultra-libertarian Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher to do just what the state resolution suggests is going nowhere in the House.

As a result, there is still plenty of fear in the medipot community. Maybe not as much as before Holder's rather equivocal commitment not to bother medical users and their suppliers, but still plenty of uncertainty. Cities and counties are confused, too. Los Angeles is one example: City council members appear ready to authorize continued operations by many of the medipot dispensaries now open there, while the city attorney and district attorney both insist they are illegal because federal law trumps any state initiative. Both threaten raids.

There's also still the possibility that if you use medipot and live in federally subsidized housing, you can be evicted anytime - even if you're in compliance with state and local laws and regulations. That's why the pro-pot group Americans for Safe Access recommends on its Web site that patients in such housing not smoke pot in their apartments, but try to use only edible pot concoctions or vaporizers when at home.

Still, there's no doubt the Obama administration has been - as promised - less eager that its predecessor to flout state laws and insist on the primacy of federal drug regulations over Proposition 215 and similar laws in other states.

But if you're a cancer patient who legitimately needs relief, if you're the grower supplying that patient and others with aches and pains for which doctors recommend pot as the safest palliative, the uncertainty that still remains is unsettling, at best.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




The University of California now says it will ask state legislators for $913 million more next year than it received in this year's budget. The California State University system will ask for an increase of $884 billion.

These requests come as public college and university tuition and other fees are climbing to levels that will soon approach those of top private campuses. What's more, despite the universities' requests, any likelihood of higher education getting more money next year seems like a pipe dream when estimates of next year's state budget deficit range from $7 billion to $24 billion, figures so daunting they helped spur the resignation of the state's finance director, who admits he considered ways to put California into bankruptcy last spring.

Meanwhile, enrollments are being cut, class sizes are rising, availability of small sections where students can get detailed instruction from graduate students on concepts discussed in large lecture classes are dwindling and community college enrollment is up, while successful transfers from them to four-year campuses are down to only about 40 percent.

Taken together, this sad picture translates into a serious truncation of the California dream.

Public higher education has always been a huge part of that dream, the vehicle of upward mobility for millions of enterprising students over the last century and the engine at the heart of almost all this state's many successes.

When the state Water Project pioneered the transportation of huge amounts of water over high mountains, UC-trained engineers did most of the conceptual work and drew the bulk of the plans. While big Silicon Valley successes like Hewlett-Packard and Google were founded by products of the private Stanford University, they could not have gotten far without thousands of talented programmers and engineers turned out by UC and Cal State schools -- including the current chairman of Google. When California developed into the world's agricultural leader, it was in large part sparked by graduates of UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Riverside and several Cal State campuses.

The list could go on and on.

All this is seriously threatened now by a trend in Sacramento toward cutting higher education first. Things are so bad that more money is now spent on state prisons than state universities, a startling turnabout from the decades when the UC and Cal State systems pioneered making quality education available and affordable to every qualified person.

One example of the consequences is what's happening at San Jose State University, where 2,500 fewer students will be enrolled next fall than entered this September, when the school already cut 3,000 slots. San Jose State will accept all qualified students from surrounding Santa Clara County, but will limit entry by non-area residents and toughen standards for admission to popular majors like engineering, business and nursing.

"We're downsizing," campus President Jon Whitmore told a reporter, "so if there is a smaller group of students and a smaller group of employees, we are still providing a quality education."

With the same sort of thing happening across the state, fewer qualified workers will be available to major industries. CSU plans to downsize by 40,000 students statewide, enough promising young people to fill a small city. True, there will still be more than 400,000 students on CSU campuses, but fewer university graduates will be able to start their own businesses. Meanwhile, the University of California plans to cut about 2,500 students, leaving it with just over 100,000 total slots. These numbers spell shrinkage for the California dream.

This impending tragedy could be avoided, of course, if attitudes were different in state government. Providing an additional $2 billion to the universities would end all these cuts and restore most classes and student slots. That would cost an average of $52 per year - a dollar week - per Californian.

