Saturday, May 29, 2010




It may not have been the unkindest cut made last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as he blue-penciled more than $500 million from the state budget before signing, and it may also not have been the most inefficient or deadly one.

But lopping $27.8 million from the Williamson Act program that has long preserved agricultural lands and leaving it with a token $1,000 was surely the brownest cut of all.

One more thing is also for sure: There is no way state legislators will seriously attempt to restore that money as they haggle over this year’s financial plan – not when they are struggling to reduce the budget by about $19 billion beyond the huge cuts of 2009.

Last year’s action once and for all should have put the lie to Schwarzenegger’s bluster about being the world’s greenest public official. But somehow the master showman and muscleman has managed to retain that image in spite of decimating the world’s largest single anti-greenhouse gas program.

That’s exactly what the Williamson Act has been.

This 44-year-old program, named for John Williamson, a 1960s-era legislator from Kern County, long gave farmers a property tax break if they pledged to keep their land in agriculture for 10 to 20 years. Williamson Act contracts now protect about 16.4 million acres of farm and ranch land from development, helping maintain the state’s standing as the world leader in farming.

Here’s what it has to do with being green: A Purdue University study seven years ago found that every acre of farmland in that university’s state of Indiana pulls about 0.107 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air each year ( That’s for all types of farmland, including grazing land, vineyards, rice fields, cotton fields, orchards and more.

That’s a lowball figure, of course, because it’s based on lands that feature no green leaves or blades of grass to remove carbon from the air during winters. But even under those conditions, the math works out to a minimum of 1.754 million tons of carbon absorbed yearly by those 16.4 million Williamson Act acres. Or 3.5 billion pounds. Nothing contemplated anywhere involves more than a small fraction of those amounts.

Even skeptics who question that most global warming is caused by humans can’t doubt the act has helped constrain both natural and man-made CO2 proliferation.

Schwarzenegger knew all this before he made his cut. He was given the numbers during a 2007 press conference after his press secretary admitted the governor and his staff knew nothing of the Williamson Act’s climate-change relevance. That was just after Schwarzenegger first tried to dump the program, only to see it temporarily reinstated by the Legislature.

When the governor finally made his environmental hypocrisy stand up last year, the program’s future was left up to county boards of supervisors, some of which have continued the property tax subsidies even without state contributions averaging just over $500,000 per county. This at a time when most county finances are at least as constrained as the state’s.

One factor pressuring counties into continuing the program on their own is that existing Williamson Act contracts are for either 10 or 20 years, with the pacts rolling over continuously as long as farmers don’t opt out. So even counties that opted out last year must honor the existing contracts for at least nine more years.

That gives future governors and legislators plenty of time to reverse Schwarzenegger’s destructive and little-publicized action.

Meanwhile, some big agricultural counties are thinking of opting out if the program isn’t revived this year. Fresno County officials, for example, are considering that move. Because it is America’s No. 1 farming county, whatever Fresno does will be watched closely by others. Especially since development pressures are strong around the city of Fresno, whose metropolitan area almost doubled in population between 1995 and 2005.

For owners of some large farms, the disappearance of the Williamson Act subsidy could shift financial equations just enough to convince them to try to develop their land rather than keep it open.

Schwarzenegger shows no sign of reversing his position on this program and without leadership from the governor, legislators won’t even try to restore it.

Which makes this another of many short-sighted Schwarzenegger actions with the potential to affect the future of California long after he’s disappeared from the scene.

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




Every poll shows California voters believe state government is often paralyzed, frequently controlled by ideologues of left and right, plus special interests that provide much of the cash for ever-more-expensive political campaigns.

But that's just talk. Now the time has come at last for those same voters to show they’re serious, and not just full of hot air when they say they don’t like what’s been going on.

Two measures on today’s primary election ballot (editors: sub “Tuesday’s primary election” here, or “the June 8 primary election,”depending on your run date for this column) could gradually begin to change the current dismal situation, where ideology and big donations are often controlling factors for both the Legislature and many statewide officeholders.

These are Propositions 14 and 15, both of which would bring incremental improvements to the current system.

In the short run, Proposition 14 is probably the more important of the two, promising to force candidates for the state Assembly and Senate to appeal to a broad majority of voters and not the ideological minority that often controls the outcome of primary elections – and thus eventually decides who gets elected.

