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Republican Ex-CEOs Challenge Veteran Dems in California’s Heated Gubernatorial, Senate Races

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California’s gubernatorial contest has already become the most expensive non-presidential race in US history. The billionaire Republican candidate, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, has reportedly spent an unprecedented $140 million of her own fortune, nearly fourteen times as much as her challenger Jerry Brown, a longtime California politician, former governor and the state’s current attorney general. Meanwhile, in California’s Senate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is challenging three-term Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. We speak to Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in California. We’re here in San Francisco. The midterm elections are less than three weeks away, and several of the nation’s most interesting campaigns and ballot initiatives will be decided here in the Golden State.

The race for governor in California has already become the most expensive non-presidential race in American history. The billionaire Republican candidate, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, has reportedly spent an unprecedented $140 million of her own money on the race. That’s nearly fourteen times as much as her challenger Jerry Brown has spent. Brown is a longtime California politician, former governor and the state’s current attorney general.

During a debate Tuesday night, Brown criticized Whitman for proposing to eliminate the capital gains tax for the wealthy.

JERRY BROWN: Eighty-two percent of the benefit of this tax break will go to people making $500,000 a year, and there’s not one guarantee they’ll spend that money in California. And Ms. Whitman, I’d like to ask you, how much money will you save, if these tax breaks were in effect this year or last year?

MEG WHITMAN: So, you know what? I’m an investor, and investors will benefit from this, but so will job creators. And I was a job creator. And you know what? We have got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small businesses to grow and thrive. My track record is creating jobs. My business is creating jobs. Your business is politics. You’ve been doing this for forty years.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday night’s debate focused largely on how to deal with California’s economic crisis. The official unemployment rate in the state is at 12.5 percent, and the state faces a severe budget crisis.

Meanwhile, in the Senate race in California, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is challenging three-term Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. California voters will also decide a number of ballot initiatives on election night on issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana to the overturning of California Global Warming Solutions Act. We’ll look at all these issues in the coming hour.

For an overview, we begin with Tim Redmond. He’s the executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, a weekly newspaper here in San Francisco.

Tim, welcome to Democracy Now!

TIM REDMOND: Thanks. I’m happy to be here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for people not only all over the country, but even in California right now, just lay out — let’s start with the senatorial race.

TIM REDMOND: Well, the senatorial race and the governor’s race have a couple things in common. Both of them involve Republican candidates who have basically no background in politics, whose background is in business and who are quite wealthy. In the Senate race, Carly Fiorina, who is the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, where she actually, on a business level, is widely considered to be a failure — she left with a lot of money — she’s challenging Barbara Boxer. Now, Barbara Boxer is a longtime California politician. And she is criticizing Boxer in about what you would expect at a time like this. She’s calling her an incumbent who has been too liberal, who’s been in office too long, who is a career politician. All of these themes that you see playing out around the country are playing out here in California.

The interesting thing is that the race is very close. And although Boxer is one of the more progressive members of Congress and is very vulnerable to these attacks on incumbents, attacks on the Obama administration, this whole anti-incumbent fervor, Barbara Boxer is a very savvy, smart campaigner. She has been written off many times before and has always bounced back and survived. I mean, from her first race in 1982, when no one expected her to win and get elected to Congress, she has always managed to pull it off. And it looks like right now she probably will pull it off, depending, as always in California, with who shows up to vote. That’s always the trick, and it’s going to be a major question, because what is on the ballot that’s going to draw progressives and the Obama base to come out and vote? That’s the big question in everybody’s mind, and nobody is really sure what’s going to get those voters out.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting. In both these races, in the Senate race and the governor’s race, you have two former CEOs: Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard; Meg Whitman, eBay.

TIM REDMOND: Yeah, and, you know, with Meg Whitman —

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re taking on veteran politicians.

TIM REDMOND: And they’re taking on veteran politicians. And both of them are making the case that, again, we’re hearing around the country, that government has failed, that anyone who has been in government for a long time is a failure, and that we need more private-sector experience in the public sector. Now, from my long experience in covering politics — I’ve been doing this for almost thirty years — I have generally found that private-sector experience doesn’t translate too well into the public sector. It’s a different thing. It’s a different kind of game.

