Monthly Archives: March 2009

No Cliffhanger: The GOP’s Lemming Leadership

This Bites



Let’s get serious about the English language. Seems we in Sacramento are pretty cavalier about the term “leadership.”

Is it true leadership if the leader is taking you off a cliff a la the final scene in Thelma and Lousie?  That’s the question any thinking moderate Californian should be asking in light of comments from the State Senate’s freshly-minted Republican “leader” Dennis Hollingsworth.

The Senator came into the spotlight yesterday, telling the Sacramento Press Club that his words were twisted out of context when,  during the budget impasse, he reportedly urged fellow Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado to let California “go into bankruptcy, let it go off a cliff, we need to prove a point, that it’s the majority’s fault.”

Hollingsworth’s “context” defense carries about as much weight as a Twinkie for anyone who has ever worked inside the Capitol, where pettiness knows few bounds.

[Note: Democrats are just as guilty of factoring into the mix how certain proposals and votes will “jam” the other party. But at least they haven’t of late been as blatant or tone deaf in public as Hollingsworth. They and the Governor actually appear to be trying to solve a serious problem by making difficult choices. What a concept.]

Since the new minority leader is the one who opened his mouth, he’s the one under the microscope. Which brings us back to the question of leadership and Hollingsworth’s utterances on Proposition 1A.

The May 19 ballot measure is the brainchild of the Legislature and the Governor.  Sure it has unsavory elements, but they are spread around. Extended tax increases for spending caps. 

Perfect? Far from it. But it’s not like this is some leftwing conspiracy. Special interests on the hard right and left hate both hate the ballot package. That should tell us something. The California Chamber and Farm Bureau Federation are supporting the initiative. Hardly radical groups. That says even more about this measure making enough sense to vote for it.  Even if its a Hail Mary pass play, who the hell cares at this point? 

Hollingsworth’s assurances he won’t be campaigning against Prop. 1A and the other ballot measures were mighty big of him. Just tell the entire capitol press corps and millions of Californians through the news media that the package sucks and is doomed to defeat. But no campaigning! The needle on the Blue Dog’s BS meter almost spun off the dial over that one.

Rather than standing with the entire Army, taking some bullets and showing a united front against a common enemy, Hollingsworth is taking his platoon AWOL and running for the cliffs, scorching the earth with flamethrowers as they bolt away. How sadly predictable.

The Blue Dog Dictionary doesn’t count this as leadership.


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Rumor Mill: Canciamilla Making Run for Congressional Seat

main_dogWhile the Blue Dog considers himself  more of a policy guy than a hardcore observer of candidate maneuverings, he isn’t above sharing some grist for the Capitol rumor mill when it lands on his plate. 

A well-placed source in the building offers this unsubstantiated scoop:

“Ex-Mod Squad Assemblymember Joe Canciamilla is preparing to run for the Congressional seat being vacated by Ellen Tauscher after she goes to the Obama Administration. He has $$$ in the bank and is being supported by a group of Silicon Valley types who supposedly will provide funding.
“Tom Torlakson has said that he will not enter the race and will instead be sticking with his run for Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has endorsed current State Senator Mark DeSaulnier for the seat, so there could be an expensive primary shootout between Canciamilla and DeSaulnier.” 

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Hit the Roads, Jack


Sleeping DogWhile right wingers love to pillory the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a leftist organization, the ACLU has historically defended free speech across the spectrum. If the Blue Dog’s memory serves him correctly, the group has even defended the right of such despicable hate groups as the KKK to spew their vitriolic propaganda. The ACLU is at its most credible and noble when it rises above politics and keeps its eye on free speech regardless of how abhorrent or offensive it may be. 

Against this backdrop, let’s take a look at today’s news about Latino legislators and ethnic groups seeking to ban the San Diego Minutemen from the state’s Adopt-A-Highway Program. Okay, so the Minutemen are very close to, if not over, the line when it comes to patriotism bleeding into vigilantism. But is a highway cleanup sponsorship really the hill you want to die on? 

The Blue Dog thinks the issue is a a loser since it plays into the hands of the Minutemen. First, protecting the border is a federal issue; let them deal with it. Second, by elevating this in the media, you give the Minutemen unwarranted stature and attention. Third, while we don’t know where the ACLU is on this, there are likely legitimate free speech issues that make a legal battle futile.  

CalTrans head Will Kempton summed it up best: “The bottom line is there is no way to deny these folks regardless of how we feel about them.”

The Blue Dog recommends a more intriguing tactic: The Hispanic groups should organize their own set of volunteers to oversee the Minutemen’s clean up effort. Police them like the Minutemen police the border. Break out the video cameras to make sure they do their jobs cleaning up California. That would really get their goat. “Hey you missed that cigarette butt over there. Get the lead out, gringos before that Burger King bag blows away.”  There is no telling how much enjoyment could be derived from watching the watchdogs pick up garbage.  