California voters repeatedly show in local elections they are willing to pay far more than that in parcel taxes, city sales taxes and other levies when they can see the benefits that money will provide. But statewide politicians have never even tried to make a case for higher education. It's far easier to cut and slash and raise tuition and fees and drive the state's once-proud university systems into something less than world-class stature, allowing them to contribute ever less to the state's future.

So attitudes - any maybe a lot of politicians - need to change if the education component so vital to the California dream is to be revitalized. For Californians have shown time and again they are willing to pay when convinced their money is needed and won't be wasted.

Which means money isn't the only thing lacking in these days of fiscal and budgetary crisis. There's a lack of leadership with vision for this state's future.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Wednesday, November 25, 2009




Read the polls and you’d think the end was near for this, America’s largest state. One recent survey published by the state’s largest newspaper and repeated on every major radio and television outlet in California reported that 79 percent of the state’s residents believe their state’s best days are behind it.

At least that’s what the headline said and what was widely repeated – evidence that neither the headline writer nor the radio and TV reporters who regurgitated his work bothered to look at the poll question. The actual query asked whether residents believe things are going in the right direction or are “pretty seriously off track,” and 79 percent said matters are off track.

That’s hardly surprising when unemployment has topped 10 percent for months and “underemployment” – a term for persons not working or working part-time when they’d prefer full time work – runs about 25 percent. But it’s not the same as what the headline said. For there are signs aplenty that Californians are willing to work at putting things back on the right track – and even pay to do it.

Perhaps the best evidence for this appears in the results of the early November off-year election, where dozens of cities and school districts placed proposed new taxes before local voters. The vast majority of those proposals passed easily, even parcel taxes aimed at helping school districts.

Fully 24 of 36 local city tax or fee increase proposals that required only a majority vote passed. Three of five city tax increases passed where a two-thirds vote was needed. Seven of 11 school parcel tax proposals also passed with two-thirds votes and the two proposed school bond measures requiring a 55 percent majority both passed.

Altogether, 37 out of 57 local revenue measures passed. So plainly, where Californians were given the choice of trying to make improvements, the vast majority said yes.

How could this happen in a state where politicians continually bray that taxes are too high, that voters won’t tolerate any more levies? One reason is that each of these measures was local, involving schools or city services that directly affected large numbers of the people voting on them. Another was that these were not statewide campaigns, so there were no television commercials blaring about the evils of new taxes and threatening dire consequences for jobs and business if they passed. In fact, local business groups strongly backed the vast majority of these proposals.

Measures passed in locales from Culver City to Palm Springs, from Atherton, Dinuba and Vallejo to Norco, Fairfax and South Pasadena. Yes, 20 proposals failed, but even among defeated measures, none drew less than 42 percent of the vote. The widespread nature of those elections indicates the vote represented something like a cross section of California voters, and they plainly did not feel as pessimistic as the poll headline claimed.

There are other signs of potential for improvement. One is the fact that even though some businesses have relocated outside California to take advantage of cheap land and special tax breaks, more businesses continue to start up here than in any other state. Far more, in fact, than are leaving.

What’s more, some states – Wisconsin was first – are having second thoughts about the tax breaks they’ve granted migrating businesses and movie production companies looking for lucrative locations. Wisconsin this fall rescinded its benefits to production companies, concluding policing and other expenses made tax breaks for film production a losing proposition. North Carolina is mulling a similar move. Unemployment rates in those states – and neighboring Nevada, which campaigns constantly for California businesses to cross the state line – are as high or higher than California’s.

There’s also the reality expressed by Attorney General Jerry Brown in a recent interview. Brown, the only major Democrat now running for governor, observed that “This state has challenges, but it’s still very wealthy. The gross state product is $1.7 trillion and very few countries (seven, to be precise) can match that. So we know the wealth is here. What we need is a consensus to get that money moving.”

