It's time for another election in California! Aren't you excited?
Nobody here in California is, either. Last October's spasm of civic-mindedness, in which we rose up and threw out Gov. Gray Davis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, has largely exhausted Californians' never-impressive attention span for state and local politics.
Almost nobody has noticed that something interesting might be happening in Tuesday's Republican Senatorial primary.
Californians normally find Presidential politics more glamorous. Among California Democrats, John F. Kerry appears to have a big lead over John Edwards. Among Californians in general, George W. Bush is in free fall. In January's Field Poll, he led John F. Kerry by nine points, but by late February, he trailed Kerry by twelve.
Despite widespread hopes among stand-up comedians that the movie muscleman's term as governor would provide a bottomless well of killer material, so far Arnold has proven to be a reassuring but snooze-inducing centrist. He's addressing the state's financial disaster in what is becoming the standard Republican fashion. Rather than significantly cutting spending or raising taxes, he wants voters to approve on Tuesday his plan to borrow billions.
On immigration, the single most crucial issue for California's future, Arnold fulfilled his popular campaign promise to repeal the driver licenses for illegal aliens bill. But, with no election coming up until 2006, he has lately been looking for a way to sell out his conservative base by giving licenses back to illegals—if he can do it without voters much noticing.
Arnold's one entertainingly Arnoldian (i.e., hyperambitious) moment came when he recently called for a Constitutional amendment opening the Presidency to immigrants, such as, oh, let's pick a crazy example out of left field, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So far, there has been no response from his office to rumors that President Schwarzenegger would then agitate for further reforms allowing agnostics to become Pope and Earthlings to become Galactic Overlord.
What is interesting, however, is Tuesday's Republican race for the right to run against Barbara Boxer, the less respected of California's two bookend Democratic Senators. (The other is the slightly less liberal Dianne Feinstein). By running against President Bush's politically-suicidal open borders plan, former state assemblyman Howard Kaloogian is making a late surge from out of nowheresville (3 percent support in last month's Field Poll) in his long-shot bid to overtake former California secretary of state Bill Jones, who enjoys Schwarzenegger's endorsement.
Jones isn't a bad fellow. He probably holds sensible views on illegal immigration within the privacy of his own head. But his perception that he can't afford to offend the pro-illegal immigration Bushite party Establishment has left him sounding emasculated.
The L.A. Times reports:
"Jones opposes driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, but rarely broaches the topic unless asked about it. He has declined to take a stand on Bush's immigration proposal, calling it just a 'framework' for reforms and sticking to a general statement against 'amnesty' for undocumented workers." ["State GOP Haunted by Ghost of Prop. 187", by Michael Finnegan, February 21, 2004]
Now that's leadership!
In the latest L.A. Times poll, Kaloogian has pulled into second place, with 12 percent, ahead of suburban mayor Toni Casey and former Huntington Park city councilwoman, and Mexican immigrant, Rosario Marin (8 percent).
George F. Will declares Marin's candidacy "mesmerizing" in a new column that even by Will's recent standards is embarrassing. Will, once a master stylist, actually begins his endorsement of Marin with this worn-out pseudo-profundity: "Chaos theory suggests that the beating of a butterfly's wings in Brazil can set in motion effects that include, in time, a tornado in Topeka."
Marin is viewed as a strong contender by Establishment Republicans because she is a woman, an immigrant, and because, if you squint closely enough, you'll see her signature on some of the dollar bills in your wallet. (Marin was a beneficiary of the obscure tradition going back to the Truman Administration of giving the quasi-honorary position of Treasurer of the United States to semi-random nice middle-aged ladies.)
The energetic Kaloogian helped launch the Recall Davis movement last year and then organized the protests against The Reagans, the TV movie that depicted the former President from a puzzlingly gay-centric viewpoint. Kaloogian has picked up the backing of State Sen. Tom McClintock, who acquitted himself well in last fall's gubernatorial election debates and came in third with 13 percent of the vote.
Kaloogian's campaign seemed to finally kick into gear when Rep. Tom Tancredo, head of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, flew in to endorse Kaloogian at a raucous state Republican convention that sounds like it was a lot more fun than you'd normally expect. The L.A. Times reported:
"Hundreds of GOP loyalists booed the president at a rally where U.S. Senate hopeful Howard Kaloogian and his allies denounced Bush's plan to give temporary legal status to undocumented workers. 'Enough is enough!' the crowd shouted. 'Enough is enough!' A Kaloogian supporter, Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, told the crowd he knew a gynecologist who surveyed patients about the plan and found it rated 'right below genital herpes.'"[February 22, 2004, Rifts Show at State GOP Event, By Michael Finnegan]
The ridiculous earliness of Tuesday's primary, three months before California's traditional primary date in June and a full eight months before the general election, means that Kaloogian probably doesn't have time to close the gap. Still, the Field Poll found that 41 percent of likely Republican voters were undecided, so the race remains predictable.
What was predictable, however, was that the L.A. Times would weigh in with another innumerate analysis based on the conventional wisdom that a Hispanic vote counts more than any other person's vote. Staff reporter Michael Finnegan wrote in "State GOP Haunted by Ghost of Prop. 187:"
"A growing dispute among California Republicans over illegal immigration threatens to undercut the party's struggle to recover from the devastating Latino backlash against its support for Proposition 187, the landmark 1994 ballot measure… The racially charged campaign for the ballot measure stained the party's image among Latinos and turned Gov. Pete Wilson into a symbol of divisiveness."
Let's go through this again (yawn): In reality, Prop. 187 united a sizable majority of California voters. It carried almost 60 percent of the electorate, and endorsing it enabled Wilson to come back from a 20 point deficit to a 15 point victory.
Reporters have a reputation for cynicism. But the truth is that they aren't skeptical enough, as this theme paragraph in Finnegan's article:
"Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant who specializes in campaign appeals to Latinos, said candidates stressing tough stands on immigration risked reviving a 'mean-spirited' image that had harmed the party for years—even if the GOP stand was in line with that of most voters."
Finnegan is so credulous that he bases his point of view on what he's told by a political consultant—a mercenary whose career is based on his Spanish surname!
During an era when conservative activists like Ward Connerly and Ron Unz pushed through successful initiatives against illegal immigration, affirmative action, bilingual education, and "gay marriage," the California GOP ran away from opposition to multiculturalism and nominated inoffensive lapdog losers like Dan Lungren, Matt Fong, Tom Campbell, and Bill Simon Jr. (remember any of them?).
The Republicans, however, lucked out last year. The Democrats, foolishly believing what the L.A. Times had been telling them for years, decided to play … the illegal alien card!
Of course, illegal immigrants can't vote, and they aren't very popular with voters.
Davis, who had sensibly rejected drivers' licenses for illegals earlier, signed the bill in the fall, sealing his fate. Because the conservative McClintock was sapping votes from Schwarzenegger in the balloting to replace Davis, Bustamante only needed a little over 40 percent of the vote to be elected Governor of California. But instead, he campaigned as if he was running for El Gobernador de Mexifornia and earned a pathetic 31 percent.
Final thought: to help restore democracy in America and to get better elected officials, we need to rid our nation of these new winter primaries. The general public simply isn't paying adequate attention this early in the year. So issues and candidates simply don't get the attention they require.
The major party bosses no doubt think this is a clever way to keep control. But it simply makes inevitable the rise of third, splinter parties as continued mass immigration brings the American political system under impossible seismic strain.