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Fabian's Fatwa

I’M NOT ANGRY WITH Steve Maviglio for branding me on a Democratic Party blog as the “worst” political journalist in the state. In fact, the guy’s got nothing but my sympathy. As top enforcer for Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, Maviglio is much more comfortable working with compliant reporters who had once dated his boss. Though in fairness to Mirthala Salinas, Maviglio could give her a good run for the money when it comes to giving lip service to sundry Democratic pols (poor Maviglio: After flacking for a panoply of elected Democrats, he served for three years as chief spokesman for California’s worst governor in recent history — Gray Davis).

Readers of this column know that Maviglio (or, more accurately, the office of Fabian Núñez) has levied a fatwa against me because I had merely put in print what everybody already knew — that Fabian would eventually grease the skids for the biggest gambling expansion in state history. And that in doing so, he would diss his longtime labor allies, who were demanding concessions from the virulently anti-union tribes the deal favors.

Since then Maviglio has been relentlessly attacking me on his blog, my blog, by e-mail and in the Letters section of this publication. While he’s whined and whimpered that I’ve not given his side the courtesy of airing their argument, he’s simultaneously failed to offer up those arguments. I’m sympathetic to that as well, because there are no good arguments for Núñez rubber-stamping the gambling deals except sheer cynical, political expediency. In short: Núñez (and the Dem leadership) want to extend term limits that would otherwise boot them from office next year. They were scared to death that if not appeased properly, the wealthy and powerful tribes would pour millions into a campaign opposing the upcoming ballot initiative to extend the limits. Did I miss something?

You can read all about it in a blog column appearing October 20, 2006, on the California Majority Report’s Web site written by none other than — drumroll — Steve Maviglio.

“Foolhardy,” is how Maviglio termed a move by an alliance of a half dozen tribes who, he said, had “dumped” huge chunks of money into several Republican campaigns last fall. Maviglio correctly noted that the tribes were out for “revenge” against those who had opposed earlier proposals for gambling expansion, and he called one campaign — financed by money from the Agua Caliente tribe against a Democratic challenger to Republican Bonnie Garcia — as nothing short of “vicious.” Right again.

Then, striking a bold posture, Maviglio predicted that the tribal flirtation with Republicans would likely backfire. When all was said and done, the Indians still needed the support of the Democrats to get their expansion compacts okayed: “The compacts still need to be approved in a Democratically-controlled legislature next year,” Maviglio wrote. “Blasting Democrats out of the water with huge contributions — either in the Senate, Assembly, or the statewides — doesn’t seem the smartest strategy to get that done.” Pro-gambling strategists, he warned, “might want to remember that sugar catches more flies than vinegar.”

Geez, I almost (but not quite) feel guilty digging up this old column by Maviglio. Because in the end, he was dead wrong. The strong stream of campaign-cash vinegar pissed out by the tribes did, indeed, send Núñez’s Democrats scurrying for cover. They got no sugar, not even nutrient-free Sweet’N Low from the tribes. Instead, they were spooned out a simple ultimatum: Either approve the expansion deals (and without the pro-labor provisions) or we will spend enough to make your head spin in opposing the easing of term limits. Núñez made no deal. He merely led a shameful capitulation to a powerful special-interest lobby that skillfully operates under the rhetorical cover of social justice.

Now it’s Maviglio and his boss who ought to be thinking hard about what is and is not foolhardy. With the rift that Núñez has now opened with labor, he and his pals might be facing not Indian but rather union money in that coming fight over term limits. Maviglio has rebuffed me, saying that Núñez has a 99 percent approval by labor. I count 100 percent, because every single labor person I’ve talked with or who has spoken publicly on this matter in the last two weeks has slammed Núñez.

“Not only am I outraged, but I am saddened that many of the leaders who voted for these harmful compacts would turn their backs on the working men and women who helped them get elected,” said Maria Elena Durazo, head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor — the union alliance that more or less engineered Fabian’s career.

“It’s an unbelievable betrayal of cold, political calculation for campaign dough,” said Jack Gribbon, the California political director of the hotel workers union trying to unionize casino workers.

“We’re certainly dismayed that [Núñez] would abandon 100,000 low-wage workers. He came from modest beginnings himself, and he should know better,” said Art Pulaski, the chief of the state labor federation.

Maviglio has a long history of pressuring reporters by complaining to their editors and demanding corrections and retractions. He’s rarely successful, but it’s a pretty sleazy way to make a living. If his current boss screws up and gets termed out, Maviglio might have to look for a new gig. He might consider switching sides and joining the press corps. I hear there could be a job opening over at Telemundo.


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