In the longer term, Proposition 15 could prove just as important, perhaps eventually leading to a system of public financing for statewide election candidates that could deflate the power now wielded by the super-wealthy – folks like former eBay chief Meg Whitman and current Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the only two major candidates for the Republican nomination for governor. Neither would be a significant factor today without the many millions of their own dollars they have sunk into the contest.

If approved, Proposition 15 would create public financing in 2014 and 2018 for candidates seeking one statewide office – secretary of state, a post many feel should be non-partisan and apolitical anyway. This is described as an experiment that could pave the way to public financing for other offices if it works well.

Candidates who demonstrate broad voter support by getting many small donations would receive equal amounts of public money – raised by increasing the fees lobbyists pay to register each year from $12.50 to $350, with nothing coming from taxpayers – to run their campaigns. Anyone taking these funds would be prohibited from raising private dollars. The new lobbyist fees would still be lower than what’s paid annually by California doctors and lawyers and lower than lobbyists pay in most other states. Court decisions mandate there cannot be a ban or limit on use of personal funds, but there’s nothing to stop opponents from shaming candidates into keeping their wallets shut and running purely on their merits.

So while this would in not remove personal money from politics, it might be a start in keeping corporations and labor unions away.

Proposition 14, meanwhile, aims to set up a “top two” system where candidates in all districts are listed together on the primary ballot and the two leading candidates advance to the November runoff, regardless of party. All voters could vote for any candidate they like, regardless of party affiliation by either the voter or the candidate.

By contrast, today’s system lets Democrats vote in Democratic primaries, and Republicans in theirs. Voters who decline to state a party choice can also vote in either party’s primary, but don’t get a party ballot unless they specifically ask for it. That's why relatively few decline-to-state voters participate in party primaries. Plus, there’s nothing at the polls to advise independents they can ask for a party ballot.

All of which means that in today’s highly skewed legislative districts, where one party or the other almost always has a huge margin in voter registration, the extremes determine the candidates. Republican candidates need only appeal to conservative voters, while Democrats can get by playing only to the ultra-liberal.

This system could produce runoff races between two Republicans or two Democrats. And why not, if they are the two candidates with the widest voter appeal? Minor parties gripe this could lock them out of general elections. But why should parties whose total vote is often less than 1 percent be given automatic runoff slots? The solution for them is to produce candidates with wide appeal who are capable of finishing in the top two in a primary – the same system used now in all special elections for Congress and the Legislature.

If it’s good enough for special elections, why not those that are regularly scheduled? The minor parties never even address this question.

If a “top two” system produces more moderate, compromising lawmakers than the current closed primaries, that will be a start toward ending the ideological gridlock in Sacramento.

And if Proposition 15 makes a start toward getting special interest money out of politics, that’s another step in the right direction.

Which means that if voters really want to end what so many have labeled dysfunction in Sacramento, today (editors: sub “Tuesday” or “June 8,” as appropriate) offers the best chance for change in many years.

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

Saturday, May 22, 2010




As they near the finish of their big-money race to become the Republican nominee for governor, one name has suddenly started popping up whenever Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman try to sway voters.

It’s not Goldman Sachs, the scandal-plagued banking house where Whitman got sweetheart deals and was once a director and where Poizner, the current state insurance commissioner, has also had dealings. Rather, these two are talking more and more about Jerry Brown and who has the best chance to beat him in November.

Brown has to be loving their chatter, even as he keeps quiet about it. He’s spent almost nothing and done little campaigning while becoming the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for the job he held in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

The talk about Brown began when Whitman's chief strategist Mike Murphy lamented that as polls showed Poizner closing in on Whitman, “The one person enjoying this more than anyone else is Jerry Brown.” Moments later, he allowed that “a vote for Steve Poizner is really in many ways a vote for Jerry Brown because Commissioner Poizner has made himself completely unelectable in the general election.”

In a primary where the candidates are doing anything they can to appear the most conservative, this was an odd claim. In effect, Murphy was saying Whitman’s positions are a tad more centrist than Poizner’s. This at the same time Whitman's commercials claim ad nauseum that Poizner is a closet lefty.

A day later, after the state Democratic Party began running an ad blasting Whitman but not Poizner, Whitman campaign senior adviser named Rob Stutzman griped that “The ad is proof positive the labor unions and Jerry Brown fear Meg Whitman.

