The Man Who Would Be Kingmaker

Or, better yet as a title, Mitt Romney –You’re terminated. For the last year-most recently just eleven days ago—his Schwarzeneggerness was declaring that he wouldn’t endorse a GOP contender prior to the Fab Feb Five primary. Oh what a difference a fortnight makes. Or clear indications from South Carolina and Florida as to whom the GOP nominee will probably be.

The Terminator’s endorsement will play a strong role in helping John McCain win the state Tuesday. The core of the California Republican party sees McCain as a RINO at best, an outright liberal at worst (of course the right wing of the California GOP thinks Ghengis Khan was too progressive). But GOP moderates who voted for Arnold will be more than happy to darken an oval for the Gubenator’s new best political bud. Given McCain’s momentum coming into the Golden State and the increasing national perception of McCain as a politically dead man walking, Gentleman John Mc probably wins the state by a comfortable margin.

Smart move by our Barbarian Governor. Also a move I said he’d need to take last February. Principle and keeping to one’s word is one thing and doing the politically expedient thing can often be quite another. But ingratiating himself with McCain Schwarzenegger can take credit for delivering California if McCain wins the state. And if California puts McCain’s campaign over the top as the clear front runner of the party, Arnold can also claim the mantle of presidential king maker.

If McCain wins next November (unlikely) then Arnold has a pal in the White House whose IOU Arnold holds in his pocket. Or humidor, as the case may be. A McCain loss next November leaves Schwarzenegger the de facto power in the GOP as governor of the nation’s larger state. Either way, Arnold comes out of this a paramount national figure in the GOP. Which won’t hurt him come his run in 2010 against Barbara Boxer.

As Mel Brooks said, “It’s good to be the king.”



In the end-of-semester grading rush, I completely overlooked blogging on the Mayor’s State of the City address two weeks back. You remember, the one where Gentleman Jerry gave a rousing speech on how peachy-keen things were going in San Diego and how even more peachy-keener they would be this year? And then the next day announced just how deep that pool of red ink the city was drowning in would be this year?

Let me say this about Jerry’s speech: Yawn.

Between the State of the City and the State of the Union addresses (the one where the Obama snub of Clinton was the most substantive thing to happen), all I can say is wake me up when it’s 2009.

Oh, and St. Francis of the City, take heart—Sanders continues to be so awe-inspiringly uninspired and you just might have a chance to win this thing come June.

Fire Flap

Okay, so Sanders and Aguirre disagree on what to do with state and city recommendations on creating stricter building code standards for homes in San Diego’s now well-proven fire-prone areas. Aguirre thinks such standards should be applied to all residences, those currently existing and those which are still but a twinkle in a developer’s eye. Sanders has balked, opposing retroactively applying such regulations to existing home owners. And legal experts say Aguirre may be off base in proposing to do so. Trying to enforce new fire codes on existing homes is a likely first-class ticket to the courts.

There goes that whacky old Mike again, making policy recommendations he isn’t charged to do that are legally dubious at best, politically disastrous at worst. And, once again, Aguirre is also right in what he’s advocating, even as the slings and arrows of the Mayor rain down upon him.

He may not be politically right, calling on home owners who have a good chance of being burned out in what, given global warming, will probably become even more frequent wildfires gone wild to take proactive steps now to prevent catastrophic loss later. It’s the classic short-term thinking free rider program. What homeowner wants to willingly shell out money now for a fire that may or may not (read “Will”) come later? Especially if the government can be relied on to rush in and spend whatever it takes to protect whoever needs protecting despite how little they’ve done to protect themselves?

This is America, dammit, where people are free to make any dumbass decision they want and expect everyone else, through the instrument of the state, to shoulder the cost. And Sanders, facing an unexpectedly contested reelection campaign, isn’t about to put the slightest pressure on a volatile electorate, public safety and common sense be damned. Interesting that, also facing a significant electoral challenge, Aguirre doesn’t flinch from pursuing what he thinks is good policy and plain common sense.

You see fire is a funny thing – it don’t give a wit if the house it’s chewing on is new construction or old, Your house gets in the way of it—be it a home in a brand new development or an old, established community, the fire dragon will eat it up and spit out the ash. What about the last two great fires don’t people get? So exempting any home in a fire-prone zone from upgrading to higher safety standards is going to result, when the next big one comes, in either more houses burning than should have or a bigger cost to our firefighting budgets—and potential lives of firemen—than should be, or both. My bet is on the later.

It seems likely the legal experts are right — attempting to do what Aguirre calls for and retrofit all homes for fire safety may be illegal under current law and will certainly draw legal challenges. So how about our local state legislators get off the stick and change said laws, indemnifying the City from challenges and damages in enforcing the sorts of fire codes we should have adopted decades ago in the first place? Then the messy business of making people do what is good for themselves and not push the cost of their inaction off onto everyone else can be addressed.

