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Wake Up and Vote 

L.A. Weekly endorsements for next Tuesday’s primary

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In this era of campaigns by TV commercial, we have a duty to meet and question the men and women who want our votes. Which is exactly why so many of our sessions with candidates are not polite inquiries, but robust and often blunt interrogations. “Why are your TV commercials so terrible?” one writer asked Steve Westly. “Aren’t you being disingenuous by saying you were duped by bad intelligence on the war with Iraq?” another pressed Jane Harman. At times we were surprised to find we liked the answers we got from candidates we were prepared to dismiss, and other times we were profoundly disappointed in the candidates many felt we were supposed to support. We saw both genuine and crocodile tears as many of the candidates told us their often incredible life stories, and we witnessed one candidate apologize for an errant foul word only to get so comfortable she was letting the expletives fly by the end of the interview. We even heard a candidate push for secession as a way to get California its fair share of taxes. We heard too many candidates talk about fixing our state’s schools without having any real idea where they’d get the money to accomplish that goal. And we felt the curse of term limits as we met young, smart candidates with so little political experience we knew they’d be eaten alive by lobbyists and special interests as soon as they got into office. Finding a candidate who hasn’t been corrupted by the system but knows how to work it isn’t easy. But we did find a few candidates who raised our hopes for the future. Some, like Jerry Brown, who is promising Eliot Spitzer–style results as attorney general, were expected; others, like Orange County state controller candidate Joe Dunn, who has initiated several tough, no-nonsense investigations as state senator in Republican country, had been flying under the radar.

The unexpected is what we value most in our endorsement interviews. We don’t like consultants and party insiders determining our votes. We suspect you don’t either. This is why we know you won’t blindly accept our choices. We’ve tried to include plenty of information about the candidates we didn’t choose, especially in the close races, so that you can make up your own mind.



GOVERNOR: STEVE WESTLY

It would be so easy to sit this one out. We’re tired of message-free campaigning. We’re uninspired by empty attack ads. We’re sick of consultant-driven politicians who fail to address the state’s gravest issues. So we can’t really blame the one-third of the electorate that continues to withhold judgment on Tuesday’s unpleasant gubernatorial primary, the one where two statewide Democrats are competing for the chance to challenge Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in November. Even if there hadn’t been five statewide elections in each of the past five years — including a recall and Schwarzenegger’s wasted special election — this is a campaign that fell just short of despicable. Hypocrisy replaced leadership months ago on the campaign trail.

The candidates’ commercials have been mostly useless to the voters, providing a blur of newspaper headlines and scant reference to the serious problems that truly threaten California. Even the attacks are dull — cheap shots that fail to resonate. We don’t buy that State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a driving force within the Democratic Party for two decades, is a threat to the environment merely because he is a developer. Nor do we view State Controller Steve Westly, who made a fortune on eBay and has his own Democratic Party ties, as a Judas simply because he voted for Schwarzenegger’s $15 billion bailout of the state — a move that, by the way, kept California solvent.

But not all negative advertising is equal. Angelides thoroughly discredited himself by running a TV ad shellacking Westly for taking campaign money from a “corrupt Chicago businessman.” Did Angelides really think no one would find out that he’d solicited money from the very same Joseph Cari, indicted in a pension-fund scandal? Angelides’ poor judgment ranks down there with his unsavory abortion ad in the 1994 primary, when he was running for state treasurer against David Roberti. Roberti, a devout Catholic, was a No vote on the abortion-rights issue, but the ad vaguely connected the liberal Roberti to fundamentalist loonies who had murdered abortion doctors. Twelve years later, when given a chance to show regret, Angelides says he is only sorry that the ad upset anyone. The two ads, running 12 years apart, show Angelides to be a fundamentally flawed candidate. Enough is enough.

