Meg Whitman has made public employee pension reform a touchstone of her gubernatorial campaign. The ex-eBay CEO has talked openly about switching public workers to 401(k)-style accounts. And she's accused her Democratic rival, Jerry Brown, of being in the pocket of Big Labor. But late last week, news broke that Whitman had allegedly struck a backroom deal with law enforcement unions that would protect their pensions in exchange for their endorsements. Whitman and the unions denied making such a deal, but Whitman has dropped law enforcement from her reform plan, and cops' unions throughout the state are now endorsing her.
Normally, a revelation about Whitman apparently selling out one of her supposed core principles to get elected would have been good news for Brown. But instead, it turned into a nightmare. That's because the mainstream media decided to focus not on what Whitman had done, but on a voicemail message that Brown accidentally left in which one of his staffers can be heard calling Whitman a "whore."
It was yet another example of reporters treating campaigns as if they're sporting events. In this world, "gaffes" outweigh substance. So a Brown staffer using a salty expression to accurately describe Whitman is "news," but Whitman selling out her principles is not.
Whitman and her supporters gleefully feigned outrage, claiming that calling someone a whore insults all women. Yet how quickly they forget that ex-Governor Pete Wilson, one of Whitman's top advisors, once made the same charge, calling Congress in 1995 "whores to public employees' unions." Hmm. Don't remember much right-wing outrage about that.
Over the weekend, speculation swirled that it was Brown's wife, Anne Gust Brown, who used the W-word. Gust works with Brown on his campaign, and the person on the voicemail was a woman. If it was Gust, that might mute some of the shrillness the story generated.
Whoregate was a godsend for Whitman. It turned attention away from Nannygate and Brown's five-point lead in the polls. It also allowed her and Carly Fiorina to skip a Sarah Palin rally without fear of stories about the growing schism within the GOP and how California's Republican torchbearers are suddenly running away from the Tea Party Mama.
Another Lame Budget
After a record 100-day-stalemate, state lawmakers finally passed a budget deal on Friday that appears to rely mostly on smoke and mirrors, longtime Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters noted. The budget package is only "balanced" because it depends on unrealistic revenue projections and puts off spending until next year. It was the best that Sacramento could come up with after Republicans refused to raise taxes and Democrats resisted deeper spending cuts.
The budget deal almost unraveled because of legislators' efforts to load it up with pork for their own districts, the LA Times reported. Then before Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the package into law, he used his line-item veto to slash nearly $1 billion in spending from the deal. The move immediately drew criticism from progressive groups because the last-minute cuts didn't target pork — they mostly targeted services for low-income residents, reported Daniel Weintraub of HeatlthyCal.org.
But Schwarzenegger did come away with a victory last week. He reached a tentative pension deal with Service Employees International Union, the state's largest public employee union, the Bee reported. The deal calls for current state government workers to kick in an additional 3 percent toward their pensions. The giant union also agreed to unpaid furloughs one day a month — the equivalent of a 5 percent pay cut. In exchange, the governor agreed to spare the union from additional future furloughs. The SEIU represents nearly half of all state government workers.
West Oakland to Get Grocery Store
West Oakland took a step closer to finally getting a supermarket last week when the city council approved changes to its eminent domain policy, the Oakland Tribune reported. Kroger Foods, a national supermarket chain, wants to open a discount Foods Co. store at West Grand Avenue and Market Street, but had been stymied by city rules limiting the use of eminent domain in the area. The city plans to use eminent domain to buy private property and then sell it to Kroger so that low-income residents in West Oakland will finally have access to fresh, healthy food. Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, who are both running for mayor, voted for the eminent domain changes.
Scientists with the California Air Resources Board dramatically overestimated the amount of pollution generated by diesel engines, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The errors caused the board to overestimate diesel-caused pollution by at least 340 percent. ... Ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle is asking for a new trial, claiming that the jury should have heard evidence about a Kentucky cop who allegedly shot a suspect with his gun when he meant to use his Taser, the Tribune reported. A Kentucky grand jury refused to indict in that case. ... And thieves stole seven bronze stars from the Oakland Hills Firestorm Memorial, apparently because recyclers pay $4 per pound for bronze, the Trib reported. It was the second time in three years that thieves stole metal objects from the memorial.