And if the Mayor and City Council don’t like the City Attorney crossing lines and usurping their legislative prerogative, then how about they get of the stick, too, and take real steps—potentially politically painful ones—to protect the people of San Diego from the inevitable next inferno.

But that Aguirre, man. Wanting to guarantee every home is adequately prepared to deal with the next fire. What a nutjob.

Maienschein Steamroller

Maienschein? Councilman Maienschein? The kind of competent but blends into the City Council crowd Maienschein? That’s the one who’s now joined the dogpile on Mike Aguirre?

OK. Wonders never cease.

Now, if you’d said Peters, that would be a different story. While I’ve disagreed with Councilman P repeatedly over the years he a) has the gravitast; and b) has the high profile to run against Aguirre — something many have thought and continue to think he should do. Peters is probably the only municipal figure of note that could give Aguirre the Avenger a run for his political money.

But Maienschein? Nice enough guy, but here’s what his candidacy will do: he’ll split the anti-Aguirre vote with Judge Jan, Disgruntled Dan and whomever else hops on the pile. If Alan B. decides to sit this one out, Maienschein, with his built in voter constituency, is best positioned to come in second to Aguirre in the June primary. And Mike mauls him come November for being a member of the very City Council that got San Diego into the mess Mike’s been railing against for the last four year.

Jeez, Aguirre. How lucky can you get?

The Return of St. Francis of Deep Pockets

In an utterly surprising move (except for the last six months of hints and innuendo) politician-turned-businessman-turned wanna be a politician again Steve “Have Millions, Will Run” Francis has thrown his hat (and checkbook) into the Mayoral ring.

While it might seem odd for a Republican to enter a race to defeat a still largely popular incumbent fellow Republican who has already beaten said Republican once before one must remember that:

a) This is California where Republicans seem to take great joy in devouring their own;
b) This is San Diego where the only people to run for Mayor are either Republicans or Donna Frye; and
c) Hope springs eternal.

Actually, Francis is better positioned to challenge Sanders than conventional wisdom might hold. First, Sanders has, as Francis said when he announced his candidacy, fallen far short on all of his 2005 campaign promises. Second, while Sanders has remained popular, he has so far had no real competition for popularity from either a lackluster City Council or even a popular but much maligned City Attorney. Show San Diegans a new (OK, retreaded, if you will) face as a choice and Sanders popularity may dwindle. Third, even though conventional wisdom (my own included) held the City’s response to the great fires of ’07 made Sanders fireproof for the next election, as the truth behind the inadequacies of City preparation for responding to such a next, great fire have emerged, much of Sanders’ political Asbestos has been shredded.

In short, Sanders is vulnerable and Francis realized it. And, indeed, as long as no Democrat in town demonstrates the huevos rancheros to actually run against a vulnerable Republican incumbent, Francis (as both the UT and the Voice of San Diego have pointed out) can outflank Sanders from the left as a Obama/Donna Frye style populist and from the right as a social conservative.

Of course, how long Francis can slice the political salami both ways is problematic. At some point, no matter how much he says Donna Frye would have been a better Mayor than Jerry Sanders, Francis’ positions on Unions (don’t like ‘em) City Government (way too big) and social issues (endorsing gay marriage is a boo-boo) will probably catch up with him and the choice come June will between a nice but incompetent moderate and a trying to be nicer, competent conservative.

That is, for the ten thousandth time, unless Democrats wake up and smell the electoral bacon.

Meanwhile I found it fascinating that Francis went out of his way when he appeared on the Roger Hedgecock Show Tuesday to endorse Mike Aguirre and his much belittled pension lawsuits. Stevo basically said that, until the last fat judge sings, Aguirre should continue all legal avenues available to role back illegal pension benefits. This after the conservative bastion of record and much of the city council has spent the last year blasting Aguirre for wasting money on such frivolous lawsuits. Which, of course, immediately reigns down on Francis the wrath of Aguirre don’t-likers but which also helps to position him as a for-the-people-against-the-establishment populist like Mauling Mike.

If you thought a Sanders/Aguirre axis was the ultimate odd couple just wait. You ain’t seen nuthin’ until the Mike and Steve show hit the political road.

And you thought only national politics could be this twistedly interesting!

(PS: Note to Roger H. Dude, I know you have a schtick that has worked for years – keep hammering on the same old themes of evil unions, incompetent city government, loony liberals, nefarious illegal immigrants, overly starched underwear, et. al. But do you always have to use that whinny voice –you know the one, the faux-effeminate, speak with a lisp and disparage the people you disagree with by making them seem gay—you use whenever you slam someone with a position you don’t approve of? “Oh those liberalths. They wan to thave the treeths, be nicer to the illegal alienths” That kind of thing. I though most people grew out of using thinly–veiled gay-bashing to disparage other people back in middle school PE. Sure, Rush Limbaugh does the same thing regularly but he’s a moron, after all. So from now on, how about dropping that lisp. Unless you basically believe your audience is predominantly a bunch of junior high maturity level troglodytes. Just a friendly suggestion.)