Litter is supposedly such an ominous issue confronting California that the state Legislature has introduced a whole package of ludicrous bills intended to combat the problem (more on that in a future post). So if this truly is such a huge crisis facing the state, then let’s turn the Minutemen loose and divert their energy to picking up trash. Meantime, the Blue Dog is going to take a nap on this one. Wake him up when the roads are clean.

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A Doddering DC Hurts California

dog_snarling1Let’s get this right out front: The Blue Dog is an Obama supporter. While certainly not in lock step with everything the President says and does, the Blue Dog thinks he is the right man for the job at this onerous time in our nation’s history.  It’s not his fault that Godzilla had already taken over Wall Street and the nation’s economy by the time he moved into the White House. The Blue Dog bristles at the daily barbs and self aggrandizing attacks on the President by the Hannity, O’Reilly and their ilk. There is little, if anything, constructive about them.

American moderates of all stripes are pulling for this country to get its act together and witness some WWII era unity. But the AIG scandal is starting to say more about the incompetence of Capitol Hill and shakiness of the Administration than it does about rampant and obscene corporate greed. This episode isn’t some abstract scandal that happens 3,000 miles away. U.SSen. Christopher Dodd does California a disservice when he denies and then later admits he knew and approved language paving the way for obscene bonuses. It also gives ammo to the right wingers when it surfaces that Dodd is the top recipient of AIG political contributions over the years, as the Wall Street Journal reports today. 

All this bumbling and doddering damages credibility in Sacramento as well. It undermines efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to convince the public to support upcoming ballot propositions that would increase taxes in exchange for spending caps and tighter reins on fiscal accountability.  Government needs to prove it can police itself, as well as a corporate America receiving billions from taxpayers. 

The Blue Dog weighed in yesterday leaning heavily in support for Prop. 1A, which is on the California ballot this May. But the mess in Washington creates a perception 1A supporters will have to work overtime to overcome. While government cannot always run like business — they are indeed two separate animals — Sacramento needs to lay out clear metrics, oversight controls and layers of accountability to ensure the ballot measures in fact do what they are supposed to.


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The Beast with Two Backs

dog_withboneThe Blue Dog applauds the Sacramento Bee’s Dan Weintraub for his clarity in exposing  the odd bedfellows snuggling together beneath the sheets of Proposition 1A. The May 19 special election measure, an outgrowth of this year’s big budget compromise, asks Californians to approve short-term tax hikes in exchange for spending caps.

In the real world, these are called tradeoffs. Hard choices. Balancing competing interests. Gray areas. But, predictably, these are alien concepts for the black-and-white crowd.  

 “It contains elements that are very distasteful to both the hard right and the hard left of the political spectrum,” writes Weintraub, who wonders if voters in the middle (that’s us) will “split the difference between the extremes and chart a centrist path for their troubled state.” 

Let’s hope so. The Blue Dog thinks this is a no-brainer for moderates of both parties. On one hand, we have the lunatics on the right who see taxes everywhere — just like M. Night Shyamalan sees dead people. On the other, we have the liberal maniacs who think of government as a giant ATM that is morally obligated to generate taxpayer dollars as responsibly as the OctoMom spits out babies. 

This odd pair of special interests claim nothing is going on between the two. No hanky panky. They’re just staying on their respective sides of the bed, spineless backs toward one another, heads gently resting on their ideological pillows. The Blue Dog suspects something a bit more unseemly – a little political dry humping perhaps, making the beast with two backs at worst. This bedroom needs some air freshener and even more sunlight from the capitol press corps. 

Do the polar opposites really believe the rest of us wouldn’t notice how bizarre this relationship is and what it suggests to moderate Californians who want solutions and reform, even if imperfect and difficult as they may be?

Meg Whitman’s op-ed yesterday against Prop. 1A was disappointing in this regard; instead of staking out the middle ground, she used the issue to pander to the anti-tax zealots in advance of her 2010 gubernatorial run. (Whitman, it should be noted, is a distant third in a CalBlueDog poll behind Dianne Feinstein and Tom Campbell as the best moderate candidate for California). Hey, Meg, did you realize the California Chamber of Commerce supports Prop. 1A?

While the Blue Dog is still checking out the fine print, if the extremists on both sides of the political divide loathe Prop 1A, there’s a 99 percent likelihood the measure is a sure-fire measure voters should pass. If you’re sick in bed  (no matter who you are sleeping with), do you really expect the doctor’s medicine to taste like honey?

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Blue Dog Upgrades


main_dog1Based on some input from readers, the Blue Dog has made a couple changes to the site:

(1) Readers can now subscribe via email. Check out the button in the upper right of the screen. Also, to confirm subscription you need to respond to an email from a service call Feedburner; if you don’t get it, please check your junk email box. 

(2) Blue Dog has a new URL that is easier to remember: While the WordPress site still works, calbluedog gets you there too. 

In a bit over a week since going public, we’ve had more than 1,200 visitors. Feel free comment here with any other suggested improvements to the site that will make this easier to use and follow. The Blue Dog thanks you.

