HOW IMPORTANT IS THE RACE FOR CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR? DOES IT MATTER? SHORT ANSWER: YES
Oh, is Arnold really all that bad? Yes, as a matter of fact, THAT bad and worse. I hope Democrats and Independents don't need me to tell them why he is. But just in case... You know, you don't have to run around in a white sheet and pillowcase or a Nazi uniform to be a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Schwarzenegger may be better than bigots and nutcases like Santorum, Frist, Sensenbrenner, DeLay, Cheney, Bush and Robertson but he's still way, way to the right of Californians on just about everything. It's incredible that anybody likes this guy.
Well, maybe I shouldn't make blanket statements like that. Some people-- even beyond his family-- like him... a lot. Big Business, for example; they LOVE him. In fact, they picked up the tab for $300,000 worth of parties he threw to impress people at the 2004 Republican National
And, you know, Arnold's veto pen has been a godsend for lots of Big Business interests. Those crazy pro-worker assemblymembers and senators in Sacramento passed a bill to keep taxpayer money from going to companies that use outsourced labor. Arnold vetoed that one too. And he vetoed a bill passed by both houses of the legislature that would have started a prescription drug importation plan, making it less expensive for poor people and seniors to buy medicine. (Did you think the big drug companies gave him lots of money? If you said "yes," give yourself a pat on the back and try to remember in November.) And he did more than just veto stuff; sometimes he's been pro-active for his pals on the far right. Like when he decided to balance the budget by slashing health care for the poor and elderly-- a way of getting around raising the taxes of his wealthy campaign contributors.
You know Arnold is unpopular and on the defensive now so he never brings this stuff up, like he used to when he thought people liked him. It was only about a year ago when he was talking about carrying another bucket for Big Business-- the Big Enchilada, their long-time (like from the day FDR proposed it) fervent dream that Social Security would be abolished. He announced plans to privitize the California state retirement system (after Big Business interests stuffed $6 million in bribes up his ass).
OK, so we all agree that Schwarzenegger's got to go, right? Now we have to decide who would be the best choice to oppose him. I haven't gotten to know either Phil Angelides or Steve Westly, but I'm going to try to express some feelings about each one. I actually did get to meet Steve Westly once. It was a thoroughly revolting experience and I'm about to re-live it for your benefit. A friend of mine from the Dean campaign invited me to meet Westly, who he thinks highly of, and hear him speak in an intimate and private setting. I knew nothing about the man. I was immediately turned off because before Westly even began to address the small gathering, someone had asked him if he would run for governor. Schwarzenegger had just gotten into office and was still enjoying a honeymoon with the public and seemed quite unassailable. Westly laughed it off and explained that Schwarzenegger was too popular to take on. He didn't say "I'm a craven, opportunistic coward who cares nothing for Californians, only for my own career trajectory," but that was what I heard coming out of his mouth. On top of that he seemed uptight to the max, like someone had shoved a broom up his butt before he came into the house and he hadn't removed it yet.
Let me set the context, or scene, to be more precise. Westly and I weren't the only two non-Armenians at this gathering. There was also an Asian-American local Glendale official on the hunt for some political love. Everyone else was a successful Armenian-American, entrepreneurs and professionals. The event was in a lovely backyard of a private home in the hills. The catering could have been for a swanky bar mitzvah. There were maybe 40-50 people but enough food for 5 times that many. The hospitality was overwhelming-- as were the good feelings. And when the highest ranking Armenian prelate in North America walked in, it was like the Pope (John, not the German we have now) had walked into the room. People seemed profoundly moved and in complete awe. Normal college guys I had been chatting with 5 minutes earlier were trembling. OK... into this interesting scene walked Steve Westly, California State Controller, candidate-for-nothing-now-but-someone-who-will-be-one-day-so-remember-me.
I was stunned by his speech. I didn't realize that Steve Westly had gotten into politics to right all the wrongs ever perpetrated against the Armenian people! I mean I've heard enough politicians to know that many of them pander-- some outrageously-- to whomever they're speaking to. But this was beyond anything I had ever experienced-- or even imagined. In my mind I wrote him off on the spot.
Before I move on to Angelides, I just want to address some silliness I've seen online about how Westly must be hip because he was an eBay executive. Sounds real high tech and groovy to you? You must not use eBay much. This company-- aside from being politically extremely right wing-- is a nitemare for many people who use it. They're probably the most fascist run company in America and you can ask almost any long-time eBay user what they think and you'll probably get lots and lots of this. I'm not claiming Westly is responsible for how bad eBay is, but don't vote for him because you think he's some way cool tech guy.
No one's gonna think Phil Angelides is a way cool anything guy, at least not from looking at him. To be honest I just assumed he was another colorless hack Democratic California politician. Until last year. Last year-- when Westly and many other Democrats were either afraid of Schwarzenegger's perceived popularity or were kissing up to him-- Angelides took him on. He's actually used his office of State Treasurer to do a lot of good for the state while Schwarzenegger was trying to do to California what Bush has done to America. He's been a bold and unabashedly liberal innovator as Treasurer. But, of course, what caught my attention was how he went to the wall, brilliantly and forthrightly against Schwarzenegger's horrible voter initiatives. And he beat him on every one. He beat him once and he'll beat him again. I'm a little wary that he's been endorsed by the state Democratic Establishment but since Westly is anything but a grassroots populist, I'll be holding my wariness at bay on June 6th and casting my vote for Phil Angelides.