Saturday, December 26, 2009




California will soon be hearing a new cry of alarm from its movie tough-guy governor, whose upcoming state of the state speech will be unable to gloss over the reality that this year’s budget shortfall is even worse than last year’s.

Maybe the numbers won’t be quite as high: The deficit staring at state officials might be a “mere” $20 billion instead of the $40 billion or so of one year ago. But that’s only because of last year’s cuts, which lower considerably the starting point measuring the new negatives are measured.

So the pressure for large cuts is again upon us. Some will surely want to lop 15 percent or so from whatever was allocated to all state programs during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Some will want to chop even more from programs that took substantial hits last year.

But budget cutters beware: The moves that save you a little money this year might end up costing far more down the line. Of course, because of term limits, many people making key decisions this year will not be around to cope with the consequences even as soon as one year from now. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a prime example.

It’s impossible, of course, to list all the potential moves that might backfire. But here’s one: Cutting funding for battered women’s shelters, a 2009 cut that has been partly rescinded, costs not only untold human misery when women are forced to stay with violent husbands or boyfriends. But the cuts can cost more money than they save when those women show up at emergency rooms, trauma centers and hospitals for treatment of injuries that could have been avoided if they’d found a shelter. No one has yet calculated how much the 2009 closures – some later reversed – will eventually cost.

Similarly, no one can know how much an unheralded upcoming prison system cut might cost.

The prisons are due very soon to lay off three-fourths of their education staff, teachers trying to bring some degree of literacy and other skills to convicts. Back in the 1960s, when education programs were at their peak, California had America’s lowest recidivism rates for ex-convicts.

Not now. The state today sits in the middle ranks in recidivism, partly because of prior staff cuts. “No other program cuts recidivism like education,” says Christopher Brady, holder of two master’s degrees and a teacher at San Quentin State Prison. “You’re blowing your brains out when you cut the part of the prison system that works best.”

Education takes up just 2 percent of the $8 billion prison budget, but 60 percent of that money will dry up. Since crime and illiteracy rates are directly related, this move will have high costs in money and lives lost or immeasurably harmed.

State parks took a $14 million cut last year, almost 10 percent of that system’s previous budget, and they’re sure to be on the firing line again this spring.

The cost of cutting parks is often measured in lost wilderness experience for urban children and recreational opportunities lost to reduced park hours and maintenance. But here, too, budget cuts can lead to actual dollars lost. Not merely via lawsuits from contractors or nearby businesses whose survival is threatened when parks close or reduce their hours.

There’s also show business. Movies and television are areas where state parks have long produced significant money for California. This comes not only when legendary movies like The Virginian (1929) and High Noon (1952) and The Unforgiven (1992) go on location in Jamestown and Columbia state historic parks in Tuolomne County, but also from routine filming.

Fully 526 productions, including 47 feature movies, were filmed in 2008 in California state parks, which double for places like Wales, Korea, Connecticut and the Planet of the Apes. That’s was down 15 from 2007. Close the parks, turn off their water and power, and who knows how many more location shoots will leave the state?

Schwarzenegger talks often about getting business and jobs to stay in California, but his budget cutters may be sending many productions away, along with thousands of jobs. “We don’t know how many productions would leave if parks close,” says one department spokeswoman. The guess here: plenty.

No one suggests the next budget can come without cuts. But budget writers must heed the long-term costs of their choices – in jobs, wages, taxes and human misery – in fields like these, not to mention highways and higher education, for just two more.

Because they were often unthinking last year, they ended up shooting themselves in the foot frequently, even having courts reverse some of decisions, like the one cutting out pay for most home-care workers.

It’s a dilemma so serious that honest politicians this year will have to question whether their stances can really rest solely on party loyalty and ideology, as they often have in the past, or whether practical necessity may override things like “no new taxes” or absolute fealty to the goals of labor unions.

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




There will be wildly contentious battles over ballot propositions this year, with fights over a possible repeal of the Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriages, whether to hold a state constitutional convention and whether to legalize marijuana completely, to name just three hot-button initiatives heading for a popular vote.

But the biggest fight, the sharpest split, may come over water. No one knows for sure, but the water plan and an associated bond issue approved last fall by state lawmakers might determine who will become California’s next governor. All major Republican candidates back the plan, while Attorney General Jerry Brown, the lone significant Democrat now running, hasn’t said much about it.