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No Bull: More Legislators Needed in Sacramento

main_dog1California legislators are out of touch for a very good reason: they represent too many people. 

Our state possesses the dubious distinction of being the least democratic and representative of any state in the union. So when a free-thinking voice in the Capitol is bullied, stifled or silenced by either Republican or Democratic party leadership, Californians living in those districts are disenfranchised in massive numbers. Each Senator represents about 847,000 Californians; each Assemblymember 423,500 constituents. 

To put this in perspective, Senators in other states represent a rough ballpark average of 120,000 — anywhere from 16,459 (Wyoming) to as many as 672,000 (Texas). For Assemblymembers in the rest of the nation, it’s an average of about 47,000 — from 3,089 (New Hampshire, which has 400 Assemblymembers) to 139,00 (Texas). 

The Blue Dog pulled this data from the National Conference of State Legislatures; it is a real eye opener because California’s numbers are so grotesquely out of whack in comparison –even with large states like New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Washington and Minnesota. 

So here’s an idea the Blue Dog wants to put out for discussion: Californians should consider more legislators in the Capitol as a solution to gridlock. Yes, you read correctly. More of those same people who have crippled and disgraced our government? The Blue Dog realizes this sounds crazy and counterintuitive.  After all, how can more of a bad thing be good? 

One word: accountability. 

More legislators would mean smaller districts. Smaller districts would mean our elected officials would be responsible for smaller geographic areas and fewer constituents. We might even know who they are and be able to recognize them so we could bend their ears at a Home Depot or Safeway or Olive Garden. Smaller regions could mean more affordable campaigns. More affordable campaigns would likely result in a larger pool of candidates less beholden to the parties. 

The millions of moderate California Republicans and Democrats — and smaller parties themselves, like Green, Libertarian, Independents and Peace & Freedom Parties — deserve a voice more in line with their numbers. Micro legislative districts could be part of the answer if they diluted the polarized party political power and gave Centrists more representation, greater leverage and the ability to play a role in influential coalitions. 

Sure this is a simple concept. But it has some merit. So why isn’t this reform idea in play? Splitting California into three states sounds intriguing, but is really a pipe dream. Redistricting is a necessary reform that needs to happen. But changing boundaries doesn’t get at the root problem. We know the banking system got too big for its own good. The Blue Dog wonders if the same isn’t true for the California Legislature. He’s going to have a cigar now and chew on this bone some more. What do you think?


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The Bass-O-Matic: Leadership or Abuse of Power?


Years ago, Saturday Night Live’s Dan Aykroyd performed a skit about the Super Bass-O-Matic 76, a blender that churned up raw bass for a fish shake. Speaker Bass this week delivered her own version of the concoction she makes with the Super Bass-o-Matic 09. Instead of raw fish, her blender mixes bullying, intolerance, immaturity and questionable ethics to gin up a drink that is just as distasteful and even more putrid than Aykroyd’s fish beverage.

A few days ago, the Blue Dog lashed out at the Neanderthals in the Republican Party who ostracized the “Sane Six” after voting for the budget and tax hikes. Apparently Speaker Bass-o-Matic shares this inability to distinguish punishment from true vision and leadership. If you don’t think like Big Brother or Big Sister, goodbye committee chairmanships; that’s what the Bee Capitol Alert reported Bass did to three Dems who broke with the party caucus on spending caps and budget trailer bills. It’s like she knows just enough about Willie Brown to be dangerous.

Indeed, it’s a sad commentary when the Democrats so readily disrespect and drop the torch of tolerance. But Bass has reinforced the notion that free speech and tolerance — the once proud domain of the Democratic Party — is a total sham and feel-good myth. As a moderate Democrat, the Blue Dog is disgusted. Witnessing these Thought Police trampling all over moderates and free speech, I can’t help thinking Bass and her ilk are on their way to a book-burning street party. This is precisely what galls moderates from both parties.

And as long as everyone is playing hardball: What is the difference between this brand of leadership and vote trading, blackmail and bribery? The Blue Dog would be interested in what the Fair Political Practices Commission has to say on the matter. And what about you?

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2010 Governor’s Race to the Center

Main DogA surprising data point in Sunday’s New York Times: “38 percent of Americans say they are Democrats, 28 percent call themselves Republicans, and another 29 percent identify as independents, according to an average of national polls conducted last year by The New York Times and CBS News.”

While some of those calling themselves independent may be at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, the Blue Dog assumes most inhabit the center, and even may be registered in either party. We all know how shamelessly politicians pander in the primaries to their respective party’s ideological base. But then for the general election, they move to the center. 

If Californians mirror the national statistic, then nearly a third of the electorate is in the center. Given this assumption, the Blue Dog thought it would be an interesting exercise to flash forward to the fall of 2010.  So how do the proclaimed and suspected candidates for Governor look through a centrist lens? Tell the Blue Dog what you think by answering this quick poll, and forwarding to anyone whose opinion you respect. And if you think of any serious name who has been omitted, let the Blue Dog know. If we get a good turnout, we may do a runoff. 

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