Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Is Tom Steyer Asking California Democrats To Buy A Pig In A Poke?


Very expensive photo shoot

California progressives were delighted yesterday when neoliberal corporate whore Gavin Newsom took himself out of consideration for the Senate seat being opened by Barbara Boxer's 2016 retirement plans. He'll have to be dealt with when he runs for governor but at least Cory Booker won't be getting a doppelgabger on Capitol Hill-- or will he? Newson claimed "unfinished work" in California. Maybe he's building tree house; he's certainly not allowed to do anything that involves Jerry Brown's Administration. Brown sees him as a shallow-- albeit ambitious-- worm and has all but banned him from the administration. If I had to bet on someone as a successor to Brown, though, it would be the clean-cut and dedicated Eric Garcetti, not the greasy, self-serving Newsom.

As for the Senate seat. That still leaves over two dozen contenders contending. Kamala Harris, who threw her hat into the ring this morning, is now considered the front-runner, although my guess is that most Californians don't have any idea who she is or what she stands for. She's hardly alone there. Few of the professional politicians clamoring to run are known outside of narrow political circles. And most of them are pretty terrible... like Blue Dog and warmonger Jane Harman, her New Dem mini-me, Ellen Tauscher, and the third in this triumvirate of aggressive mediocrity, Loretta Sanchez, a not very bright Orange County Blue Dog. Just as ad as the ladies is the male counterpart-- Blue Dog, New Dem, warmonger, mediocre all rolled up in one: Adam Schiff. The other congressman plotting a run isn't as bad as those 4, but he's basically an uncourageous centrist who isn't going to help anything important ever happen if he gets into the Senate: John Garamendi. Worse: two more DC backbenchers, Eric Swalwell and Raul Ruiz, both insipid moderates with no leadership potential.

Progressives are trying to persuade House Democratic Conference Chairman Xavier Becerra-- who sees himself as a future House Speaker-- to run for the Senate seat instead. He's the best possibility among likely contenders-- if he'll even do it. Congresswoman Jackie Speier is relatively progressive-- not that unlike Boxer-- and I could see her or Karen Bass getting a lot of progressive support if Becerra decides to take a pass. I could just as easily see both of them hop aboard the Kamala Harris train.

Antonio Villaraigosa says he's running. He was a solid progressive when he was Assembly Speaker but its been pretty much downhill since then... and that was a long time ago. He didn't impress anyone when he was Mayor of L.A. and he's some kind of an advocate for Charter Schools, which means he's part of a clique that defines the worst kind of corruption in American politics. Damn! He used to be a nice guy. And there are worst mayor types who want to get in, namely San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

And then there's the big rich wild card, billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmental activist Tom Steyer, who spent a fortune on congressional races last year, often helping Democrats with mediocre environmental records. He certainly helped corrupt conservative Terry McAuliffe get elected governor-- just to watch McAuliffe immediately begin her term by joining a coalition of right-wing anti-environment governors.

No one knows what Steyer stands for and what he's passionate about other than the environment. I'm sure he's pro-Choice and pro-gay but what about the core economic issues working families and billionaires don't usually see eye to eye on? Maybe he'll tell people what he thinks they want to hear. The big piece in Sunday's Chronicle reads like it was done by a couple of talented third graders and offers no insights into what Steyer's all about politically. I wonder if the "reporters" every wondered. Probably not... too busy with their reality show:
The former hedge fund titan has been huddling with advisors, polling California voters, buying website addresses and meeting with political and labor leaders as he weighs a bid, the sources said.

..."Steyer has the greatest incentive to plant his flag early," said Dan Schnur, head of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. He "has the capacity to scare other people out of the race."

But California has a political graveyard full of neophyte millionaires and billionaires who spent large chunks of their fortunes only to be rejected by voters. Among them: former business executives Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Al Checchi, Michael Huffington and Bill Simon.

"There's a first time for everything. But California voters have not historically looked very kindly on first-time self-financing candidates," said Democratic operative Garry South, who led former Gov. Gray Davis to victory over Checchi in the Democratic primary in 1998, and over Simon in the general election in 2002.

South said wealthy but inexperienced candidates tended to have three critical flaws-- free-spending but unfocused campaigns, large and undisciplined staffs and a lack of respect for people with professional experience in politics.

"They think that because they're worth a billion dollars, they're basically better than everybody else in the political system," South said. "Their disdain for people in the process is just obvious, and it makes them make a lot of mistakes."

...Steyer left Farallon Capital Management, the hedge fund he ran, in 2012, saying he wanted to focus his work on alternative energy. As he became increasingly engaged in politics, his business record has come under growing scrutiny.

News reports detailed his longtime investments in coal and other fossil fuels, for example, and the slow pace at which he shed those investments.

Farallon Capital Management pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into companies running coal mines and coal-fired power plants overseas, the New York Times reported. The fund was profiting from mining companies that produced more coal each year than the entire amount of coal consumed annually by Britain.