No one knows, also, whether Mark Twain really did say back in 1875 that in California, “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over.”

Whether it was his or not, the remark remains as apt as ever today, almost 135 years after it was supposedly first uttered.

The fighting this year will be over that as-yet-unnumbered water bond proposition, an $11.1 billion tar baby strongly backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It’s vital to pass this, he and other advocates say, if there’s to be progress toward assuring adequate water supplies for all parts of the state. There’s money in it for new dams, groundwater basin protection, environmental protection in the vital Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and many, many local projects. Almost every lawmaker put something for his or her district into this package.

Unlike past plans like the putative Peripheral Canal vetoed by voters in 1982, which would have carried water around the Delta in a concrete-lined ditch, this one has backing from some major environmental groups. Both the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund signed onto the water plan before it passed.

But whatever good will that reigned when the water measures passed in October quickly gave way to the discord usually prevalent whenever changes in California’s water situation near reality. Brown, who okayed the Peripheral Canal idea while governor 28 years ago, was badly burned by the public’s rebellion against it; maybe that’s why he’s being cautious now.

But others are not at all reticent. No sooner had Schwarzenegger signed the water package than Delta area legislators, fishermen and Indian tribes claimed it would lead to utter destruction for the Delta – this despite creation of a Delta Stewardship Council designed to preserve species and water quality there.

They seized on Schwarzenegger’s almost immediate announcement that he intends to pursue something like a Peripheral Canal, charging that because the governor will appoint four of the seven Stewardship Council members, “you can be sure…the canal’s construction (will be) a priority for the council members…” This, of course, ignores the fact that Schwarzenegger will be governor for less than one year from now, while it will be many years – perhaps decades – before dirt is turned on the projects now contemplated.

Realities like that don’t stop the emotional responses water always spurs, emotions likely to split the state on a north-south basis when the bond battle heats up next fall. Cries that vast quantities of Northern California river water are wasted washing cars and watering lawns in Central and Southern California were heard less than a day after the package passed. There will also be financial issues with the bond package, which would cost about half a billion dollars yearly to repay and contains an estimated $2 billion worth of pure “pork.” And some in the Delta area call for revival of the long-dormant Auburn Dam as an alternate to the Peripheral Canal or for a system of gates and locks within the Delta itself.

In the meantime, plenty of other fights are already underway in courts and within the bureaucracy. On those fronts, no sooner had federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asked for a National Academy of Sciences review of the environmental findings that led to reduced water pumping from the Delta last spring and summer than two environmental groups asked a judge to give even more protections to the threatened, minnow-like Delta smelt than it now enjoys.

The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and the San Francisco-based Bay Institute sued together, demanded both endangered status for the Delta smelt and protected status for the similar longfin smelt.

At the same time, the Fresno federal judge who ordered pumping reduced ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation should have considered more environmental impacts like depletion of underground aquifers and more particulate air pollution via dust from fallowed fields before enacting its plan to protect the smelt.

It’s a picture so complex and laden with emotion that no one can reliably predict the election outcome. And it will produce an expensive campaign likely to prove again (on all sides) the wisdom of yet another Twain aphorism: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009




Memo to California voters: If you’re tired of dysfunctional government where ideology trumps good public policy, vote yes on the “Elections: Open Primary” proposition this June.

Why? Because that’s the quickest way to assure putting at least some moderate centrists into the state Legislature. It’s also the quickest way to give a voice to millions of voters who now essentially have no representation in state government. And it's the first step toward making state government work better, far faster and surer than a constitutional convention or any other tactic.

The open primary would be pretty simple: Each primary election would be completely open, with all candidates from all parties listed on a single ballot. No more Republican, Democratic, Green, Libertarian or any other party primaries conducted simultaneously but separately. No more haggling over whether to let independent voters into party primaries.

From that one ballot, the top two vote-getters would reach a runoff election, regardless of their party affiliation, unless one has a clear majority.

This should sound familiar; it’s exactly how hundreds of local elections in California have been conducted over decades. This is why two Democrats often are the finalists in mayoral elections in places like Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento.

