Because of the California Republican Party convention starting today in San Jose, this is a road day for me. Not a day for poring through the stack of documents I’ve just gotten on the California Children and Families Commission, better known as the First Five Commission, the tobacco tax-funded state agency headed by movie director/initiative promoter Rob Reiner.
Nevertheless, there is something new. As the L.A. Times reported a few days ago, the commission spent some $230 million on advertising and public relations. Readers may have assumed that all but a few million dollars went into advertising efforts, since media buys are expensive. However, it turns out that over one-fourth of that $230 million went to public relations. That is an awful lot of public relations.
Of the sixtysome million dollars spent on public relations by the Reiner commission, about half seems to have been funneled through the private public relations firm retained by the commission to over 150 “community-based organizations.”
The firm in question, incidentally, is a spin-off of a major entertainment PR firm. When I’ve reviewed the documents in detail I’ll report more. Nevertheless, that is an awful lot of money for PR.
Rob Reiner still has not returned my calls regarding his status with the commission. His term of office, as Governor Schwarzenegger’s office told me Wednesday, ended in 2004. He has not been reappointed and no replacement has been named. The governor has taken no position on Reiner’s continued tenure as head of the commission. He could, of course, replace Reiner at any moment by naming someone to fill the seat for the new term of office.
I spoke with an aide to Reiner this morning who told me that he has no answer as yet regarding Reiner’s plans and status with the commission. Meanwhile, an interesting Reiner-related aside. The Internet Movie Database has Reiner working with former U.S. Secretary of the Navy James Webb on a movie project. Webb is one of the Naval Academy’s most famous graduates, winner of the Navy Cross as a Marine officer in Vietnam and favorite of Ronald Reagan, a very fine writer and novelist. But commentator Hugh Hewitt tells me that Webb has switched parties and is now running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in Virginia.
Republican politicos from across California gather tonight in San Jose for their state party convention and to hear their once extraordinarily unlikely governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rally them to the cause in this (latest) election year.
Among the ranks of the rank and file, however, will not be Arnold’s newest chief of staff, Susan Kennedy. For the former cabinet secretary to ex-Governor Gray Davis, executive director of the state Democratic Party, and one-time leader in Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Campaign for Economic Democracy is, still, technically, a Democrat. More to the point, she is highly controversial with members of her semi-adopted party. Team Schwarzenegger sources say she will be nowhere near the governor’s San Jose convention site as he attempts to rally his party at its kick-off convention banquet tonight.
Incidentally, the party will have not one, but two convention banquets. As befits an organization in deep need of money. The party, like its governor’s campaign committee, is near broke. Arnold headlines one tonight, New York Governor George Pataki, a prospective presidential candidate, was to headline Saturday night’s banquet. But he is not doing well after abdominal surgery, and will be replaced in the lineup not by a national Republican but by California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.
While Kennedy misses the festivities of her new colleagues’ party convention, she might contemplate the path not taken. For she might have become the top aide not to the state’s top Republican elected official, but California’s rising new Democratic superstar, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Very well-informed sources say that L.A.’s then newly elected mayor wanted last year to make Susan Kennedy his chief of staff. Or, failing that, given her tenure on the California Public Utilities Commission, to make her head of L.A.’s municipal utility, the Department of Water and Power. (Villaraigosa chief of staff Robin Kramer repeatedly declined to return phone calls on the matter.)
But Kennedy reportedly demurred. For two reasons. The money wasn’t enough. Villaraigosa, I’m told, did not want to go down the slippery path Schwarzenegger has of augmenting a large public salary with campaign funds. The other reason is that the top slot(s) with Villaraigosa would have been too disruptive to her Marin County-based life. Of course, it would be hard to say that working round the clock for Arnold, with the full-court pressure of a difficult re-election campaign layered on top of the killing pressure of managing a state government, is any less disruptive than the L.A. option would have been.
Movie director/initiative promoter Rob Reiner has not returned my calls but did have someone call back to clarify why I was calling. Yes, in fact, as I said, I am calling you about the status of your long-ago expired appointment to the state commission you chair which approved $23 million of taxpayer-funded advertising to promote “preschool for all” while you had people in the field collecting signatures to qualify your “preschool for all” initiative for the ballot. Claro?