Brown, who leads every potential Republican rival by at least 20 points in recent surveys, might be the only active politician not using blatant economic scare tactics as next year’s campaign takes shape. Every other candidate sounds panicked, which makes it unsurprising that voters are unhappy with the state’s direction.

But propaganda-like political rhetoric about California’s supposed hopelessness and dysfunction is belied by the election results. Which is something Brown’s rivals might want to note.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Maybe Carly Fiorina has analyzed the same numbers that trouble Meg Whitman. Maybe that’s why Fiorina, the onetime wonder woman of Silicon Valley who engineered Hewlett-Packard’s takeover of Texas-based Compaq Computer Corp., took several months deciding whether to challenge the supposedly vulnerable U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

There’s no doubt Whitman, the former eBay chief executive who has already pumped almost $20 million into her campaign for governor, ran the numbers on California’s current political reality, which is very different from what past Republican governors like Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson dealt with.

Whitman, the current frontrunner in most polls in the three-person field seeking the GOP nomination to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger, ran through a bunch of statistics during one remarkable meeting with local elected officials in the Riverside County town of Menifee.

Although the session came while most public officials were talking budget figures, the numbers Whitman took up were demographic.

Republicans, she noted, made up just 31.1 percent of registered voters in California in the most recent report from Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Democrats were at 44.6 percent, with the vast bulk of the remaining 24.3 percent of voters registered decline to state.

So, she said, any Republican seeking statewide office starts off with a deficit of more than 13 percent.

This sets up some daunting tasks for any GOP candidate not named Schwarzenegger, Whitman realizes. To win next November, any Republican will need to win over at least 20 percent of registered Democrats and 60 percent of independents, plus taking more than 90 percent of registered Republican votes.

Schwarzenegger accomplished all that and more in 2006, when he won over more than 30 percent of registered Democrats and took a majority of independents. But Schwarzenegger is a unique figure in California political history, perhaps comparable only to Jesse Ventura, the one-term governor of Minnesota who also appealed across all party lines. Like ex-professional wrestler Ventura, Schwarzenegger had wide appeal traced to his larger-than-life movie-star personality. And he embraced some issues that are normally Democratic property, like climate change.

Whitman told the Riverside County meeting she can come close to matching Schwarzenegger’s performance by dint of shoe-leather, and for sure she has traveled the state during the early months of this campaign as much as any recent candidate. But all her travels and speeches to Republican audiences – something Fiorina hasn’t begun to match – still leave her out of contact with 98 percent of voters. So the real “shoe leather” will be expended on television screens when Whitman begins spending the bulk of the fortune she’s placed in her war chest.

But even if she becomes ubiquitous during the primary season next spring, Whitman will be up against several new realities.

There was a time when California Democrats voted in far smaller percentages than Republicans. Even though congressional and legislative districts are apportioned by population, it consistently took far more votes to get elected from a Republican district than a Democratic one.

But that’s changed. In 2008, for instance, Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman won 121,000 votes while getting elected from a district spanning parts of Marin and Sonoma counties where a total of 175,000 ballots were cast. In a district that’s as solidly Republican as Huffman’s is Democratic, Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore drew 86,000 out of a total of 150,000 votes cast.

Perhaps this was because 2008 was a presidential election year with an immensely popular (at the time) Barack Obama topping the Democratic ticket, but in two of the most solidly partisan, highest-turnout districts in California, Democrats substantially outvoted Republicans. That would never have occurred as recently as 20 years ago.

It’s true that in some strongly Democratic districts, especially those with large Latino population, it still doesn’t take very many votes to get elected. An example is the San Fernando Valley district of Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who won last time with 74 percent of the vote, but still only had a total of 49,000.

There was a time when such low vote counts in Democratic districts like that one meant that even though they had little chance of winning legislative majorities, Republicans still had a decent shot at statewide office. But Latinos vote in far larger numbers now than 20 years ago, as do African Americans, with both groups strongly Democratic. Now instead of turnout in mostly Latino districts matching 20 percent or less of the Republican vote in counties like Orange and San Diego, the vote in Latino districts is usually more like half the level seen in those strongly GOP areas.