The open system differs in two ways from the “blanket primary” approved by voters in 1996 and later thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court. That plan, used only in one California election cycle, also listed all candidates on a single ballot, but it put the leading vote-getter from each party into the runoff election. So all parties still conducted their own primaries.

The ideological extremists running both major parties hated that system as much as they despise the open primary, also known as the “top two” system. Regardless of ideology, party honchos can’t stand the idea that voters from the other major party could influence the primary outcome in theirs.

This might in fact be bad for the party bosses. But it’s good for almost everyone else. Here’s why:

Today’s legislative and congressional districts are gerrymandered so thoroughly that even though term limits change the bodies occupying them, very few seats ever switch parties. Change can rarely happen when voter registration in many districts is so one-sided that winning a party primary is tantamount to election.

So in a district where Republicans hold a 60-40 percent registration edge among voters willing to affiliate, Democrats essentially have no voice. Whoever wins the GOP nomination will get the seat. The converse for districts where Democrats maintain big advantages.

Because the primary winner can’t lose in a runoff, candidates rarely even try to appeal to the general populace, speaking only to the party faithful. Meanwhile, party primaries for many years have been dominated by extremists on the left or right, the left for Democrats and the right among Republicans.

Open primaries can change all that. Republicans running in GOP districts would need Democratic votes and could no longer cater only to their party’s right wing. The same for Democrats in districts their party dominates.

That’s exactly what leaders of the two major parties don’t want. Elected at party conventions attended mostly by true believers, they represent the far fringes, not the broad moderate middle of America and California. It's no accident party bosses who find it hard to agree on anything all want to maintain the system that created them.

They went to court together to throw out the blanket primary and they teamed to defeat an open primary proposition in 2004. Their counterparts did the same thing in Oregon last year, defeating a top-two proposition there.

The two major parties are joined in opposing top two by the smaller parties, who want to stay in general elections even though they have no chance to win. They whine that they should have a presence in every election, regardless of whether they’ve earned it.

Even officials of the major parties will piously argue for this while they're opposing open primaries. It’s the only time these people give the slightest thought to Greens, Libertarians and other small parties.

But open primaries don’t deprive any party of anything it earns. Put up candidates with wide appeal and they would make runoffs, just as they occasionally do in local primary elections.

There’s also the complaint that an open primary can put two candidates from the same party into a runoff. This can happen only if one of them draws heavily from members of the other major party. It’s possible in districts with one-sided registration if many members of the No. 2 party cross over in the primary. Rather than depriving those voters of representation, as party purists claim, an open primary actually would give them influence for the first time since 1998.

All of which should make the open primary the top priority this spring for any voter interested in better government for California. Nix it again and voters will have no one to blame but themselves for continued gridlock in the state Capitol.


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


After six years of watching a movie muscleman wrestle unsuccessfully with California’s problems, voters will be getting a huge change of pace in the new year.

There’s not a show business personality in sight in either major party as the four major candidates still in the run for governor prepare for the primary election season to get serious.

In fact, the campaign corps looks more like a “geek squad,” filled with personalities that would fit better in a picture like “Revenge of the Nerds” than “Conan the Barbarian.”

These candidates make few vague promises, although zillionaire former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, the early leader among Republicans, does promise continually to “create 2 million jobs in the private sector.” Even that phrase, though, can't compare with the kind of empty promise Arnold Schwarzenegger made when he pledged continually in the 2003 recall election to “blow up boxes.”

The only thing that’s blown up under his guidance is California’s fiscal situation, as his policies saw the state’s credit rating slide to the lowest of any state while unemployment shot up to near-record levels.

This campaign season features candidates with very specific ideas. So much so that on one recent conference call with journalists, Republican Steve Poizner, the current insurance commissioner and a fabulously wealthy former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who in mid-December put $15 million into his own campaign, talked nonstop for 45 minutes about his plans before pausing to take questions.

Poizner, trailing badly in the early polls before he begins to air television commercials, touts his “10-10-10” plan for cutting personal and corporate income tax rates by 10 percent, slashing 10 percent from the state budget and piling up a $10 billion reserve of state cash.

Meanwhile, the current No. 2 in GOP polls, Tom Campbell, likes to say his Web site “is the most information-filled of any (candidate) Web site I’ve seen.”