Meanwhile, in the San Francisco Bay Area, with unaggressive questioning, Reiner said that the controversy is the price of being a public figure. Hopefully, the Oscar-nominated director of A Few Good Men and The American President is not paying much for that sort of spin. However, my research indicates otherwise …
In Year Three of the post-recall era, California’s Republican Party will almost certainly be presenting as its nominee for the U.S. Senate seat long held by former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein one Dick Mountjoy. He is a 74-year old former state senator from suburban LA, one of the initial crop of “Prop 13 babies,” very conservative legislators elected in the wake of the Jarvis-Gann Proposition 13 property tax revolt of 1978.
Some in the GOP, looking for a fresh articulate face, had tried to persuade a young potential star of the party, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues and Spanish-speaking Haitian immigrant Pierre Prosper, to switch from the primary for state attorney general to the U.S. Senate race. But his campaign confirmed today that he will remain in the running for California attorney general. A race in which he currently trails Central Valley state Senator Chuck Poochigian for the right to probably take on former Governor and two-time Democratic presidential runnerup Jerry Brown in the general election. (With all due respect to LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, now running way behind the wily veteran Brown, Oakland’s mayor, in the Democratic primary, in both the polls and money.)
According to Republican sources, Mountjoy, the likely Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, never known for his fundraising prowess, is not scheduled to address his party’s state convention this weekend in San Jose. I have calls in to his answering machine to see what events he has on tap at the Republican confab.
Despite all the fanfare around the election of Arnold Schwazenegger, Republican hopes statewide in the erstwhile Golden State have not panned out, turning up mostly fool’s gold. The “ever vulnerable” Barbara Boxer, as the conventional wisdom had it, California’s junior U.S. Senator, easily turned back what was purported to have been a serious challenge in 2004 from former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, trouncing him 58 percent to 38 percent. Senator Feinstein seems likely to do far worse than that to this year’s Republican nominee.
It seems highly unlikely that we will see Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dick Mountjoy alighting dramatically from a Black Hawk helicopter as the former action superstar and Feinstein did together yesterday. For one thing, Schwarzenegger has enough problems with Latino voters now without running around with the self-described author of 1994’s anti-illegal immigrant Prop 187. For another, and with all due respect to the former state senator, the governor may not be particularly familiar with him.
During the quarter in which movie director/initiative promoter Rob Reiner was having signatures gathered to qualify his universal preschool initiative for California’s June primary election, the state agency he heads, as reported by the L.A. Times, spent $23 million on advertising for … “preschool for all.” To put this massive amount of public spending in perspective, for all of last year, the California Lottery spent $27.4 million on advertising.
In other words, the Reiner commission spent 84 percent as much money advertising the theme of the upcoming Reiner initiative as the state lottery spent on advertising, in just one-fourth the time. While signature gathering was underway to qualify the initiative.
Bad news for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in another poll, this time a public poll. Despite some press coverage earlier in the week to the effect that he is a shoo-in, Schwarzenegger is anything but. Far from re-cornering the market on the public esteem he once had in the palm of his hand, he has actually fallen back. The polls do not identify the reasons for his decline, but the incessant talk about money and personal deals emanating from his administration must be a principal factor reclouding his public image.
He’s having a rough time going into a state Republican convention in which his team has repeatedly had to tamp down rebellions on the right. First besieged on the state personnel front by widespread questions about his appointment of controversial Democrat Susan Kennedy as his chief of staff. Increasingly beset by questions about why he is allowing controversial Democrat Rob Reiner, a Hollywood associate and top movie director whose term is over, to remain as head of a state child development agency. Then there are the polls.
First he and his people learned of a new private poll outlined here yesterday in which only 18 percent of likely California voters strongly intend to vote to re-elect him as California’s governor. Since he is one of the most famous people in the world, with universal name ID in California, this is not good. Then he learned of a new public poll — embargoed until today — the highly respected Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, which indicates that his recent gains in job approval among Californians have been wiped out over the past month.
His job approval rating slid five points, from 45 percent among likely voters to 40 percent, and from 40 percent among all California adults to 35 percent. The Big Bang Bond talk provides a positive frame for Schwarzenegger to reconnect with the public after his disastrous “Year of Reform,” but there are clearly deeper doubts about the former action superstar that a quick shift leftward back to the center where they thought he was when elected does not dispel. Despite espousing a policy profile much more in tune with majoritarian California sentiments, Arnold is no more popular in California now than President George W. Bush.