We were enthusiastic about Angelides early on in the primary campaign, when he promised to level with voters, push hard for public investment and make taxes a centerpiece of his grand scheme for rebuilding the state. And we admit that it is tempting to watch this ruthless candidate go mano a mano against Schwarzenegger with all of his political wiles at his disposal. But we want a candidate with more signs of possessing a soul. We like the way that Westly, as a Stanford undergrad, demanded a place in the only African-American residence on campus. We like the way he told us that he wished he had participated in the May 1 immigration-rights demonstration in Los Angeles. In contrast, Angelides says he did not participate in the demonstration because it was for the people — not politicians. We chalk it up to yet another missed opportunity to show true leadership on a key issue facing Californians.

That said, neither candidate is giving the proper level of attention to the real problems in California, ones that a governor is uniquely positioned to take on. Topping that list is the dreadful level of funding that cheats our public schools, overwhelmed with the job of educating hundreds of thousands of children coping with limited English skills and struggling to overcome the barriers posed by poverty. Westly talks robotically about a “barbell economy” — or is it a dumbbell economy? — in which California’s middle class is steadily shrinking. But he offers a limited program for addressing it. Angelides, in turn, promises to usher in a new era of investment. But with his heavy reliance on $5 billion in upper-income tax hikes, he looks disturbingly like a one-trick pony eager to please the masses with his tax-the-rich scheme. Angelides is banking on a tax hike for those who earn more than $500,000 — a move we support wholeheartedly, by the way. But such an increase would likely require a two-thirds vote, and we hear no explanation from Angelides on how he will persuade Republican voters — or even moderate Democrats — to secure passage of such an initiative, or what his backup plan will be if the GOP blocks him. After all, Angelides has repeatedly promised not to raise any taxes on the middle class, a vow that forecloses any honest debate about investment, about how we rebuild California’s public schools.

Westly also hopes to pour more money into K–12 classrooms and higher education. He has offered a somewhat more pragmatic strategy for achieving his goals, by getting $3.25 billion — half the amount going unpaid to California — from tax scofflaws and giving 42 percent of the total to education. Westly proposes $150 million in free tuition for community-college students, primarily those who are committed to higher education. And Westly showed a surprising level of familiarity with measures needed to reduce oil dependency in California, from emerging electric-vehicle technology to ways of adopting a lower-emissions formula for ethanol.

We suspect that Westly would be the better governor. His cooperation with Schwarzenegger on the bond measure shows the spirit of conciliation that is needed to move California forward. Gone are the days when scorched-earth, ideological temper tantrums will carry the day. The state’s ills cross party lines, and so must those who are to succeed in solving them. Westly shows the courage to push the greater good of all ahead of his own or partisan interests.

We lament that both candidates have run flawed campaigns that have shortchanged the public and diminished our democracy. In the end, we believe Steve Westly has emerged the better candidate. But whoever wins this exceedingly tight race, we implore him to find a way to talk to the voters over the next five months about California’s future in a way that respects and engages them. No more of the filthy campaigning that alienates a third of the populace. We must focus on restoring good government and evicting Arnold Schwarzenegger in the fall.



LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: JACKIE SPEIER

We love Jackie Speier. If only she were running for a position with real power. Speier has been a true talent in the state Senate, fighting to protect financial privacy, making prescription drugs more available to seniors, and demanding scrutiny of sweetheart state contracts. Speier is also one of the few Democrats who decry the folly of eliminating the vehicle license fee, which ruined the state budget and deprived public schools of much-needed funding. And she is powerful as she lays out her case against lucrative pay agreements with the state’s prison guards union. Alas, Speier is running for lieutenant governor, a position made even more inconsequential than normal by the current officeholder, Cruz Bustamante. Acknowledging that the position has not exactly been a hub of political influence in recent years, Speier has promised to transform it into a guardian of higher education, using its seat on the UC Board of Regents to effect change. Speier plans to take after Leo McCarthy, who held hearings up and down the state on major issues during his tenure and was a watchdog for consumers. Her main opponent, John Garamendi, has been an excellent insurance commissioner, but we prefer Speier’s passion. We wish her well and look forward to the day when she runs for a job she deserves, like governor.