It contains, among other things, pie charts aiming to show how he would limit state spending increases to a combination of the levels of inflation and population increases.

Among Democrats, the closest thing to a movie star was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is married to former starlet Jennifer Siebel. He offered very specific plans that had no chance of getting through even the current Legislature, dominated by his fellow Democrats. Without either a large personal fortune or a loyal corps of backers, he flamed out quickly when his promises of universal government-backed health insurance and large-scale job training programs drew very few campaign donations.

Then there’s the overall leader in most early polls, Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

As always, Brown is at least as interested in process as program specifics, although he appears far more grounded now after eight years as mayor of Oakland than in his previous gubernatorial incarnation of the 1970s and ‘80s.

He talks of smoothing the way for builders and others as they negotiate the state’s regulatory maze and finding ways around the federal biological opinions that currently limit pumping of water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

But he warns that nothing will be easy for the next governor, whether it’s he or someone else. He remembers what happened 30 and 40 years ago, and warns that “the same interests are still around.” In one session, he regaled supporters with the ironic tale of how big farmers were dissatisfied with the amounts of water to be moved south from the Delta under the abortive 1982 Peripheral Canal plan. So they funded television commercials featuring environmentalists fighting the same plan because they felt it sent too much water south.

“I think there are solutions if we can get a consensus,” he said. “I think we can get that consensus because we no longer have a choice. California is in breakdown and we need a breakthrough.”

He also notes that state government is essentially “a $100 billion business with only an $80 billion revenue stream. That means it’s going to take adults to solve this. People talk about cuts, but what more can be cut? Yet, no one wants more taxes.”

Every candidate is well aware of the conundrum Brown outlines. They differ only on how to solve it.

But at least today’s candidates offer substance rather than mere flash. Unlike Schwarzenegger, they’re more interested in productivity than production values. Which means there’s hope for California yet, and the geeks now running are one source of that hope – even if they will all likely begin trashing one another other soon.


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

Sunday, December 13, 2009




It’s the holiday season, so optimism is in the air, not least among California Republicans. As they head into next year’s election, they sound like they have before one major election after another since 1992. Trouble is, little of that earlier happy talk ever materialized.

Candidates from George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush to John Seymour, John McCain, Matt Fong, Bill Simon, Bill Jones, Michael Huffington and Dan Lungren have predicted they would run strongly against Democrats here, and then did not.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Republicans today are sounding optimistic about their chances of hanging onto the governor’s office wrested away from the Democrats by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall election that ousted Gray Davis.

National Republican pundits like George Will look at the California field and see wealthy candidates like former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner as potential national saviors for a party that now has few prospective presidential candidates.

“The Republican revival nationally might begin here next year,” Will wrote after a visit with Whitman. Of course, Will also predicted the first President Bush would carry California against Bill Clinton in 1992 and that Barbara Boxer would never be elected to the Senate (where she’s now seeking a fourth term). Just for two examples of the national commentator’s California expertise.

But Will is not alone this time. Some Republicans hope an attempt to repeal Proposition 8’s ban on same sex marriages will make next fall’s ballot and play a similar role to the gun control initiative that brought out conservative voters in 1982, helping defeat favored Democrat Tom Bradley.

“This will be a good GOP year,” opines Stephen Frank, a former head of the conservative California Republican Assembly who has helped Poizner. “With Proposition 8 revisited, it could be a blowout for the GOP.”

And Fox News commentator Fred Barnes, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, is as smitten by Whitman as Will. “Everything is going to change after the 2010 election, when all these new faces come into the (national) Republican Party,” Barnes wrote. Whitman, he added, could be the key “as governor of the biggest state, a brainy, conservative, accomplished woman at the top of the Republican ladder.”

Never mind that she didn’t care enough about public affairs to vote in about three-fourths of the elections held during the last 10 years. Or that she wasn’t even a registered Republican until 2007.

The GOP talk this year echoes 2000, when George W. Bush promised he would “contest California to the very end,” adding that “Our chances are very good out there.”

But he never seriously contested California, losing by a wide margin to Democrat Al Gore after visiting the state only once that fall and failing to air a single TV commercial here.

It was the same last year. McCain swore he’d fight hard in California, believing his moderate stances on immigration amnesty and global climate change made him the ideal candidate to move this state back into the Republican presidential column for the first time since 1988. McCain then gave up on California even earlier than either Bush.