The other fact that leaps out from this voluminous poll — want to know how many Latinos eat seafood regularly, this poll is your ticket — is that Schwarzenegger is also no more esteemed on environmental issues than Bush. Which is quite remarkable, because the governor has a very pro-environmental record for a Republican, much more so than Bush. The Sierra Nevada mountain conservancy, ocean protection, global warming, all areas in which Schwarzenegger’s administration has moved in ways unlike other Republican administrations. Yet he is viewed by Californians, according to the PPIC poll, as about the same as Bush on the environment.
Indeed, Schwarzenegger enacted the biggest solar energy program in history last month. Yet none of this has connected with the public.
A top Democratic advisor, who wishes the governor no good fortune, marvels at this vaunted communicator’s “failure to communicate.” His team, says this strategist, “and he need to do what Gray Davis did on the Democratic side, emphasize what makes him different as a Republican. Not as a fake Democrat like they’re doing now, but different as a Republican. Like Gray did constantly playing up his Vietnam War service and support for the death penalty. The environment is that thing for Schwarzenegger. I won’t say this publicly, but he has good policies there. But if he doesn’t keep reminding Californians, they don’t know. He thinks because he’s famous and he says something everybody pays attention and remembers. Well, they don’t. They’ve seen the act and nobody is hanging on his every word.”
A whirlybird day in gubernatorial politics, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger got big media coverage with Senator Dianne Feinstein even as disappointing news arrived for him on the polling front. Movie director/initiative promoter Rob Reiner became more of a political issue following some revelations about the state commission he currently chairs. Democratic challenger Steve Westly completed the third leg of his test marketing tour without incident, talking in Monterey of a new offshore oil drilling threat that may or may not emerge, and current Democratic frontrunner Phil Angelides prepared for his next bid to assert his environmental credentials.
First Rob Reiner. He chairs the First Five Commission, a state agency for early childhood development funded by the 50 cent a pack tax on cigarettes enacted by his 1998 initiative. Now he’s pushing a universal preschool initiative on the June ballot. For which signatures were being gathered while the state commission he chairs spent $23 million of public money on advertising for … universal preschool. Hmm, quite a coincidence that. Restive Republicans preparing for their state convention are starting to realize that perhaps they should be more focused on Reiner’s state job status than that of Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy.
Since Reiner’s post is now a political issue, I asked the Governor’s Office about his status as chairman of the state commission, as his term there expired more than a year ago.
Gubernatorial press secretary Margita Thompson’s careful statement: “His term expired in 2004. He has subsequently stayed in that position. There is no announcement to be made regarding his status.”
This is a tough spot for Schwarzenegger personally. It’s a Hollywood thing. You may have noticed that celebrities generally like other celebrities, at least publicly. And Reiner, an Oscar nominee and son of Carl Reiner, is second generation Hollywood aristocracy. In this case, notwithstanding their partisan differences, Reiner and Schwarzenegger have supported each other’s causes, though the governor is neutral on Reiner’s current initiative, which is garnering some support from local chambers of commerce. Reiner himself was a surprise private guest at the Arnold Inaugural in November 2003.
Arnold had a good day with DiFi, touring threatened Central Valley levee systems with local politicians in tow via a pair of dramatic looking Black Hawk helicopters. It was not a Black Hawk down day for the governor as he alighted from his helo after a thunderous landing, blades just finished turning, leather jacket with gubernatorial seal in place, in a park next to the Sacramento River with the popular senator by his side. He got Feinstein to agree with him that a bigger infrastructure bond package is better because the needs are great, even as Democratic legislative leaders along with the mayors of LA and San Francisco across town were overshadowed arguing for a smaller bond package, with more emphasis on education and public transit.
Meanwhile, Team Schwarzenegger pondered disappointing news here this morning of a thorough nonpartisan private poll indicating a continued decided lack of enthusiasm for the governor’s re-election. And a public poll, embargoed until midnight tonight, also arrived this morning …
A check of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s web site, joinarnold.com, reveals that it is “under renovation.”
Is there a metaphor here?
Meanwhile, a new nonpartisan private poll reveals that the former action superstar’s Big Bang Bond may not be blowing up so well anymore. Here are the results among likely voters.