There’s only one reason Whitman’s handlers would make those statements: Private polling has shown many Republican voters are more concerned about finding someone to defeat Brown than they are about who is farther right than whom.

Not to be outdone in the “my candidate will do best against Jerry Brown” department, Poizner strategist Stuart Stevens scoffs at the notion that his man has staked out positions so far to the right that he would have little chance against Brown next fall.

“I can’t wait for the Poizner/Brown debates,” Stevens said. “They’re gonna be classics.”

So far, the strategy followed by Stevens and Poizner has proven pretty effective among Republican voters. Once down in the polls by as much as 50 points while Whitman conducted an unopposed advertising blitz, Poizner has now all but evened the race. Chortled Stevens, “Shockingly, we actually understood when Election Day was.” And didn’t waste very much money early on.

Right now, both Republicans trail the Democrat even before he’s spent his first nickel on advertising. Which appears to frustrate Whitman’s campaign more than Poizner’s.

Meanwhile, Brown’s campaign offers no clue about when he will start spending the $16 million-plus he’s raised during the primary election season.

Will he stay mostly silent through the summer or will he follow the strategy he employed effectively in 1978, when he won reelection handily over Republican Evelle Younger, then the state attorney general? Back then, Younger figured nothing much political could happen during June, just after he’d won a hard-fought primary battle. So off he flew to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation.

By the time he returned, he was hopelessly behind. Brown, who then as now had husbanded his money during a primary season where he had no serious competition, ran a series of television ads and took a lead that proved insurmountable. This was one time when early spending paid off in a big way.

Brown and his campaign manager Steve Glazer won’t say whether a rerun of that June blitz is in store this year. “We aren’t about to divulge strategy right now,” Glazer said. But Brown, in spite of the name recognition that comes with being a former governor and the son of a governor, will still have to introduce himself anew to the vast number of voters who were small children or not even alive when he held the office. The question is when he should do it.

Another obvious reality well known to both Republicans in the race is that Brown will raise at least as much in the general election cycle as he did through the primaries, so even though they know they can outspend him, he’ll have a minimum of $35 million – more than enough to get his message out – plus whatever unions or the national Democratic Party might spend on his behalf.

Which means there is good reason for Whitman, Poizner and their Republican supporters to keep an eye on Brown even as they race to the primary election wire.

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




Just about a month ago, one of the leading political rating services in Washington, D.C. lowered Barbara Boxer’s reelection status from “likely” to “leaning.” This was one indicator of the general and seemingly perpetual sense that the three-term Democratic U.S. senator is vulnerable.

Even at a Los Angeles dinner where President Obama helped raise $3 million for Boxer’s reelection drive, her vulnerability was the dominant theme.

One reason is that she has not been advertising, while all three of her would-be opponents have been on the air with commercials that constantly blast her "arrogance" and label her a “typical big-spending Democrat.” They often claim her strong environmental bent makes her an obstacle to job creation.

But those three Republicans – former Congressman and ex-Stanford Law School Prof. Tom Campbell, onetime Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina and termed-out Orange County Assemblyman Chuck DeVore – have vulnerabilities of their own. And longtime Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski has never been bashful about bashing her opponents.

Perhaps the most vulnerable of the GOP trio is Fiorina, fired by H-P’s board of directors in 2005. The labor unions at the core of Boxer’s support enjoy reminding reporters that Fiorina presided over layoffs of more than 20,000 workers when H-P took over the Houston-based Compaq computer firm, providing small severance. But when she was fired, they note, she took home a “golden parachute” often said to have amounted to $40 million.

But that’s the least of Fiorina’s problems in the dogfight for a seat in the Senate. During her tenure, Middle East agents of H-P illegally sold sophisticated electronics to Iran. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department along with German and Russian authorities are also now investigating whether H-P executives paid nearly $11 million in bribes to win a $47.5 million computer sales contract in Russia. Such a payment would violate federal laws prohibiting U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials.

Only rarely has a former executive of a company involved in such cases run for major office while the allegations were unsettled. And no one in that situation has ever been elected to a top office.

Fiorina strongly denies any knowledge of either alleged violation. And the company says that “To suggest Carly Fiorina or any other senior executive in Palo Alto (corporate headquarters) then or now was knowledgeable of these alleged activities is wrong and not supported by the facts.”

