The lite guv still has the lightest public schedule of the candidates, a schedule that in fact is not that easy to find out about. His attempts to launder vast contributions from Indian casino tribes into his gubernatorial campaign in violation of Proposition 34 campaign limits, revealed by the Weekly and other papers, have repeatedly been rebuffed by regulators, and now the courts, yet continue still. His negatives have skyrocketed. His credibility with that part of the press that is not an adjunct of the Democratic Party has plummeted in the wake of his inability to understand the budget crisis and the power crisis. He is running well below the 40 percent Democratic base vote that his candidacy is structured to capture as the only name Democrat in the race.
Bustamante tried to bail out of the big Wednesday-night debate in Sacramento, correctly pointing out that the pool of questions was known in advance, seemingly giving an advantage to the actor Schwarzenegger. But unlike the other debates, generally lifeless affairs in which candidates gave quick answers to disconnected questions from journalists, the Sacramento debate had much give-and-take in the format, not Bustamante’s strong suit.
Bustamante’s candidacy will tell us if the latest big-money special interest, the Indian casino tribes, can buy themselves a governorship through their blatant spending of millions to help Bustamante and stop Schwarzenegger, who supports Indian gaming but opposes its massive expansion. And if the voters understand that this movie is not Dances With Wolvesbut Casino.
With his fund-raising in low gear in late August, with just over $300,000 received, Bustamante and his political honcho Richie Ross turned to a seeming loophole in the Proposition 34 campaign-reform law and began laundering millions in contributions from Indian casino tribes into the campaign. Despite court rulings against him, Bustamante refuses to return the money. Ross says the campaign can’t give any of the money back, as the court ordered, because it has all been spent on ads opposing Proposition 54. But the TV ads began airing just six days before the court ruling, and the campaign acknowledges that money is sitting in TV-station accounts waiting to pay for ads that could be canceled. Is a contempt-of-court citation the next embarrassment in the lite guv’s future?
This very bright right-wing state senator from Thousand Oaks must know he can’t win no matter how much Indian casino interests spend on “independent” TV ads on his behalf. The senator, at the zenith of his career, must find a way to declare victory for advancing the ideas he holds dear, some of which have proved to be prescient on fiscal matters, and find a role to play with Schwarzenegger, the only person who can give him a meaningful mission. Otherwise, he becomes a bitter-ender whose vote may in the end not be big enough to matter anyway, thus squandering his advantage.
Peter Camejo and Arianna Huffington
Peter Camejo has seemed downright chummy with Bustamante in debates, but it is doubtful his Green Party would support the controversial Democrat. Huffington has emerged as the campaign’s best debater, always able to offer a tart critique of what is wrong with all the leading candidates. In both a statement from her campaign and a conversation with me, the feisty independent progressive candidate insists she is in this race until the end.
And why not? While she is a Schwarzenegger critic, it is clear from what she is saying that she doesn’t think that taking votes away from Bustamante is spoiling anything.