Now Republicans are licking their chops over the prospect of running against Attorney General Jerry Brown, who supports same sex marriage and some environmental measures even tougher than what Schwarzenegger has okayed.

They’re trying to revive the “Gov. Moonbeam” sobriquet applied to Brown by the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko after Brown advocated having a state-owned communications satellite. Royko later recanted and apologized to Brown, and his satellite notion no longer looks goofy. If it had happened, prices for the Internet and other services might be much lower today.

What’s more, California is not the same place it was in 1982, or even 1990, the last time a Republican governor was elected to a first term through the normal process involving a contested primary election. It is a much “bluer” place, if only because more than 2.5 million Latinos have become citizens here in the last 14 years, most registering as Democrats.

But Republicans still have a chance. They vote in far higher proportions than Democratic voter blocs like Latinos and African Americans. When they’re excited about an issue, as they might be about defending Proposition 8, they become even more determined to vote.

Still, Scharzenegger is the only Republican who has won a top-of-the-ticket race in this state since 1996 – and he didn’t have to run in a primary before winning the office in 2003.

So Republicans can lick their chops over 2010 all they like, but they will have to prove much more than they have so far if anyone is to take their boasts seriously. For recent history shows such talk is cheap in California.

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




For much of the last three decades, California companies like Sempra Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric have tried to foist expensive, environmentally questionable liquefied natural gas onto this state’s consumers. Then came a big Australian energy firm, whose expensive effort to build an LNG receiving plant off the Ventura County coast failed more than two years ago.

Now it’s the Russians, specifically the partially state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom, who want both to increase California utility bills and make America more dependent than ever on foreign energy.

In the past, efforts to import LNG to California failed in part because their sponsors sought to build receiving facilities inside the state, efforts thwarted by agencies as different as Indian tribes and the state Lands Commission. The timing seemingly could not be worse for LNG now, as the current glut of domestic natural gas is so great that operators of one big Texas LNG receiving facility have begun re-exporting their supplies to countries that do have need.

LNG is natural gas supercooled to a subfreezing liquid and shipped across oceans in quarter-mile-long cryogenic tankers, then rewarmed and placed into existing pipelines.

Always, there is big money behind the efforts to bring LNG to California, which means they can never be taken lightly, no matter how unneeded LNG may be.

How unneeded is it today in this state? Totally, unless the state Public Utilities Commission votes to give up even more of the domestic gas supplies that now flow to California from places like Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. So far, the PUC under the leadership of former utility company executive Michael Peevey has voted to release one-fourth of the space California now reserves on two major pipelines. If that move ever becomes reality – and it can only happen if LNG replaces current gas supplies – domestic gas now used here would go instead to the Northeast and Midwest.

Repayment of corporate investments in building tankers, liquefying plants and receiving terminals is always included in the price of LNG, almost invariably making it more expensive than pipelined domestic supplies.

LNG is unneeded today by everyone except those who invest in it because existing domestic gas supplies are adequate to serve American needs for the next 100 years, there is a current surplus and because demand for gas actually declined slightly in California over the last 10 years, despite population growth. This was due in part to the advent of energy-efficient appliances.

Gazprom, which controls 17 percent of the world’s known natural gas reserves, doesn’t care about any of that. “Our goal is to expand into all North American markets,” John Hattenberger, head of Gazprom’s Houston-based U.S. marketing and energy-trading wing, told a newspaper in Ft. Worth, Tex., the other day.

Californians beware: The last time a big energy trading outfit set its eye on California, the disastrous energy crunch of 2001-2002 resulted, with blackouts and brownouts commonplace amid a flurry of Texas-based deals, many of whose perpetrators were later convicted of illegal market manipulation.

Gazprom already has a foot in California’s door: It supplies some of the LNG going to the Sempra-operated receiving plant in Baja California, Mexico. As might be expected, part of that gas has been approved for sale to customers of another Sempra-owned company, San Diego Gas & Electric.

Gazprom liquefies this gas on the island of Sakhalin, just north of Japan. It also will produce LNG at Shtokman, on the Barents Sea coast of Siberia.

Two very logical destinations for much of that gas are the LNG facilities now proposed at Coos Bay and Astoria, Ore.