But if the actions took place and Fiorina didn’t know, as she and the company insist, there’s the question of whether her executive oversight was adequate.

Campbell, too, would have to deal with history if he’s the nominee. As often as he’s tried to explain it and apologize for it, there is no doubt he wrote a 2002 letter questioning whether a Florida university should fire an ethnically Arab professor who later pleaded guilty to providing goods and services for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.

Less than a year before Campbell wrote that letter, NBC’s “Dateline” program aired videotape of the professor, Sami Al-Arian, proclaiming phrases like “Let us damn America” and “Victory to Islam” and “Death to Israel.”

Campbell, the most genteel of men, says he didn’t know of this before he wrote that letter and there’s no reason to doubt him. But the incident does raise questions about how much research he does before acting. The combination of the Al-Arian incident and an early spring anti-Campbell TV commercial in which the Iowa-based American Future Fund called him a pro-tax politician would surely eat into conservative enthusiasm for Campbell. No Republican can win in California without fired-up conservative backing.

DeVore would surely have that kind of support. But the reserve Army lieutenant colonel’s record in the Legislature has been so consistently hard-line conservative, opposing virtually all spending and environmental measures, that he would have trouble winning over the moderate Democrats and independent voters Republicans need to win top-of-the-ticket races in this state.

So yes, Boxer is vulnerable, as she is the first to admit she always is. But her potential opponents are probably no better off. Which means that no matter what any rating service might say, she’s still the clear favorite to win reelection.

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

Saturday, May 15, 2010




Every guesstimate of the coming year’s state budget deficit says it will come to about $16 billion, even if spending holds at the reduced levels reached by furloughing state employees, cutting hours at state parks and all the other slashes made after months of grinding negotiations last year.

That’s why the oil severance tax proposed by one of the Democrats now running for state attorney general has some traction. As envisioned by Assemblyman Pedro Nava of Santa Barbara – long a thorn in the side of oil companies – a tax of about 10 percent on the gross value of each barrel of oil pumped in California would bring in about $1.5 billion. If crude oil prices rise, so would tax revenue.

Nava proposes the oil tax as a means of saving some state programs. How many Cal State classes could $1.5 billion spare? How many more hours could it keep parks open? How many more patients could stay on the Healthy Families program? How many in-home caregivers could be kept at work?

But there’s another side to the oil severance tax. By pushing it aggressively and authoring the proposed Oil Industry Fair Share Act, Nava has set himself at least slightly apart from others seeking this year’s Democratic nomination for attorney general.

He’s a liberal, like all the rest: fellow Assembly members Albert Torrico of Fremont and Ted Lieu of Torrance, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and ex-Facebook executive Chris Kelly.

On the Republican side, Orange County state Sen. Tom Harman faces Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and former Chapman College Law School Dean John Eastman. There is no doubt where Harman and Eastman stand on any new tax: against.

Kelly, who has put $8 million of his own cash into the race, can spend more than any of the other Democrats. Harris has a close association with President Obama plus a lock on both the African-American vote and support in her home city. Delgadillo has ample name recognition in his huge home city and Torrico will run strongly in Oakland and San Francisco’s East Bay suburbs.

Nava lacks that kind of solid financial or geographic base. He needs something different. He won some note in his own area for fighting strongly against liquefied natural gas terminals and expanded oil drilling. But that got him scant attention elsewhere. So the oil severance tax could serve him well if he could get out his message about it.

Even then, it would only help him if the public got behind it. A similar levy was on the ballot in 2006 as Proposition 87 and failed badly. The revenue from that plan would have funded research and development of alternative energy sources – which lacked wide appeal in those flush times at the peak of California’s real estate boom.

The moment Nava so much as mentioned an oil severance tax, it drew fits from the petroleum industry. Such a tax, Joe Sparana, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., told a reporter, “would result in steep declines of California oil and natural gas production, the loss of nearly 9,850 jobs…and higher costs for consumers.”

As they did during the 2006 campaign, severance tax backers disagree, arguing the cost of any levy would be spread worldwide, meaning it would have negligible effects on gasoline prices here. They also point out that California is the only one of America’s 22 oil producing states with no severance tax.