Running California is very different from running eBay. When you’re the CEO of a company, you can walk out there and say, “You do this. You do this. Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s our plan. Here’s how it’s going to work.” When you’re running California, you’re dealing with the State Senate, with the State Assembly, with 120 legislators from different parties, from different parts of the state, with different priorities. It’s a huge state with 39 million people, all kinds of conflicting priorities. You can’t just walk around and order people to do things. You have to work with people in — guess what? Politics. And when she’s criticized as being — when she criticizes Jerry Brown for being a politician, well, actually, that’s what Jerry Brown has been doing all his life, has been working with different types of people, trying to do what is required in a democracy to make things work.

AMY GOODMAN: Lay out the economic situation here in California. You know, I said that the unemployment rate is 12.5. In some communities, like the African American community, people would celebrate — right? — if it was 12.5, because in fact it is much higher. Twelve-point-five is an average.

TIM REDMOND: Yeah, in some communities, not only in African American communities, but in some of the agricultural communities and some of the Central Valley communities, it’s as high as 25 or 30 percent. And again, that’s the official unemployment rate. You know, we all know that that doesn’t count people who have just simply given up looking for work. So the economy is bleak.

At the same time — and this is something that has been a little bit an issue in the governor’s race but needs to be more of an issue — at the same time, the folks at the top are doing fine. I mean, we have sixteen billionaires in San Francisco, and I believe that’s up from twelve, the last time the Forbes 400 did their count. So, the very wealthy in California have benefited tremendously from the Bush tax cuts. This is a very wealthy state. San Francisco is a very wealthy city. And this is a state where, under Arnold Schwarzenegger, we have had a series of cuts-only budgets. We have decimated the public sector by maybe $18 to $20 billion over the last four years. Money that used to go into healthcare, into education, into social services and into things that actually create jobs, like infrastructure improvements, that has all been decimated. At the same time, the people at the top, the very wealthy, have been doing just fine. So, you know, in a sense, you have two Californias. You have the California of the rich, and then you have the California of the rest of us. And, you know, it’s a huge issue. The divide between the rich and the poor in the state and in California cities is profound, is dramatic, and it’s a very important issue.

And, you know, they got into that a little bit during the last debate, when Jerry Brown tried to frame this as Meg Whitman, billionaire, whose number — she has two basic economic plans for California. One of them is to lay off 40,000 state employees, which would increase the unemployment rate. She talks about creating jobs, but that’s only private-sector jobs. So her platform is, let’s increase the unemployment rate in California by laying off 40,000 state employees, and let’s eliminate the capital gains tax. And again, the capital gains tax is a tax paid largely by wealthy people, by the investor class. She’s also attacking unions and public-sector employees in a way that is really profound and has become, I think — it’s one of those California trends we’re going to see spreading across the country. What she has basically said is, the problem with California is unionized public-sector workers and teachers. She actually came out and said that. She said the problem — the thing that is blocking educational reform is the California Teachers Association, and the economic problem facing the state is public employee pensions. Jerry Brown is trying to say this is about billionaires; she’s saying it’s about unionized public employees.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Redmond, I want to play another clip from Tuesday night’s gubernatorial debate, in which Republican Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown argued over ways to reform the state’s public pension plan.

JERRY BROWN: When I left the governorship in '82, I put in the Budget Act, get a two-tier pension system as soon as possible. They ignored that. So we need a two-tier pension system. We have to bargain this collectively. And you sit down with the labor groups, as Arnold has. He's already gotten some significant concessions. There is more coming. It’s all based on actuarial data — what will the stock market give us, what can we expect, and therefore, what is made up by either the employer or the employee? If the employees don’t kick in, then the employer will either have to lay people off or reduce wages in order to pay it. And I think a knowledgeable governor can get the kind of pension compromises that the actuarial numbers require. And I pledge here tonight I will do precisely that.

