GOVERNOR - Dan HamburgFor the past 16 years, California has had only Republican governors - George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, to get right to the gruesome particulars - and it is chiefly this GOP lock on the statehouse that has given us billions of dollars for prisons and the most underfunded schools in the nation, University of California regents who go to war on affirmative action, a judiciary increasingly indifferent to employee and civil rights, and a succession of "wedge-issue" initiatives (187, 209, 226 ad nauseum) designed to pit race against race and class against class. This year's Republican nominee-to-be, Attorney General Dan Lungren, is certainly more affable than Pete Wilson - no great achievement, that - but if anything, he is to Wilson's right, coming down on the wrong side of such issues as a woman's right to choose and restrictions on assault weapons. Lungren's tenure as attorney general has been marked by lax enforcement of the laws designed to benefit consumers and the environment, and he delayed California's entry into the omnibus tobacco lawsuit until virtually every other state in the union had joined.
Defeating Dan Lungren this November is the sine qua non of any attempt to restore California's reputation for educational excellence, economic opportunity and social justice that it enjoyed at the height of the post-World War II boom. And in November, the Weekly will likely support whichever candidate seems best positioned to defeat him.
But it's a long, long time from June to November, and in June, we think the proper course for progressives is to express a principled disagreement with - and disappointment in - the three leading Democratic candidates for governor. All have considerable talents, but, outside the context of a one-on-one matchup with Lungren, we find that their debits weigh more heavily on our assessment than their talents.
Congresswoman Jane Harman brought one major calling card to the race: She initially seemed the strongest candidate the Democrats could field against Lungren. For three successive elections now, Harman has carried a South Bay congressional district that conventional wisdom said was too conservative for a Democrat to win. The secrets of her success have been a sizable family fortune she's spent on her campaigns, a staunch pro-choice stand that has appealed to Republican women, and a voting record and set of beliefs well to the right of almost any other Democratic congressional member from California.
The problem is, when Harman called herself "the best Republican in the Democratic Party," she wasn't being hyperbolic. Harman opposed the Clinton health-care plan, not to mention the merest suggestion of single-payer insurance. She favored not just balancing the budget, but even supported a proposed constitutional amendment mandating a balanced budget, which would have the effect of inflicting on the entire nation the kind of decline that California has experienced in the 20 years since Proposition 13. Unlike senators Feinstein and Boxer and 22 of California's 26 Democratic House members, she supported the 1996 welfare-reform bill despite its sanctions (quite unrelated to welfare) on legal immigrants. Finally, Al Checchi's attacks on Harman have so damaged her image that even her November electability is no longer as axiomatic as it once seemed - rendering any case for progressive support of Harman's candidacy utterly moot.
There is, on the other hand, a clear case for progressive support for Al Checchi, and it derives entirely from the content of his platform. Simply stated, Al Checchi is running on the most liberal and farsighted program of any of the major candidates for governor. Only Checchi focuses on the profound underinvestment that California makes in its schools and its transportation and water projects; only Checchi stands up against the demagogic and destructive idea, spawned by the GOP but embraced by his two Democratic rivals, that we should rebate billions in DMV fees to motorists rather than use the funds to better the schools. (Checchi, on the other hand, may overestimate the amount of money that can be plowed into the schools without raising taxes.) Only Checchi dwells on the state's growing income inequality and the need for a higher minimum wage. Only Checchi addresses the crucial issue of sustainable growth by positing legislative restrictions on suburban sprawl. Only Checchi has called for the repeal of Proposition 209. Some of these proposals are gutsy to a fault - a more experienced candidate might never have made them - but they certainly move the political dialogue in California in the right direction.
Alas, this is not the Checchi that his campaign has chosen to present to California voters. Instead, we've been saturated with the most massive ad campaign, and the most massive negative ad campaign, in the history of state politics. That campaign illustrates a side of Checchi also in evidence in his tenure at the helm of Northwest Airlines, where he all but blackmailed the state of Minnesota to help bail out the company, only to renege on his commitments to build additional Northwest facilities there, and where he threatened Northwest's unions with plunging the company into bankruptcy unless his massive stake in the company (for which he paid virtually nothing) was preserved during the company's restructuring. The Checchi problem is simply that he is the most ruthless and amoral operator we've seen in years.