And they point out that while governor of Alaska, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin raised her state’s oil severance tax by 10 percent – to 25 percent of the value of each drop of oil drilled. Since much of California’s gasoline is refined from Alaskan oil, says Nava, California drivers now are paying that severance tax, thus subsidizing the $1,305 each Alaskan gets yearly from oil tax revenues just for being an Alaskan.

Plus, they point out, the Alaskan tax hasn’t cut pumping there, nor has the levy hurt production in places like Texas and Oklahoma.

In fact, high oil levies are the main reason Texas has no income tax. Sparano argues California’s corporate income tax already hits oil companies at least as hard as severance taxes imposed elsewhere.

Given enough attention in hard times, a severance tax could have large-scale appeal, especially when several polls indicate voters would favor it if proceeds went to the state’s strapped general fund.

Why is all this important? Mostly because being attorney general has often been a stepping stone to the governor’s office. Earl Warren was attorney general. So were Pat Brown, George Deukmejian and unsuccessful 1978 Republican nominee Evelle Younger. Current Attorney General Jerry Brown wants to make the leap this year.

So there’s more here than just a possible tax on oil drilling. If the debate gets loud enough in the next few weeks, this just might have a major effect on California’s political future.

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




Remarkable change has come to the hyper-expensive run for the Republican nomination for governor, and it goes beyond mere polls. Suddenly there is no more whining from rivals about Meg Whitman’s money and her willingness to spend it.

The reason: beyond much doubt, this race has tightened considerably, demonstrating that Whitman didn’t get as much for her money as she hoped.

The former eBay chief executive has thus far dropped 59 million of her own dollars, plus about $10 million from other donors, into the most expensive state primary campaign in American history. Through the first three months of this year, she spent $249 per minute.

If she ends up losing despite a massive early lead, she will also demonstrate it is folly to spend too much too early.

After months of bombardment by Whitman ads, claims Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for fast-closing rival Steve Poizner, the current state insurance commissioner, GOP primary voters are hungry for some other message. “She did great when she was the only one out there,” he said. “But after hearing only one side for so long, people become receptive to a different message.”

Stevens says Poizner’s internal polling indicates the blatantly belittling tone of some Whitman TV potshots at Poizner also turned off many voters, leaving them open to Poizner’s return volleys at Whitman when he began airing them last month.

The all-but-certain Democratic candidate this fall, former Gov. and current Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, meanwhile has spent almost nothing and leads both Republicans in some polls.

There is little doubt a lot of the whining about spending by eMeg, as some call Whitman, was purely sour grapes and envy. As Whitman’s once-commanding lead shrank, Brown, for example, stopped saying he has not “lived the corporate life of flying around in private jets and having people do exactly what I tell them.” Nor has Poizner, who has put $19 million into his own campaign so far and possesses a fortune comparable to Whitman’s, complained lately about her “trying to buy the election.” Poizner never appeared to see how ironic that lament was, coming from him.

The fact is that while Whitman would be nowhere without her cash, her effort has not been entirely about big spending. She has traveled the state as extensively as any candidate ever, speaking to town halls and Republican groups in small towns and big cities.

By contrast, Brown has run the California equivalent of a “Rose Garden” primary campaign, mostly staying at home in Oakland.

Poizner also has traveled the state extensively, but was at first so hesitant about spending his money that in the down days of his campaign, some aides wondered if he would really spend as much as might be needed to win. The very different question now is whether all her early spending actually hurt Whitman, while Poizner was smart to husband his money. Poizner’s latest polling showed him trailing Whitman 38-28 percent, far closer than the 59-11 percent deficit the same pollster found in February.

For sure, Whitman has made mistakes not at all related to cash. She sounded like the political rookie she is while suggesting state legislators should organize into teams around specific issues. Didn’t she know every legislature from Congress down sets up committees that take on issues by category? Similarly, she announced she would have the attorney general take certain kinds of legal actions, then had to backtrack when informed the state’s top lawyer doesn’t work for the governor.

Those mistakes echoed some early errors by the recalled ex-Gov. Gray Davis, who allowed soon after being elected that the Legislature “exists to implement my vision,” and by current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who issued orders to the attorney general only to see them laughed off.

But Whitman’s non-stop advertising barrage drowned out her errors for awhile.

