ANGELIDES IS SCREWING UP A SURE THING.
THE ugly Democratic gubernatorial debates are enhancing the momentum enjoyed by Steve Westly and diminishing the prospects of Phil Angelides -- the opposite of what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was probably hoping for.
Consider recent California history, and the unprecedented steps taken by a previous governor to help his own most strident critic win a spot opposite him on the November ballot.
In 2002, Gray Davis was keen to face the angry-sounding conservative Bill Simon Jr., whose politics and demeanor were far out of step with California voters. Davis did not want to face the easy-going, pro-gay rights, pro-business Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican who had been a popular mayor of diverse Los Angeles.
To ensure he faced Simon, Davis engaged in unprecedented interference in the other party's primary, spending $10 million to torpedo Riordan and help Simon win. Months later, Davis handily beat Simon for governor.
The current campaign is in key ways a mirror image of 2002 -- if you simply reverse those party roles.
This time, the socially liberal and pro-business Democrat, Westly, is a much greater threat to Schwarzenegger than the heavily left-leaning and hyper-partisan Angelides, who is the one now out of step with California voters.
Arnold's advisers will sleep uneasily if Westly wins the June primary, especially since George W. Bush's unpopularity threatens to drag down other Republicans in races throughout the country. However, unlike Davis, there's little Arnold can do about Westly's advantage over Angelides.
Timing is everything in politics. For months, California analysts insisted the primary race was Angelides' to lose. Now, the polls show what I have long argued: The primary is Westly's to lose.
It's much too late for Arnold, who is finally working with Democrats and effectively tackling bipartisan issues, to take actions that hurt Westly and help Angelides. Arnold would be crucified by the media if he slid back into cocky flame-throwing.
The best Arnold can do now is to avoid saying things that make Angelides look even more overwrought, out of step and undyingly partisan than he already is.
Schwarzenegger's advisers must be watching in amazement as Angelides fritters away his big-name endorsements and fat campaign chest. A year ago, Angelides made a name for himself vilifying Arnold. Now, his timing's gone bad. Californians feel good about fledgling bipartisanship in Sacramento -- particularly approval of a $37 billion package of infrastructure bonds appearing on the November ballot. Angelides? He's still vilifying.
During Wednesday night's debate with Westly, Angelides took poorly considered stabs that illustrate how bad Angelides would be, as a governor, at working with both sides of the political aisle.
At the debate, Angelides angrily compared Democrat Westly to ultra-conservative Republicans Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Why? Because Westly, who is pro-gay marriage and pro-illegal immigrant driver's licenses, opposes Angelides' massive tax increase plan for Californians.
Westly worked with the governor and leading Democrats to stop the hemorrhaging in California's budget -- while Angelides whined, fought and complained.
Westly lashed back at Angelides, but usually with facts. He calmly rattled off the billions in taxes proposed by Angelides, including a bizarre ``sales tax'' on services -- legal services, accounting services and other services -- widely used by middle-class Californians.
With fragile bipartisanship afoot in Sacramento, Angelides should learn from Schwarzenegger and Westly, who are quietly doing their jobs -- and rising in polls.
Arnold's approval rating will also benefit from the Legislature's passage of the $37 billion infrastructure package -- a bipartisan issue Schwarzenegger has championed for months. Moreover, last week, the governor completed his 2006-07 budget, which will return billions to the schools, thanks to a record 40 percent jump in income taxes collected in April.
The April windfall from California taxpayers is not due to any Angelides-style tax increases. It's thanks to the booming national economy, and to Schwarzenegger's dogged recipe: no new taxes, coupled with a business-rescue plan that reformed the corrupt workers' compensation system.
Angelides, dragging up dusty imagery of Newt Gingrich, clinging to partisan hatred that last year gripped Sacramento, clearly didn't get the memos.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||May 14, 2006|
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