SECRETARY OF STATE: DEBRA BOWEN

South Bay state Senator Debra Bowen would be the secretary of state from central casting. In her six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, no one has been more concerned, and to better effect, about cleaning up our political process than she. Her opposition to Diebold election technology is also a lot stronger than that of her opponent, Sacramento-area state Senator Deborah Ortiz. In this battle of the Debs, we strongly support Bowen.



CONTROLLER: JOE DUNN

The two candidates seeking this post in the Democratic primary — Joe Dunn, a state senator from normally Republican Orange County, and John Chiang, the member of the State Board of Equalization from L.A. County — are both intelligent progressives with a lot to recommend them for this position. Chiang is a very talented tax lawyer; Dunn is an accomplished trial lawyer who’s won major class-action cases against some of the most nefarious corporations. Before anybody else was on the case, Dunn led a state Senate investigation of Enron and its role in cheating California out of multiple billions of dollars.

We think Dunn has the track record and leadership skills to be a standup controller; Chiang strikes us as a gifted young talent more suited to being Dunn’s chief deputy.



TREASURER: BILL LOCKYER

In his eight years as attorney general, and as leader of the Senate Democrats before that, Bill Lockyer consistently backed the interests of consumers, workers and the little guy against powerful financial forces. These are the qualities that convince us he’d make an excellent treasurer, a post for which he has no primary opposition.



INSURANCE COMMISSIONER — NO ENDORSEMENT

Termed-out Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is running for insurance commissioner, in a campaign marked by his pledge to lose weight and his acceptance of $158,000 in contributions from insurance companies. He faces no serious opposition. His undistinguished record as lieutenant governor and his willingness to take money from the folks he’d regulate don’t convince us that he’s up to the job. We wish him much success, though, in his efforts to shed that flab.



STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION, DISTRICT FOUR: JUDY CHU

The primary requirement for this position — which handles the tax cases of some of the state’s most powerful businesses and individuals — is the ability to say no to those businesses and individuals when the facts and law so dictate. As mayor of Monterey Park and then an assemblymember from that area, Judy Chu has repeatedly shown herself to be an exceptionally thoughtful, honest, progressive public official. Her chief opponent, Inglewood-area Assemblymember Jerome Horton, has shown himself to be quite the reverse. Chu is our clear preference here.



UNITED STATES SENATOR: NO ENDORSEMENT

In a state and a party that don’t lack for talented progressives, how the Democrats saddled themselves with Dianne Feinstein is a damn good question. She began her current six-year term by backing George W. Bush’s appalling 2001 tax cut for the rich. (Eleven other Senate Democrats joined her, but she was the only one from a clearly blue state. They felt they had to vote with Bush; she actually believed this crap.) She also voted to authorize the Iraqi war in the fall of 2002. DiFi’s done her share of good deeds, of course: She recently authored an amendment to the Senate immigration bill that would have provided a path to legalization for all the undocumenteds, not just those here for five years or more. But when she’s bad, she’s horrid, and with less realpolitik justification for it than just about any of her Democratic colleagues.



36TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: JANE HARMAN

We can’t help but be bitterly disappointed in U.S. Rep. Jane Harman. The South Bay Democrat is surprisingly intelligent for a representative of the U.S. Congress, an incredibly hard worker who lives and breathes foreign policy and national security issues. Yet she was duped — and willingly admits that she and colleagues were duped — by the trumped-up intelligence that led our nation to war, a war that has had devastating consequences on the nation and the world. Harman faces a spirited challenge from teacher Marcy Winograd, who moved into the district to carry the pro-peace message and hound the incumbent for her handling of Iraq. We share Winograd’s sadness and, quite frequently, rage at the lack of scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats alike regarding the warnings regarding WMD. We have taken pleasure in seeing Harman hustle a bit in the wake of Winograd’s challenge. But Winograd doesn’t appear up to the rigors of serving in Congress and offers little in the way of a platform outside of her call for a withdrawal of the troops. And she certainly has no domestic agenda, saying mainly that national programs would see more money once there is an end to the war in Iraq. So here we are with Harman, again, albeit a somewhat remorseful one. Harman promises that there will be a reckoning regarding the failures of the nation’s foreign policy — but only if the Democrats regain power in November. Harman also insists she has learned her lesson on the need for a much more thorough vetting of intelligence that is gathered for national security purposes. But what a terribly cruel lesson it is.