MEG WHITMAN: We have got to take this on. And here’s the problem with the existing pension system. If you’re a rank-and-file civil servant today, you can retire at fifty-five years old with much of your salary and much of your healthcare benefits 'til the day you die. I bet virtually no one in the audience tonight has anywhere near that kind of deal. And that pension — that lavish pension benefit is squeezing out other things we care about. You know, fees have gone up at the University of California by 32 percent and at CSU. And the reason is that the pensions have gotten so big for all the faculty and staff that it's squeezing out the students. If we do not resolve this pension issue, it is going to cause California to run out of money. Just to give you some perspective, in 2000 we spent about $300 million a year supporting the public pensions; today it’s $3.9 billion. And new people, new employees, have got to come in under a different deal: a 401(k)-style program for rank and file. For civil servants — for those that carry guns and defend our people every single day, I think they need to stay on a defined benefit program, but the rank-and-file’s deal has got to be entirely different.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown in their last debate. Tim Redmond, executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, elaborate from the 401(k)s of Meg Whitman to the two-tier pension system of Jerry Brown.

TIM REDMOND: There you can see exactly what I was talking about. Meg Whitman is complaining that the unionized public-sector workers are sucking all of the money out of California. Now, of course, what she doesn’t say is she doesn’t say that years ago corporate America stopped providing defined benefit plans and basically privatized pension systems, in the sense that everybody had to put their money in the stock market. 401(k) plan, you put your money in the stock market. Well, look how well that’s worked out for all of us, OK, people who have 401(k) plans. That’s what she wants to do, is she wants to take that money and put it into 401(k) plans and essentially absolve the employer — that is, the state of California — from being responsible for pensions.

Now, this is — I say, this is the ongoing attack on public-sector workers and on government. I mean, basically, you couldn’t get a more clear choice here on that level and on that issue. Now, I have problems with Jerry Brown, as I’m sure your other guest here does, and we can talk about that. But on the issue of how we’re dealing with the California economy, Meg Whitman’s really a huge step back. She is talking about policies that are as regressive as the Bush administration policies, and even worse. I mean, even Bush didn’t talk about entirely eliminating the capital gains tax like this.

AMY GOODMAN: While Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman debated Tuesday night at Dominican University in San Rafael, the Green Party candidate for governor was being arrested outside the hall. Police charged Laura Wells with trespassing after she tried to get into the debate that she was not allowed to participate in. In 2002, when Wells ran for state comptroller, she received more than 400,000 votes. Part of her platform this year is the establishment of a state-run bank.

Well, Laura Wells joins us here in San Francisco.

Laura, welcome to Democracy Now! So, what happened?

LAURA WELLS: Well, I was — someone who thought that democracy was important in this state had tickets and thought that I should be in the room, gave me those tickets, and —- a friend and I. And we were on the steps outside the room of the governor’s debate, to which I had an invitation letter, actually, as a candidate who had won the primary for the Green Party. And suddenly -—

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been able to participate in any debate?


AMY GOODMAN: What are the rules?

LAURA WELLS: The rules are, as the — the letter said, “Congratulations on your win. The debates will be happening. Every candidate who gets a ten percent result will be included.” And they don’t — in the surveys, LA Times, PPIC, the Public Policy Institute of California, or the field poll. And they don’t tell you what the question is. Now, if the question were, “Do you want a debate with just the Democrats and the Republicans?” which I’m beginning to call the Titanic parties, but the answer would be a resounding, “No, we don’t want that kind of debate here in California.” But they don’t tell you the question. A couple of friends of mine did tell me the question, because they were surveyed. The question was, “Who do you prefer? Meg Whitman or Jerry Brown?” They don’t even say “other.” And then, when they report the results, it’s something like “Meg Whitman, 41; Jerry Brown, 41; 18 percent undecided.” Not even “other.” And so, add that to the lack of coverage, which I would forego $140 million if I had the no-cost media coverage and put out our Green Party values, which the Green values are California values.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laura Wells, why are you running for governor?

