Jerry Brown finally awakened from his yearlong slumber to mount a bonafide campaign for governor. The former mayor of Oakland said he waited until two months before the election to start buying TV ads because he didn't want to deplete his $23 million warchest fighting mega-wealthy rival Meg Whitman. But did the attorney general wait too long? According to Pollster.com, which compiles poll results, Whitman was leading Brown by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent, when he came out of hibernation last week.
Brown's absence has helped Whitman define the terms of the campaign. The former eBay chief executive has painted Brown as being beholden to Big Labor, and her argument got a boost when California unions banded together this summer and spent $10 million attacking her on his behalf. Unfortunately for Brown, public-employee unions threaten to be the electric third rail in this year's election battle. Spiraling pension and compensation costs have played a pivotal role in the state's budget crisis and the unions have been less than cooperative in reining in those expenses.
For his part, Brown contends that public employees will have to share the pain in order to balance the state's finances. And he's following up on the unions' campaign against "Queen Meg," portraying her as a Wall Street maven who pocketed huge bonuses while downsizing eBay. But it also should be noted that during Brown's tenure as mayor of Oakland, he greenlighted generous public employee wage and pension packages that are now helping bankrupt the city.
Indeed, Whitman has pounced on Brown's record in Oakland and is using it against him. She noted that crime spiraled out of control during his tenure, and that Oakland Unified went into state receivership after he appointed three members to the school board. Brown will have to convince voters that his successful efforts in revitalizing Oakland's downtown more than made up for his shortcomings and that Whitman's lifelong disinterest in politics renders her unsuitable for the job. It could be a tough sell in this anti-incumbent year, and he won't have much time to make it.
At least Brown won't be sidetracked during the campaign fighting for a law that he believes violates the US Constitution. Last week, a state appellate court ruled that he and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger don't have to defend Proposition 8 in court. The court denied a motion by the conservative legal group Pacific Justice Institute, which sought to force Brown and Schwarzenegger to defend California's anti-gay-marriage law in a federal appellate case. The conservative group had argued that the attorney general and governor have no right to pick and choose what state laws to uphold.
The court's ruling also could prove pivotal in the federal case involving Prop 8, because Judge Vaughn Walker has indicated that the anti-gay-marriage forces may not have a legal right to appeal his decision to allow same-sex nuptials in California. The reason is that the anti-gay-marriage crowd likely will not be able to prove that they will be harmed — as required by law — if gay and lesbian couples wed. As a result, the case may be decided on a technicality and not on the merits of whether banning gay marriage is constitutional.
In the other major statewide race, US Senator Barbara Boxer traded barbs last week with GOP rival Carly Fiorina in their first debate, calling the former head of Hewlett Packard a failed "Wall Street CEO." Fiorina responded by attacking Boxer's liberal record in the Senate. The two also differed on nearly every political issue. Boxer, for example, wants to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich while Fiorina wants to extend them, and Boxer is seeking climate-change legislation while Fiorina opposes such efforts. Right-leaning columnist Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee called the debate a draw — until the end, saying Boxer finished stronger when she went on the attack against the conservative Fiorina.
SmartMeter Ups and Downs
PG&E's controversial SmartMeters don't overbill customers, but the utility's service reps are nasty and incompetent, according to a report by a consulting firm hired by California regulators. The study, however, came under instant criticism because it examined only a few cases of alleged overbilling and didn't look at the possible health problems caused by the new devices. At the same time, Santa Cruz County is poised to become the first county in the state to ban SmartMeters in part because of concerns about electromagnetic radiation. Last month, Watsonville, also in Santa Cruz County, became the second city in the state to cite health worries when banning the meters, following Fairfax in Marin County.
Christina Romer, who chaired President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors and pushed unsuccessfully for a larger stimulus package, returned to teaching at UC Berkeley. ... Losing your home to foreclosure is bad for your health, according to a new study by the Alameda County Health Department, which interviewed hundreds of Oakland residents. ... As Republicans hyperventilate, illegal immigration continues to decline in California and throughout the nation, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. ... Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts says the police department remains effective despite the layoff of eighty cops in July. ... And environmentalists suffered a series of losses last week after intense lobbying by the chemical industry. State lawmakers voted down an attempt to ban plastic grocery store bags and killed an effort to prohibit the use of the toxic substance bisphenol-A in baby bottles and sippy cups.