Similarly, voters didn’t seem to care much when Whitman refused for months to meet with most reporters. (She did sit for a telephone interview with this column as early as last September.) There was also little immediate effect when a website claimed her proposal to eliminate state capital gains taxes would cut her own state tax bill in half.

Compared with the juggernaut early feel of her overall campaign and her insistence on talking about jobs, government spending and education to the exclusion of almost everything else, these items seemed insignificant.

But maybe they really weren’t, if they helped set the stage for Poizner’s effective thrusts at her links to the Goldman Sachs investment bank, with which Poizner also has had some dealings.

The bottom line: Whitman’s money has bought her name recognition and the right to be taken seriously. But any serious candidate must contend with tough questions about past actions and words. This, of course, can lead to defeat if that past is at all questionable and if an opponent can buy enough ads to inform the voters about it.

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

Friday, May 7, 2010




These days, the Grand Canyon State is the place to go if you’re looking for the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Not only is Arizona state government just as broke as California’s, but foreclosure rates are higher and unemployment almost as high.

So it came as no big surprise when lawmakers there screwed up the illegal immigration issue, too, their action quickly making immigration law changes a top priority for President Obama. That happened when Arizona, home to the nation’s highest proportion of illegal immigrants, last month adopted America's most draconian law on their treatment.

“Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others,” Obama said. “That includes…the recent efforts in Arizona.” The president plainly knows several other Republican-dominated states are thinking of copying Arizona’s action.

Sentiment against illegal immigration runs even higher among Arizona voters than among Californians. Feelings are also strong among that state’s lawmakers, who easily passed a measure called SB 1070 that demands a far tougher crackdown than what Californians authorized when they passed Proposition 187 in 1994.

The California measure, quickly squelched by the federal courts, aimed to deny illegal immigrants virtually all public services, including schooling and most emergency room care. Proposition 187 passed with a 60 percent yes vote, not far below the 70 percent of Arizona voters the polls say favor its new law.

The Arizona measure contains one provision harsher that anything contemplated by Proposition 187’s sponsors. Even after a few amendments to soften it a bit, the law requires police to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they contact in the normal course of business who might be an illegal immigrant. Proof can be a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, green card or Indian tribal identification. The standard for demanding documents: “reasonable suspicion,” whatever that means.

Police officers who fail to act can be sued.

Despite many disclaimers and denials, those provisions essentially demand racial profiling. Contrary to protestations from Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the measure, anyone with even a slightly swarthy complexion will likely be questioned about citizenship in any encounter with police. That leads many native-born U.S. citizens to feel they now must carry proof of citizenship whenever they leave home.

It’s as clear-cut a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as there could be. That amendment promises “equal protection of the law” to all citizens – even if their complexions are olive colored or light brown. The onus is on those stopped to prove their legal status, not on the police to show they’re undocumented -- another constitutional problem.

Even before Brewer signed this law, Obama pronounced it a “threat to basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.”

The onetime constitutional law professor not only promised to sic the Justice Department on SB 1070, but immediately began pushing for congressional action on immigration reform that would include some sort of path to citizenship for illegals, something many activists label “amnesty” no matter what onerous conditions might come with it. Among Obama’s post-health care priorities, immigration suddenly moved up into at least a tie with climate change legislation.

Which means the Arizona lawmakers have probably done more to advance the cause of amnesty than anyone else in years.

Arizona’s legislative geniuses shot themselves in the foot in other ways, too. Besides fighting illegal immigration, their other stated top cause is job creation to fix their state’s high unemployment rate.

There’s no evidence the new law will create any jobs, but it may eliminate some, if the many calls since its passage for business, convention and tourism (read: baseball spring training) boycotts draw much response. For sure, it rang alarm bells among hoteliers, who employ 200,000 persons in Arizona.

California is the largest source of tourists for Arizona, and cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are now actively considering boycotts. Conventions slated for Arizona immediately began booking elsewhere, too, as they did years ago when Arizona was the last holdout against recognizing the Martin Luther King holiday.

The lawmakers also often worry aloud about budgets. No one yet has made a reliable estimate of this law’s overall costs, but there are clues in a fact sheet issued by Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden in response to a similar 2006 bill that was eventually vetoed by Janet Napolitano, then the Arizona governor and now U.S. homeland security secretary.