It’s a new and constantly changing demographic and political reality that makes getting elected in California far tougher for Republicans than ever before.

And that’s enough to give anyone in the GOP pause before sinking untold time, energy and money into a statewide race, no matter how vulnerable a Democratic opponent might appear.


Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, November 15, 2009




Just as they have in her two previous reelection campaigns, once again this year Republicans and so-called experts list Barbara Boxer as one of the most vulnerable U.S. Senate Democrats running in next year’s mid-term election.

Maybe some of those estimates ought to be revised. A quick look at Boxer’s past election performances could easily be interpreted to demonstrate that she’s a lot stronger than most analysts realize, and growing stronger despite what some polls show.

Here are the results: In 1992, her first statewide election, Boxer beat prominent conservative talk show host Bruce Herschensohn by 4.9 percentage points. Running for reelection in 1998, she whipped former state Treasurer Matt Fong, a moderate Republican, by 10 points. Then, running in 2004 against the popular former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, she doubled that margin to about 20 points. Not so shabby for someone rated extremely beatable when the campaign began.

It’s easy enough to claim Boxer’s opponents were weak. But they were not. Herschensohn had higher name recognition before 1992 than Boxer’s. Fong had won his previous office by a wide margin. And Jones was the only Republican to win statewide office in what was otherwise a 1998 Democratic landslide; his Senate candidacy got strong backing from the then very popular Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. None of these men looked like weak sisters before the results were in.

Next year Boxer will apparently face either businesswoman Carly Fiorina or Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Some call it Boxer’s luck, but both Republican hopefuls carry heavy baggage.

Fiorina gets far more national press coverage than DeVore, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, all but endorsed her even before she officially declared herself a candidate.

But Fiorina, like GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman, has a long record of non-voting. One newspaper investigation found she’s voted in only six of 14 state elections since registering to vote in California, shortly after she took over as chief executive of computer maker Hewlett-Packard. Officials in New Jersey and Maryland, the two states where she lived for almost 20 years prior to that, could find no record of her ever voting.

The question she must answer is the same as the one asked of Whitman: How can someone with so little demonstrated interest in civics or government be trusted with key public policy decisions?

Then there’s her business record. Over the opposition of others in her firm and many outside analysts, she spearheaded H-P’s acquisition of the rival computer maker Compaq, which was based in Houston. Whether it was related to that takeover or the overall bust, H-P stock lost 60 percent of its value on her six-year watch. By contrast, it has more than doubled in four years under her successor.

Under her leadership (and she denies knowing about it), H-P sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech materiel to Iran through a Middle Eastern agent, evading a U.S. ban on trade with that country.

Then there’s the fact she accepted a “golden parachute” valued at either $40 million, $42 million or $45 million (reports vary), after laying off more than 10,000 employees.

This all adds up to something like paradise for whatever media consultant Boxer might hire to make her TV commercials. Easy pickings. “So far,” observed Democratic campaign consultant Steve Maviglio, “she’s been an opposition researcher’s dream candidate.”

Then there’s DeVore, who some believe is running for the Senate because he’ll be termed out of his state Assembly seat next year and there are no seats in Congress or the state Senate readily available to him.

DeVore, a dogged advocate of building more nuclear power plants in California and elsewhere, is about as doctrinaire a conservative Republican as can be found. His Sacramento voting record gets a 100 percent rating from the state Chamber of Commerce. He favors large-scale oil drilling off the California coast, even in the Santa Barbara Channel, where a huge oil spill in 1968 sparked the worldwide environmental movement.

He proudly opposes all new taxes and any restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. In short, he might be the ideal candidate in a Republican primary, where conservatives typically dominate, but many of his positions are anathema to a majority of California voters, if polls and voting results are an indication.

Which makes DeVore, too, a fat target for Boxer campaign commercials.