Intending to vote to re-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger: 34 percent. Intending to vote to elect someone new: 46 percent. In an ominous sign, voters who are definitely intending to vote to re-elect the governor are little more than half that underwhelming 34 percent total.
Schwarzenegger and his new team have gotten off the disastrous course of last year and are now presenting a coherent storyline focusing on issues most Californians like. But is that enough to make up for all the damage, much of it self-inflicted? So far, the answer is no.
Or will the campaign ultimately revert to the tried and true of tactical maneuvers and a campaign of attrition against whichever Democrat emerges as the party’s nominee? And how would the governor do at that? While his career in sports and movies was marked by a series of psych-outs of rivals and competitive elbowing, it was never about launching a sustained barrage of attacks on an opponent. Even in the tumultuous recall campaign, Schwarzenegger conducted a mostly positive campaign, in contrast to his opponents.
Maybe something else is needed to reintroduce Arnold Schwarzenegger to California voters.
Today he will tour threatened Central Valley levees by helicopter with Senate Dianne Feinstein, several members of Congress, and the mayor of Sacramento before alighting by the side of the Sacramento River for an event pushing flood management and levee reinforcement. At the same time, in an ironic dueling press conference in the Capitol, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Don Perata will be joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to promote the Democratic version of the big bond, with as reported here earlier more of an emphasis on education and public transit and a shorter time horizon on the bonds.
Lest anyone thought this campaign would be a walkover. The inside word is that global energy giant Chevron Oil has lined up the legendary campaign consulting firm Woodward and McDowell to oppose the oil extraction tax initiative to combat climate change backed by Hollywood producer Steve Bing and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla likely to appear on the November California ballot. The firm works primarily with Republican and corporate clients these days and is known for its work on initiatives. Especially its work on the “no” side of initiatives.
The “no” side of initiative campaigns in California is actually quite straightforward, in an arcane way. Find something that seems odd and push push push until the initiative unravels. It is much like finding a stray thread on a sweater and pulling at it obsessively and persistently until you are left with a half-knitted bunch of wool.
Chevron, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, whose refineries dot the approach from the Capitol to the Bay Bridge, has the money to do that.
We had a “Tax Big Oil” initiative in 1980. It started out with a big lead in the polls, also in an era in which big oil companies were distrusted. Authored and promoted by Bill Press, then a recent top aide to then Governor Jerry Brown, a figure mediagenic enough to later become a major cable news personality and co-host of CNN’s late “Crossfire,” it seemed to some like a slam dunk. In the end, it lost by a little more than 10 points. Of course, Press was not one of the richest men in America. Unlike the backers of this oil extraction tax initiative.
The last time an oil extraction tax was seriously proposed in California, to my recollection, was when John Van de Kamp was running for attorney general more than 20 years ago. It helped him, but went nowhere. We’ll see how this one goes. Despite what some of its Hollywood backers tell me they think, this looks to be a major battle.
Heading into their state convention this coming weekend, Republicans continue to grouse about Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shift to the left. Now it’s the other former Gray Davis official/youthful Hayden-Fonda acolyte at the center of things Schwarz. Not controversial new Arnold chief of staff Susan Kennedy, but Maria Shriver’s chief of staff, Dan Zingale.
There’s unhappiness in conservative ranks over Zingale’s role in Schwarzenegger’s core — as reported here a few weeks ago, the former Davis cabinet secretary is part of the inner circle political strategy conference calls — because some have discovered that he is the man said to have advised former Governor Davis to sign the ill-fated drivers license bill for illegal immigrants.
Davis’s decision to sign the bill by state Senator Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) in the midst of the 2003 recall proceedings against him backfired with the electorate. Schwarzenegger made it an issue and polling showed it was a factor in Davis’s defeat.
But even though top Davis hands like then chief of staff Lynn Schenk and chief strategist Garry South — worried about post-9/11 concerns in the California electorate — didn’t want the ex-governor to sign the bill, it was almost inevitable that he would when the Legislative Latino Caucus made it a priority for their support. Having seen his margin of victory drop when he re-elected in 2002 because of a fall in Democratic turnout, Davis felt he needed to shore up his Democratic base to survive the recall. “Someone was going to convince Gray he needed to sign the drivers license bill,” says a Democratic insider. “It happened to be Zingale.”