Both are well into their planning and permitting phases, with the Oregon Public Utilities Commission estimating about three-fourths of all gas they handle would end up in California. That could easily happen if pipelines of 100 miles or less are built from the two Oregon coast locations to an existing line that now carries gas from fields in Canada to PG&E customers throughout Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

As with the Gazprom contract to supply Sempra’s plant at Costa Azul, Mexico, California authorities would have little to say about all this. The state Lands Commission, which blocked the Ventura County LNG plan by refusing to allow a pipeline to run across state-owned tidelands, would be out of the picture. The Chumash Indians, who blocked an earlier LNG effort at Pt. Conception in Santa Barbara County on religious grounds, would not be involved.

In short, only the PUC would have a voice, and it has rubber-stamped every LNG proposal it’s seen over the last 30 years, always predicting gas shortages that never materialized.

So Californians beware: The Russians are about to attempt a raid on your wallets, operating from bases in Texas, Siberia, Baja California and Oregon – and also inside the PUC’s San Francisco offices.

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009




The biggest challenge facing Democrats who dominate California’s legislature as they look ahead to a short December session will be this: Do they really want another big rumble with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Already this year, they’ve sued the governor for allegedly seizing veto powers that don’t belong to him, faced him down over cuts to health care for poor children and defied his threats to veto every potential new law that came before him if they didn’t do as he ordered and sign a package of water bills they felt were not yet ready for prime time.

Now that he’s named Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado to fill the lieutenant governor’s job vacated when Democrat John Garamendi won election to Congress, the question is how much energy and political capital Democrats are willing to spend on going to the mat with Schwarzenegger again.

This is an appointment that normally would be considered a ho-hum item. There’s a reason why the nominally No. 2 official in California is often called the “lite governor.” The job has few responsibilities, little staff and only a few who have held it were able to move up into the real governor’s office. By appointing Maldonado, Schwarzenegger carefully avoided giving a leg up to any of the half-dozen or so candidates vying to win the job in next year’s election – but may have boosted the statewide ambitions of Maldonado, whose past compromises with Democrats make it unlikely he could otherwise win a Republican primary election.

Despite its shortcomings, Garamendi made his former job a good bit more influential than it usually is, using its automatic places on the state Lands Commission and the governing boards of California’s two big university systems.

As a University of California regent, for example, he fought to avoid raising tuition and fees and helped keep them from going even higher than they have. No sooner was he in Congress than remaining regents approved a 32 percent tuition-and-fee increase with little dissent except from students.

But it was at the Lands Commission where he did most with the job. In 2007, just months after becoming lieutenant governor, Garamendi became the key figure as the Lands Commission thwarted a plan to build a large floating liquefied natural gas import terminal off the Ventura County coast. Schwarzenegger ardently backed that plan, but could do nothing for it once the Garamendi-led commission nixed the idea of running big gas pipelines across state beaches and tidelands.

This year, Garamendi and Democratic state Controller John Chiang, also an automatic Lands Commission member, outvoted Schwarzenegger’s representative on the commission and refused to okay a plan allowing new slant oil drilling under state tidelands off northern Santa Barbara County from an existing oil platform.

Schwarzenegger had figured pumping the oil would give the state more than $150 million a year in new revenue from leasing fees (the state has no extraction tax), but the Lands Commission felt environmental threats in the sensitive area were too great.

The governor responded with a bill carried by Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Orange County that would have removed this issue, and only this issue, from Lands Commission jurisdiction. His measure went nowhere.

Before Schwarzenegger nominated Maldonado, the leading legislative foe of the slant drilling plan vowed to prevent any new lieutenant governor from boosting either offshore oil development or LNG.

“That won’t happen,” warned Democratic Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara County, a leading oil-drilling opponent in the Legislature and also a candidate for state attorney general, before the appointment. “We have to do what we can to make this a litmus test. Unless this appointee promises never to okay this project, I’m sure the members of the Assembly who understand how dangerous this is will vote not to confirm. We will grill the appointee and fry him and filet him and roast him on this. An appointee can always go back on his word, but if you break your promises, you can essentially end your career.”