Is this just blind luck for Boxer, who less than a year ago expected Schwarzenegger would be her opponent? Maybe and maybe not. Barbara O’Connor, a Sacramento State University politics professor, observed to a reporter the other day that “Everyone underestimates Boxer…she is wickedly good at raising money and if the race gets close, deep pockets from the national Democratic Party could start pouring in.”

She’s also a dogged campaigner, enjoying the coffee klatches she stages in every corner of the state.

Boxer vulnerable? Maybe, but she’s demonstrated many times that she will never be a pushover.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




In all the celebratory, back-slapping press conferences and statements following this month’s agreement on a potentially landmark state water management plan, no one so much as used the term “peripheral canal.”

For sure this water deal will not produce a carbon copy of the 1982 referendum that killed the last previous major California water deal, one that called for building a canal around periphery of the Sacramento-San Joaquin river Delta to bring Northern California water to Central and Southern California.

That’s because a popular vote is already part of the water plan – since the most important components of this deal are contained in a proposed $11 billion bond issue. Like all state bonds, these must be approved in a popular vote before they can be sold. That vote comes next November. No one wanting to stymie this plan will have to run a petition campaign, and the campaign around the bonds already shapes up as at least a partial rerun of 1982.

For sure this plan becomes an empty shell if the bonds don’t pass.

Since a majority of current voters were either not born by 1982 or were too young to vote, a recap of what happened then is in order: Legislators approved and then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on a proposed concrete-lined ditch to move Northern California river water and rain runoff south, preventing much of it from flowing out to sea through the Delta and the San Francisco Bay.

This was robbery, screamed many in the north. Their water would flow south and they would be left high and dry, with ruined fisheries and rotten water quality in the Delta.

The result was the largest north-south ballot split ever seen in California. The referendum to kill the canal lost by about a 65-35 percent margin south of the Tehachapi Mountains which rise between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. But almost everywhere else it swept more than 90 percent of the vote. The canal died and the entire concept became political anathema until the current three-year drought caused farms to be fallowed, water rationing in many cities and record unemployment in some parts of the Central Valley.

The canal remains sufficiently taboo that it wasn’t a formal part of the new water deal. Rather, that arrangement calls for assuring water quality in the Delta, careful monitoring and restoration of ground water basins and aquifers, capturing far more rain and flood runoff than today, plus construction of new surface storage facilities, better known as reservoirs. Left unsaid was that it might take a canal to make a lot of the newly captured water useful.

Unsaid, that is, until Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just happened to mention it the afternoon after the water package passed, during an appearance in the anti-canal hotbed of Stockton.

At last, he said, the state can “fix the Delta and build a canal around the Delta.” Next morning’s headline in the Stockton Record: “Governor Drops ‘Bomb’ on Delta.”

The battle was on.

Instantly, the north-south split reappeared. Democratic Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, a candidate for state Senate whose district includes Santa Rosa, Napa and Vallejo, quickly called the water deal “the same tired story all over again.”

Fanning flames of regional chauvinism, she added that, “The Central Valley and Southern California plan to take water from the North by building a peripheral canal. The rub is that they want Northern California to pay for it, too. All Northern Californians get from this bond is the privilege of paying the bill.” That’s partly true.

But the bond would not pay for any canal. As contemplated, water districts selling the supplies it conveys would cover costs by raising rates for their tens of millions of customers. Whether Northern Californians benefit might depend on your definition of Northern California. Much of the San Francisco Bay area, for example, would draw from new supplies just as it now does from the state Water Project.

Northern California also would get increased flood control, preventing hundreds of millions of dollars in water damage in wet years. It would benefit from levee repairs and restoration of salmon and other fisheries, plus new controls on water quality in the Delta and underground aquifers.

But these realities – some of which were also built into the 1982 deal – might bear far less influence than emotional appeals like Evans’.

There are some differences this time. For one, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who as San Francisco mayor was the first to sign the 1982 anti-canal referendum petitions, backs today’s plan.

Conservation groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, many of whose members strongly opposed the canal last time, helped shape the new plan.