LAURA WELLS: I am running because California is worth it. California is now in a situation where they call it ungovernable. And the candidates, past and current, are not talking about what the real issues are. In 1978, the voters took matters into their own hands about taxes, because the governor at the time, Jerry Brown, was not taking care of business. And people were in danger of losing their homes because of rising property taxes. So they voted for Prop 13 in 1978, and it had the hidden zingers in the back, which is what a lot of propositions do. And that had the flattening of the property tax, which more people know about than the other part, which is the two-thirds majority required to raise income, to raise revenue, to raise taxes. And so, what happened, in combination with a simple majority, to lower taxes. So our legislature was very much encouraged to lower taxes in the boom years, because it comes back to feed their campaign in the form of what the Supreme Court called “free speech” and what I might call “corporate bribes” — corporate campaign contributions. So they lowered taxes in boom years. Now, when we need it, two-thirds is too high a jump.

AMY GOODMAN: What do mean by what you’re calling for, a state-run bank?

LAURA WELLS: A state-run bank — there’s a quote: “Give me control of your money supply, and I care not who makes the laws.” If we had control of our own credit — we do with the pension funds and so on. We have a lot of wealth in this state. If we used that wealth to invest in California, not in Wall Street, loosen ourselves from the grip of the Federal Reserve, and behave as one other state in this country, which is North Dakota, and as all the other countries — there are only seven countries that are larger than California — have their own central banks, and partnering with the local banks and the credit unions — those are the banks that made the good loans, those are the banks that want their communities to be strong, unlike the out-of-state banks — partner with the local banks and credit unions and invest in the infrastructure of California, invest — and the interests that would be paid would come back into California. Imagine, the students would have loans, not from, you know, CEO-run companies, where they have private golf courses on their land, but from the state of California, that wants the students to thrive and the universities to thrive. Imagine that. That’s what I’m proposing.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Laura Wells, for being here. Tim Redmond, I want to get a quick take on you on the marijuana proposition, and then we’re going to go to the NAACP after break on what they feel about it.

TIM REDMOND: Yeah, it’s the — Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana in California, but in a very interesting way. Instead of a statewide measure that says California is now legal — marijuana is now legal in California, Prop 19 says that local communities, cities and counties, have the right to legalize pot if they want and to regulate it and — and this is key — tax it, if they want and the way that they want. Now, the fascinating thing about this is, as everybody knows, marijuana is California’s number one cash crop, probably $20 billion a year, and it’s all going completely untaxed, except for the communities that have placed modest taxes on medical marijuana, which is an issue in itself, of course. If you treat marijuana as medicine, why are we taxing it? Well, what this would allow is it would allow communities to say, “We are going to allow people to buy and sell small amounts of marijuana, and we’re going to take a cut of that,” the same way there’s a tax on liquor and there’s a tax on cigarettes.

Oakland, for example, is already preparing for this. Oakland has a couple of ballot measures that would start implementing Prop 19, assuming that it passes. And it looks right now like it might. It’s slightly ahead in the polls. It might actually pass. Oakland has about a $40 million budget deficit. I was talking to one of the mayoral candidates the other day, and she said, “You know, according to some studies, if we legalize marijuana and legalize industrial-level hemp growing and cannabis growing, we could bring in $30 million a year. There goes the budget deficit.” So, the idea here that California would be able to use marijuana — and local cities, that have been starved by the state and starved by the federal government — I mean, the real economic crisis in terms of government in California is happening in cities and counties, where the services are actually delivered and where the state has cut off all of this funding year after year after year. The idea that we might actually be able to bring in some tax revenue from marijuana, and at the same time end a significant part of the war on drugs that is clogging the prisons, that is clogging the court systems, it would be an extraordinary statement.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, as well, for being with us, Tim Redmond. We’ll link to your work at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. This is Democracy Now!,, the War and Peace Report. We’re going to continue the discussion on Proposition 19 when we come back, and then Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that would effectively repeal California’s landmark global warming emissions law. This is Democracy Now! We’re broadcasting from San Francisco. Stay with us.

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