By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The other Checchi problem, of course, is his role in the ongoing subordination of the democratic process, and the rule of one person/one vote, to big money, and the rule of one dollar/one vote. Checchi, to be sure, is no Michael Huffington, an empty suit with $30 million to spend on an election. He's a full suit, but one that's never spent a day in public service (or frequently even bothered to vote). His presumption that private-sector success translates into qualification for public office is bolstered neither by logic nor experience (see, e.g., Richard Riordan). There has been no dearth of rich folks in politics - the Kennedys and Rockefellers spring to mind - but almost all have had apprenticeships in lower-level posts before running for the top ones. It takes a Sophoclean dose of arrogance to view the governorship of California as an entry-level job - and one that, with enough money, can be bought off the rack.
Which leaves Gray Davis, who commends himself to progressives as a compendium of negative virtues: He is neither a Republican in Democratic clothing nor a rich man seeking to buy an office. But Davis brings some more positive virtues to the race. As lieutenant governor, he led the unsuccessful fight on the UC Board of Regents against Ward Connolly's destruction of affirmative action, and the successful fight to have UC adopt domestic partner benefits. He was a key force behind the tuition reductions at UC and CSU last year. Since his days as Jerry Brown's chief of staff and as an Assembly member in the early '80s, he has been a consistent voice for diversity in the public sector and for a woman's right to choose. And in his current campaign, he is calling for the kinds of reforms (like teacher testing) that public education badly needs, and boosting the funds (though not to Checchi levels) that the schools will receive.
But at a moment when California has the kind of needs that require major departures from past practice, and the kind of economy that actually permits us to undertake ambitious projects on the scale that Earl Warren and Pat Brown embarked upon, Gray Davis remains steadfastly timid. Where his commitment to schools falls short on money, he talks up mentoring - a woefully inadequate remedy for the faults of public education. His candidacy, he told the Weekly, "by its very nature is cautious, incremental . . . By definition, I take things a step at a time." It may be that Davis' extensive experience in government has chastened an already very conservative temperament, that serving under 16 years of Republican governorships shrinks a Democrat's sense of the possible. In any event, it is a sense in which Davis seems strikingly deficient.
Moreover, in the course of his long career as the most relentless of fund-raisers, there have been a number of instances when Davis exercised questionable judgment in using public facilities or privileges (like state-employee air-travel discounts) in his quest for contributions, or took money from people doing business with the state. None of this was illegal. But we get the sense from Davis of a pol who not only has mastered the game but is consumed by it, and whose view of the opportunity afforded the next governor may be, by both inclination and conditioning, inadequate to the moment.
How, then, should progressives respond to the shortcomings of the Democratic field? The Weekly recommends a June protest vote for Dan Hamburg, the Green Party's candidate for governor. Hamburg, who was a left-leaning Democratic congressman from California's north coast district from 1992 through 1994 (elected in the Clinton victory, defeated in the Gingrich sweep), has since joined the Greens. He is running on a progressive platform that calls for democratizing the California economy, reducing Proposition 13's stranglehold on the state, and for a vision of social ecology premised on sustainable growth with equity. Where the Democrats accept (and in the cases of Checchi and Harman, personify) the market's domination of all social life, the Greens, and Hamburg, offer a humane alternative to the cult of wealth accumulation where Democrats no less than Republicans pay homage.
Hamburg's own record, while generally fine, is not above reproach (as an activist working against the siting of a nuclear dumpsite in Ward Valley, he has oddly aligned himself with Native American activists who oppose a tritium test that would likely kill the project). Nonetheless, we find the Democratic field as dispiriting as any in modern memory, and believe that the Green Party opens up the political discourse that the two major parties have largely narrowed into a monologue. For June, this is a clear way for progressives to register their discontent.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR - Tony MillerCruz Bustamante, termed out of both the Assembly and his speakership thereof, is the best-known candidate for the office that Gray Davis is leaving to run for governor. He is not, however, the best qualified candidate. As an assemblyman, Bustamante was a safe vote for agribusiness - often against environmental groups or the United Farm Workers; as speaker, he was largely ineffectual. His chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Tony Miller, served as California's acting secretary of state in 1994, when March Fong Eu was made an ambassador. In 1996, Miller co-authored Proposition 208, a flawed campaign-finance-reform initiative which the voters enacted but the courts have since struck down. Miller now pledges to use the rather duty-free office of lieutenant governor to stump for an even better version of campaign finance reform, and while his impact within Sacramento would likely be minimal, his capacity to mobilize statewide support for another run at cleaning up elections would likely be enhanced. Campaign finance reform is one of those issues that brings out the self-righteousness in reformers, and Miller's not exempt from this, but he's also an intelligent progressive, and our clear choice for lieutenant governor.