20TH STATE SENATE: ALEX PADILLA

The battle for the seat of state Senator Richard Alarcon, a longtime Democrat forced by term limits into the lower house, is nothing less than a barnburner. On the one side is Assemblywoman Cindy Montañez, a ferocious fighter for her community who got her start on the San Fernando City Council. On the other is Los Angeles Councilman Alex Padilla, a polished political presence who worked meticulously to bring resources into his community — from dozens of new affordable housing units to the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, which moved to Hansen Dam. Both candidates got an early start in San Fernando Valley politics, establishing themselves in their 20s. Both would represent their district well. Where they start to differ is their styles: Padilla can come off as too polished, a seasoned pol working deals behind the scenes, while Montañez — much more the scrapper — can come off a bit rough. We give the nod to Padilla, in large part because of his successful battle to keep Sacramento from siphoning money from city and county governments — think libraries, recreation programs, jails, police — every time the state budget goes in the tank. As a statewide leader with the California League of Cities, Padilla crafted Proposition 1A, the measure that halted the raids on local government and forced the hand of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Suddenly, Padilla became the rarest of politicians: someone who did not just complain about a lack of funding, but found a way to address the situation. Not to say that Montañez isn’t accomplished in her own right. Among her greatest achievements is her aggressive pursuit of consumer protections for car buyers, a campaign that invited the ire of auto dealers, who in turn heaped independent expenditures on Padilla. Montañez has a firm grasp of her district, particularly the threats posed by contaminated sites in the northeast Valley. But Padilla’s work on citywide issues, from state funding to the clever scuttling of the 2002 Valley secession movement, make him our choice this year.



28TH STATE SENATE: JENNY OROPEZA

You can’t say voters don’t have a choice in this sprawling South Bay district, which stretches from Culver City on the northwest to Carson on the southeast. From the western flank is former Assemblyman George Nakano, a quiet, reassuring presence who embodies the district’s more politically cautious communities, such as Torrance — a city he once represented. From the eastern side is Assemblywoman Jenny Oropeza, who can be all over the map emotionally as she vents her frustration with campaign finance laws, voices her sorrow over the state’s difficult budget choices of 2003 and expresses her anger over the shortchanging of low-income, port-adjacent communities in Wilmington and Long Beach. Oropeza even waged an unsuccessful battle for the speakership against Assemblyman Fabian Núñez, which may explain why she failed to secure the backing of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — a Núñez ally. For all of her fighting instincts, Oropeza remained a wallflower on the environment until 2004, when she underwent treatment for liver cancer — an experience that persuaded her to assume some of the heavy lifting on clean-air initiatives from fellow Long Beach Democrat Alan Lowenthal, who now serves in the state Senate. Since then Oropeza has roared back with a vengeance, pushing for $1 billion in clean-air initiatives to be included in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s $37.3 billion infrastructure bond and using her bully pulpit to spotlight the damage caused by rail, truck and ship emissions. Nakano has also shown an interest in the environment, crafting legislation that limited cruise ships from dumping wastewater and other hazardous materials into ocean waters. The true test of Nakano’s courage came during his first term, when he voted in favor of a bill cracking down on the harassment of gay teens in public school — a move that drew pickets outside his office and full-page attack ads in daily newspapers. But Nakano’s work, while admirable, has been limited in scope. And for that reason we are picking Oropeza, whose passion is infectious, if not always accompanied by the rigor we want in a state legislator. We would never think to tell Oropeza to stop leading with her heart. But we do suggest that she put her considerable energy into the finer details of policy as well.


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