Ogden said arresting and processing prisoners would cost police agencies in his border county between $775,000 and $1.2 million per year. Jail costs would be at least $21 million, he added, with a minimum of another $800,000 going to attorneys. Plus, the county would need new detention facilities, cost unknown. That’s just for one smallish county.

The bottom line: If prospects improve soon for a major shift in federal immigration policy, much of the blame – or credit – should go to Arizona’s feckless state Legislature.

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




For months, most so-called political experts in California assumed the fall race for governor will pit Republican billionaire Meg Whitman against Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

“In the annals of California political history, very few campaigns have been worse than that which Steve Poizner has run for governor,” longtime Republican consultant Tony Quinn, now an editor of the California Target Book political guide, wrote in a major newspaper. He used words like “keystone kops” to describe Poizner’s effort.

“(Poizner’s) campaign is finished,” intoned the Wall Street Journal.

And yet…For almost a month, public polls and private surveys by both Republican and Democratic politicians have shown Poizner narrowing a gap that once had him as far as 50 percentage points behind Whitman, the former eBay chief executive who has spent more than $60 million so far, barraging Californians with seemingly ubiquitous radio and television commercials for the last eight months.

Poizner, by contrast, chose to husband his money and didn’t begin his own ad campaign until mid-March. Six weeks into that effort, he had shaved between 20 percent and 30 percent off Whitman’s lead, causing her to stop talking much about her putative fall campaign against Brown and revert to earlier attacks on Poizner.

“We’re running as if we were 20 points behind,” Whitman press
secretary Sarah Pompei said. “We are taking nothing for granted.”

That’s a switch for Whitman, who told some audiences in March the Republican primary race was over.

This doesn’t surprise Poizner, who said all along that Whitman’s support might have been wide, but was also paper thin and would drop away when he went after her. His latest and most biting ads, which rip Whitman’s decade-long close ties to the scandal-ridden investment banking house of Goldman Sachs, do not even figure into the latest polling results. Nor does the pair's early-May debate, where Whitman turned plaintively to the camera and said to viewers, "I ask you not to judge me on the mistakes I've made, but on my ideas." Translation: Please watch what I say, not what I do.

California has seen plenty of political comebacks, both in primary and general elections. One reason is that many voters don’t begin focusing seriously until about four to six weeks before Election Day.

One classic turnaround, in 2002, saw Republican financier Bill Simon come from more than 30 points behind former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in less than one month to win the GOP’s nomination against then-Gov. Gray Davis. That was a classic race between a moderate Republican (Riordan) and a conservative.

So it’s no accident that many Poizner ads call him the “real Republican” and identify Whitman with current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who never won a Republican primary and is regarded by some GOP voters as a “RINO” – Republican in name only.

Poizner’s closest aides say they never paid attention to outsiders who once called their campaign pathetic. “A lot of influential people wrote us off a long time ago, but we’ll wait for the voters,” said Jarrod Agen, Poizner’s communications director. “I think we’ll prove the experts wrong.”

He says private polling for Poizner showed his turnaround beginning in mid-April, just after his first large-scale television buy. Agen said ads linking Whitman with Schwarzenegger and his political cadre have been effective. Expect more of them.

Echoing Brown’s campaign manager Steve Glazer, Agen claimed Whitman’s big spending bought her little besides name recognition. “A lot of voters now know who she is,” he said. “But the depth of commitment to her is very low. Plus, she was the only one advertising for a long time, which made any poll taken during that time misleading.”

One thing to note: Poizner didn’t go strongly negative against Whitman until early May. Until then, his ads said nothing about her involvement with the Goldman Sachs investment banking house that's now under federal prosecution for fraud. Expect this race to become much tighter, perhaps even a tossup, after voters begin digesting the new spots.

“There is no doubt Whitman’s numbers are going down,” Agen said. “Voters are shifting as they see Steve’s ads.”

Poizner counted on that all along. Refusing to respond in kind when Whitman took to the airwaves early, he was convinced he would reach voters when they were ready to pay attention. So far, that’s working out for him.

One sign of this is the fact that Whitman’s own commercials, which began attacking Poizner last winter and then turned more positive, took a new turn toward the negative in late April.

For sure, if Poizner pulls off the comeback he has so often predicted, it will be the most dramatic in California political history. But it will guarantee nothing in the fall, as Simon learned when Davis drubbed him in the 2002 runoff election.

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