The inquiries would surely magnify if he launched a Senate run; opponents would scour his two-decade hedge-fund history for vulnerabilities to exploit. Deals that seem routine in the world of finance can be poisonous in politics. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney was portrayed as a corporate scoundrel in 2012.

Steyer's polling, conducted in late December, found another obstacle-- few people had heard of him. But that could be easily remedied with advertising.

In addition to veteran Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, Steyer is also working with Jim Margolis, who was President Obama's media strategist, and Chris Lehane, a longtime adviser to President Clinton.

Steyer has begun purchasing "Steyer for Senate" websites and planned to meet with advisors at his home this weekend.

Steyer's moves are expected to narrow the window for other candidates to make their own announcements, given that anyone hoping to compete with him needs to start raising funds immediately.
That whole billionaire centurion thing kind of stepped right into the glop of Chris Van Hollen's long-overdue message yesterday about how the Democrats are going to rediscover their pre-Wall Street roots as a party representing working families. As the Roosevelt Institute's Richard Kirsch pointed out on the think tank's blog yesterday, "By forcing Republicans to admit their support for Wall Street over working families, Van Hollen's proposal opens the economic debate the Democrats need." So how does Tom Steyer fit in there. I keep reading he's being "recruited" by "liberals." All the actual liberals I know are working on getting Becerra to run. Money-grubbing professional "liberals" who want a piece of Steyer's fortune for their worthwhile liberal projects are the only ones excited about Steyer.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD) proposal to tax Wall Street speculators and CEO millionaires to put money in the pockets of working families and the middle class, the engines of our economy, is a political and economic home run. It allows Democrats to focus on economic growth and fairness at the same time, sharply defining the debate on the key question voters ask: “Which side are you on?”

Leading politicians from both parties are all expressing sympathy for the stagnant prospects of the middle class. If you need evidence, here is Jeb Bush sounding like Elizabeth Warren: “Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach … that the playing field is no longer fair or level.”

Where the two parties split-- and where the core debate that will define the next two years and the 2016 election lies-- is on who is to blame and what to do about it.

Americans believe we need economic growth, but they are more likely to place the blame for stagnant wages on the super-rich and powerful who game the system at their expense. That is why they told pollsters they prefer “an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy” over “growing the economy” by 22 points.

Van Hollen claims both grounds-- growth and fairness. As he says, “What our country needs is a growing economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

The heart of the plan is providing a $1,000 tax credit for workers, phased out as income rises, along with an additional $250 tax credit when workers save. He would pay for that by taxing Wall Street speculation (with a tiny financial transactions tax) and closing loopholes that allow millionaires to pay lower taxes than average people.

It’s clear that this is great politics: taxing Wall Street gambling and the super-rich to put more money in the pockets of working families and the middle class.

...Van Hollen adds another proposal, which is also brilliant politics and sharp economics. He would not allow corporations to get tax breaks for million-dollar executive pay unless they shared the rewards of soaring corporate profits with their workers. Van Hollen accomplishes this by proposing to end corporate tax deductions for executive compensation of over $1 million, unless the corporation’s wages are raised enough to keep up with worker productivity and the cost of living. Another way that corporations could deduct higher executive pay is by providing employees with ownership and profit-sharing opportunities.

With this proposal, Van Hollen puts the focus squarely on the corporate behavior that has driven down wages and crushed middle-class aspirations. His proposal would boost worker income, which drives the economy forward. When Republicans oppose this, the choice will again be clear to Americans: CEO millionaires or working families.

As Van Hollen recognizes, his proposal is not the complete solution to creating an economy of broadly shared, sustainable prosperity. He recognizes the need to raise wages and job standards, which directly turn today’s low-wage, economy busting jobs into economy boosting jobs. He reinforces the necessity of investment in infrastructure, research and education.

It will be important to do all these things. We need to raise wage standards and strengthen the ability of workers to organize, to make sure that every job pays enough to care and support a family in dignity. It is essential that we make huge investments in transportation, clean energy, communications, and research to build a powerful economic foundation for the future. That investment will take revenues, which can be raised from closing corporate loopholes, raising tax rates on the wealthy, or other progressive tax measures. We can also discuss whether some of the revenues Van Hollen raises would be better spent on infrastructure rather than tax breaks for upper-middle income people.

Simplicity is key to political communication. In its simplest terms, Van Hollen is saying that we drive the economy forward by putting money in the pockets of working families and the middle-class, not Wall Street and the super wealthy. And then his proposal invites Americans to ask their elected officials: “which side are you on?”

If Democrats around the country are willing to stand up to their big campaign contributors and ask that question with such a powerful proposal in 2016, they will triumph. And in triumphing, they will move the country toward an America that works for all of us, not just the wealthy.

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At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So is Harris significantly better (worse?) than a Boxer clone?

Isn't Terry McAuliffe a "he"?

John Puma

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