Birds of a Feather

What does the Gubenator and Gentleman Jerry have in common? Both are on the losing end of fiscal policy. What neither the politicians in Sacramento or San Diego were willing to accept was that the last two years were the good years in the tax revenue cycle and that the housing bubble bursting in 2007-2008, just like the bubble burst in 1999-2000, is going to take down their fiscal house of cards like Hurricane Katrina versus a Gulf Coast trailer park. It’s time we get use to the “R” word — recession — and with it renewed fiscal crisis. That’s my second “told you so” of the day.

As The Kids Say

Out of the Mouth Of Modern Babes

The question of the day on this morning’s KPBS radio was whether or not the Chargers doing well in the playoffs will affect their quest for a new stadium.

The answer, as the kids say, is a resounding “DUH!”

The Chargers spent 2007 preparing to clinch a playoff berth on the field while, off the field trying to clinch a location for a new stadium. Considering almost as many alternative locations as the Regional Airport Authority did looking to replace Lindberg (at least the Spanos family didn’t consider trying to build a floating stadium, though then again…) they zeroed in on Chula Vista—a city apparently in even worse fiscal shape than San Diego. The Chargers real end game is to put so much pressure on Jerry Sanders and Mike Aguirre in their respective reelection years—“What, you let them become the Chula Vista Chargers?”—that they finally get some concessions on their field of Dreams. And, just like the Padres understood, it doesn’t hurt to having a winning team while trying to woe the local pols and public. Meanwhile if Sander’s and Aguirre’s most likely serious challengers—that would be Steve “Let’s Spend Another Million” Francis and Alan “I’m betting the MEA hates Aguirre more than the SDTA hates me” Bersin, respectively—want a ready-made issue for June, Charger fever could become their best political lightening bolt.

Dream on Chula Vista – you’re just a shill in the Chargers’ end game.

Meanwhile, in case anyone is paying attention amidst all the Bolts’ hoopla, the Iowa and New Hampshire contests have come and gone and now its on to Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and Tsunami Tuesday and who are leading their respective packs? Ahem. That would be Clinton and McCain. And who has said since spring they were going to win the big enchiladas? Ahem.

Children of the Corn

The Iowa caucus results are in. A rational person may, of course, be tempted to say—would be justified to say, even—“So what? A couple of hundred thousand Iowans have had their say. Let’s get on with life.” But politics, like other, more worthwhile things in life, is occurs largely between the ears. And in American politics Iowa does matter to some degree, rationality be damned.

So what does a reading of the corn husks tell us? On the Republican side, John McCain may turn out to be the bigger winner. Mike Huckabee can win the rural heartland vote but before he returns to those fertile, evangelical fields, he has to face more secular New Hampshire where he will probably still, despite Iowa, come in third behind McCain and Romney. Huckabee might survive a bronze in NH and go on to silver or gold in South Carolina but doesn’t have the legs or pockets to carry both the home of the Confederacy and the home of old northeasterners (that would be Florida) within twenty four hours of each other.

Romney, meanwhile, may have taken the biggest hit yesterday having outspent Huckabee decisively only to come in second. While McCain’s finishing fourth behind Thompson wasn’t stellar, a) he didn’t contest the state heavily; and b) He’s more popular in NH. Thompson and the rest of the GOP crowd–except for Rudy—meanwhile, may limp through NH but will be gone before the first votes are cast in Dixie. If McCain can pull out a first or second in New Hampshire and South Carolina and a win in Florida, he’ll be well established for a decisive upset win on Super Tuesday. Move over Bill Clinton. Meet the new comeback kid. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s the Matter With Iowa?

I trust you are all wearing your “Go Iowa” tee-shirts and buying corn chowder to serve at your Iowa Caucus cocktail parties tonight! That’s right, Californians, its time for that quadrennial political celebration in which the Golden State is reduced to an impotent spectator while Iowa and New Hampshire boldly lead the nation forward.

When I was in Russia during the 2000 Presidential primary season on a Fulbright lecture fellowship I discussed with my Russian students how the US picks its candidates for its highest office. The Russians were, at that same time, electing the successor to Boris Yeltsin.

Their approach was straight forward: each of the recognized parties put forth a candidate – usually their leader—and a national election was held. Whichever candidate received a majority of the vote became President. If no candidate did, the top two candidates would go on to a runoff a few months later. Yeltsin resigned at the stroke of midnight, New Years Day, 2000. By March Vladimir Putin had won the first round of the election—and the Presidency—with over half the vote (albeit it thanks to no small share of vote manipulation, to be sure.) While the integrity of the Russian process is problematic, the process itself—similar to that which most elected democracies use—is simplicity itself. Any candidate who wants to run is on the ballot and then the whole nation gets to chose from that list. Read the rest of this entry »