Maldonado, a mild opponent of the slant drilling plan who also voted for a 2005 bill (vetoed by Schwarzenegger) aiming to make it harder to build LNG receiving terminals, defuses all that. Especially if he promises during hearings on his appointment to act consistently with his past votes. Which means that despite talk of the costs involved in holding a special election to replace Maldonado if he’s confirmed, the main reason Democrats would have for killing this nomination is that it would give a statewide office to a Republican.

The question for legislative Democrats, then, is whether they’re willing to stage a major battle over those limited stakes when they know far more portentous fights are in the offing in this cash-strapped state.


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




Jerry Brown was in the conference room of a large law firm talking to about 30 of the well-heeled supporters who have provided him enough money to drive off all early competition on the Democratic side of the 2010 run for governor – even before he officially becomes a candidate.

The meeting came just about a week after the California attorney general attended a fund-raiser for the Republican district attorney of San Bernardino County. At the time, he was being raked for this break in strict party politics by his now-departed intra-party rival, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Brown, Newsom’s campaign charged, committed political adultery and “slept with the enemy” by helping the conservative DA, Mike Ramos, raise campaign money.

This unfortunate metaphor inspired some San Francisco newspaper readers to reflect on Newsom’s own admitted adulterous history. “Newsom would know about adultery, wouldn’t he?” observed one.

Brown wasn’t about to tweak his competitor that way, but he was unhappy with the exchange. “It shows how far we’ve gotten from the old civility,” he said, noting he believes Ramos is a sound prosecutor and that law enforcement figures often cross party lines to help each other. As attorney general, Brown is nominally the state’s top lawman.

This dialog between the campaigns, Brown contended to his backers and in an interview the next day, showed what any new governor will have to overcome in order to get things done in Sacramento.

“We need consensus,” he said. “We can’t make things work unless we can get people to agree on the basics.”

That, he said, is why he’s running for governor even though he’ll be 72 by the time of next year’s vote and realizes that getting elected governor “is more like a crucifixion than a coronation.”

He jokes that he’s perfectly suited for the job, because “you need someone who has no political future.”

Brown definitely has a political past, as governor, state party chairman, Los Angeles Community College board member, mayor of Oakland and unsuccessful candidate for both president and the U.S. Senate.

Essentially, he’s saying that while he’s not beyond partisanship, he can work with Republicans. In fact, he says that’s a big reason he wants another crack at the office he held for eight years in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“We’ve got to bring people together,” Brown told his supporters. “There’s poisonous partisanship at work all around the country. There’s also a general grumpiness and the governor is often the recipient of howls of execration. But I love the excitement and adventure of taking a stalemate and moving it to a consensus. I’ve brought people together before and I can again.”

He cites the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act as a leading example from his earlier days as governor. “We got the (United Farm Workers) union and the growers together and got them both to compromise,” he said. “Sure, there might have been some buyer’s remorse later, but it’s actually worked pretty well ever since.”

The prospect of more challenges like that one plainly stimulates this former seminarian. “These things tax one’s intellect and emotions,” he said. “It’s an honorable calling and I don’t see a lot of expertise in doing it (among other candidates),” he observed. “The embedded conflicts in everything from water to the environment and public pensions and the budget take a very knowledgeable, patient, empathetic person to resolve. I may not have all those qualities, but I love the process.”

That’s a more comprehensive, deeper statement of why he wants to be governor again than any other current candidate has made or is likely to make.

It’s probably the reason Brown has led all active prospects in polls taken this year.

“The experts say I’m running well without doing any serious campaigning because I’ve worked in California for a long time and people know me,” he said. “I don’t do any real analysis on why it’s happening this way.”

But he takes nothing for granted. “I know it’s hard to change voter opinion absent very heavy advertising or at least the strong public interest that comes only in the last weeks of a campaign,” he said. “So why has public opinion moved my way at this early time? That’s an unknowable question.”

This statement shows how much Brown has changed. The earlier vintage Gov. Brown would have had an explanation, and probably not a humble one.

Which means this is both the same old Jerry Brown and a very different one. For sure, his hard knocks in presidential campaigns and his failure in a U.S. Senate run gave him pause. He all but disappeared from public life for almost 10 years after Republican Pete Wilson whipped him in the 1982 Senate race.

But every indication is that no one will easily defeat the current Brown, with his combination of old wit and new maturity.


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