So the outcome next year might be different. For sure this campaign will be more than mere déjà vu, if only because concerns about the burden of repaying $11 billion in bonds will get almost as much attention as the more emotionally-charged issues at the heart of the long-running north-south animosities.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, November 8, 2009




If there’s one surprise so far in the budding campaign for governor of California, it’s the fact that the candidate with the least cash on hand is somehow staying extremely competitive. So much so that the leading fear of his super-rich intra-party rivals is that he will somehow, somewhere come up with significant funds – and blow them out.

What has Tom Campbell done so far and how does he do it? From the very start of this race, he’s run either first or second in the polls. In the most recent Field Poll, taken while billionaire former eBay chief Meg Whitman was airing weeks of radio ads, Campbell was only two percentage points behind among Republicans, while Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner placed a distant third.

“I think it’s because of the new media,” said Campbell, who estimated he had $300,000 on hand late last month, while his opponents had war chests well into the multi-millions. By new media, oddly, Campbell doesn’t mean the Internet. Rather, he’s talking telephones.

Campbell calls his new tactic “tele-town halls,” but they’re actually much larger than the live ones staged by many members of Congress. His first seven drew 280,000 participants, all responding to robocalls inviting them to press 1 on their telephones and join the town hall. Only registered Republicans who have voted in the last four elections were called.

“These only cost us $25,000 apiece and they all had at least 5,000 to 7,000 people who stayed with it five minutes or more,” Campbell said. “I’ve never before seen a town hall with that many people. About one-fifth of those who come on actually stay for more than five minutes.”

He thinks those participants have influence far beyond their numbers. Hence his poll standing, he believes.

But plenty of so-called experts think Campbell’s chances could founder once his rivals begin airing their inevitable television commercials.

“He’s doing so well because none of the others has begun advertising seriously yet,” said Dan Schnur, a longtime Republican consultant who now heads the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Campbell doesn’t evince much fear of that, plowing ahead with both his new media and riding a surge of post-poll fundraising that should shortly put his campaign kitty over the $1 million mark. The usual major California campaign requires at least $30 million for a respectable showing.

“If I had more money, I’d be doing more of the same,” says Campbell, a former Silicon Valley congressman, ex-state budget director and a longtime Stanford professor who later became dean of the business school at UC Berkeley. “I would also be more active on the Web. I’ve made my Web site as content-filled as any I’ve ever seen, but I would use extra money to pay for more advertising links to the site on search engines like Google and Yahoo.”

Content-filled. There’s a phrase that pretty much describes the Campbell campaign style. While rivals promise to create jobs and cut government spending, Campbell has produced detailed blueprints for balanced future state budgets and even a water plan.

You might not like his ideas, but no one in this campaign has matched him for the kind of specifics most candidates won’t go near.

Take the no-new-taxes pledge his opponents and most other Republican politicians have taken with alacrity. Campbell won’t touch it.

“It’s wise to keep one’s flexibility if you want to govern effectively,” he says, while observing that “there’s a big difference between campaigning and governing.” He cites a new tax on medical insurers that the health insurance industry itself helped pass. “It qualifies the state for four times as much federal money as the tax involves, and by doing that pays for itself by bringing new customers to the health insurers,” he said. “You couldn’t back this if you took a no-new-taxes pledge. That would be counter-productive.”

But don’t mistake Tom Campbell for profligate. His budget blueprint would limit spending increases to the level of inflation and population growth. “My plan is not politically correct for either the general public or Republican primary voters,” he said. “But I know it’s what we need to do.”

The same for his water plan, which backs a new Peripheral Canal-style conveyance around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and would expand or create new reservoirs, while refilling underground aquifers. He would finance this with bonds to be paid off by water users rather than from the state’s general fund.

This, then, is not your mine-run feel-good candidate. Rather, he’s pushing what his governmental expertise suggests to him are the best policies for the entire state. Unfiltered by a staff of so-called “experts.” “I’m my own research director,” he says.

Maybe California is ready for this kind of substance after six years of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s glitz and the accompanying decline. Maybe that’s the real reason Campbell stays high in the polls even while his bank account is low.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




The winter holidays are fast approaching, and with them the advent of a long season of being confronted by initiative petition circulators outside almost every big box store, grocery emporium and shopping mall in California.

That’s nothing unusual. What’s extraordinary this year is the potential for destruction and divisiveness in the putative ballot propositions those paid carriers will ballyhoo.

Best publicized of these is one calling for a constitutional convention to reboot California government, backed by Google and other high-tech giants that finance the Bay Area Council business lobby.

Why is this a bad idea? For one thing, despite sponsors’ pious claims that their measure would limit action by that convention to fixing the state’s budget and ballot initiative processes, cutting the influence of special interests on elections and government, bettering relations between state and local governments and making government more efficient, there’s room here for enormous mischief.

Sponsors maintain delegates would be forbidden to take up other topics, like gay marriage or the death penalty, immigration, abortion or new taxes.

But constitutional lawyers have repeatedly opined that once a convention starts, everything is fair game. That’s why many fear a convention might eliminate the Proposition 13 property tax limits. Others worry about an end to the Proposition 98 requirements for funding public schools. Any report or TV commercial that says any subject “would not be part of the debate” most likely will prove grossly inaccurate.

Every stated aim of the convention sponsors could be accomplished by a series of simple initiatives, with no need for a constitutional convention, whose delegate makeup would be decided at least in part by random chance, like jury pools. Since the sponsors don’t need a convention to accomplish what they say they want, it’s an open question why they insist on going this route. Might they eventually hope for a reduction in corporate taxes?

Meanwhile, another public interest group called California Forward, has two rival measures on tap aiming to fix most of the stated problems the convention advocates decry. Which can only lead to massive confusion.

But circulators will also shortly begin beating the bushes for many other proposals. There’s a re-run of the thrice-beaten measure to require parental or judicial consent for girls under 18 to get abortions. That one keeps coming back because when it loses, the margin is always small.

Mercury Insurance is behind a measure to roll back part of the 1988 Proposition 103 and allow insurance rates based partly on the basis of a driver’s record of having insurance coverage or not. Not on a driver’s record of tickets and/or accidents – nobody argues with that.

This one would let companies collect more from drivers who have let their insurance coverage lapse for any reason, ranging from illness to giving up driving for a few months or years.

“Nothing in the petition summary for this tells voters about the premium increases…Mercury’s proposal would allow,” says Harvey Rosenfield, founder of the Consumer Watchdog group and author of Proposition 103, which rolled back rates for all types of insurance in California. Rosenfield calls Attorney General Jerry Brown “shameful” for altering the summary, which initially pointed out the potential rate hikes.

There’s also a measure changing term limits to allow state legislators 12 years in either the state Senate or Assembly, or both, a change from the current limit of six in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, which allows some lawmakers to stay 14 years. This one is not particularly pernicious, merely innocuous. And there’s one to make the Legislature part-time.

Plus a plan to make it harder for cities to set up municipal electric utilities and get rid of big companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison. PG&E is the sponsor, seeking to squelch competition before it starts. There’s also a possible repeal of last year’s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriages. Another measure would require photo IDs before anyone can allowed to vote. This one doesn’t speak to the huge, relatively new phenomenon of mass absentee voting.

Silliest of all in this unusually silly season might be a proposal to forbid divorce. That’s all divorces, anywhere in California. And there are more.

While some of these ideas have some merit, most have little or no benefit for anyone but the special interests promoting them and paying the petition circulators.

Those circulators will usually be working for more than one measure, bearing sheafs of signature sheets. It can be easy to sign for one you don’t like.

So even if you do like one of two of these ideas, if you sign sheets hurriedly, you could be helping put a bunch of highly questionable ideas onto the ballot, where anything can happen.

That’s why this is one year when it might be best to just say no to almost all petition carriers who accost you.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit