Archive for June, 2010


June 23, 2010

By Steve Arthur, Vice President

In addition to settling on their respective party candidates for the general election, California voters also decided to make the June 8 primary the last in which party candidates will be chosen in a primary. Voters passed Proposition 14, which will put all primary candidates on one ballot and the top two vote getters will advance to the general election regardless of party.

While proponents have argued that this change will help elect more moderate officials by forcing candidates to advocate middle of the road positions to advance beyond the primary, some political analysts think the impact will be much less ( We may just have to wait until the 2012 elections to find out which view is correct

However, what may have to change are some corporation and trade association political giving strategies. A common strategy now is to wait until after the primaries to engage in the political process. In addition to conserving limited contribution dollars, this policy avoids having to take sides in a primary campaign when the candidates may have very similar views on issues important to that business or trade association.

The open primary is likely to force a change to that strategy. Under an open primary, candidates will need to treat that election as the general election if there are multiple candidates. In addition, even if there are only two credible candidates, they will be pushing to collect early campaign contributions to help run a campaign that will increase their margin of victory in the primary. By doing this, they will portray themselves as the overwhelming favorite in November, which becomes reality if their opponents’ potential donors see the race that way and decline to give.

If the Proposition 14 proponents’ hopes come true, the business community and labor might both start supporting moderate candidates in races that wouldn’t be competitive under the current system. Under the new system, business groups might see an opportunity to support a moderate Democrat that wouldn’t have a chance in a liberal Democratic primary, but might be able to win a general election. At the same time, labor might see an opportunity to knock off a staunchly anti-labor legislator that would cruise to re-election in a Republican district. This means that both of those seats need to be considered for campaign help when one was a lost cause and the other a shoe-in. If you are involved in budgeting for political contributions, you better keep this in mind for your 2011 and 2012 budgets.

To further complicate matters, both parties have indicated they are likely to make endorsements before the primary at conventions or some other process. This means once an endorsement has been made, you may be getting phone calls from party leadership encouraging you to only give to their preferred candidate. Therefore, Proposition 14 is likely to increase political contributions and political headaches.

UPDATE: An update on my post of the California Insurance Commissioner race earlier this month. As counties continue to count absentee and provisional ballots, Mike Villines has now pulled ahead of Brian FitzGerald by less than 7000 votes out of 1.8 million votes counted. The race is still too close to call, so there is hope after all for those who might be identified as “establishment” politicians.

Are Local Governments Trendsetters?

June 15, 2010

Plastic bag bans, fast-food menu labeling requirements, and taxing of bottled water are all issues being considered in some state legislatures, and even in Congress. But what do these issues have in common? They all originated at the local government level.

  • San Francisco was the first local government to pass the plastic bag ban in March 2007. Many iterations of the ban have been considered by other local governments and by some states. A bill has even been introduced in Congress by Virginia Congressman James Moran (D), imposing a tax on single-use carry-out bags.
  • In July 2008, New York City became the first U.S. city to require fast food restaurants to post calorie counts in large type on menu boards. Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Westchester County (New York) and the state of California soon followed. And menu labeling was also included in the federal healthcare reform bill enacted this spring, calling upon the FDA to develop new regulations that will set forth national standards for restaurants to post the calories of the various food items offered on the menu.
  • Chicago began collecting a tax on bottled water purchases in January 2008. While the tax was proposed by the City for “environmental purposes”, many cash-strapped local and state governments have viewed the tax as a way to help fill empty coffers, and included it in budget proposals around the country.

Every day over 3,000 counties and more than 19,000 cities, villages, and towns in the United States are enacting ordinances. Many local governments are proud to be trend setters, and are actively looking for new ideas. If you want to forecast what the next “trends” will be in the state and federal governments, start paying close attention to what local governments are doing. The next ordinance passed by Chicago, New York City, Denver, San Francisco, or even your own local government may be the next big “trend.”

  • In May, the Santa Clara, California County Board of Supervisors voted to forbid the inclusion of a toy in any restaurant meal that has more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat. This effectively eliminates “kids meals” at many restaurants.
  • Also in May, the Montgomery County, Maryland Council voted to enact a carbon tax of $5 per ton of carbon dioxide on power stations that produce more than 1 million tons in a given year. While the tax only applies to one utility company in that county, the county is the first to enact such a tax in the nation.

Could these be next new “trends” across local, state and federal government? It’s possible.

Anti-Establishment Mood Hits Down Ballot Race in California

June 10, 2010

The primary elections on Tuesday continued the trend of tea party and anti-establishment candidates doing well. State Representative Nikki Haley almost reached the 50% threshold in a four-way primary to avoid a runoff for the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial nomination. As anybody reading this probably knows, she was endorsed by Sarah Palin and former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, and rose to the top by running against the establishment.

In California, Meg Whitman and her unlimited bankroll racked up an impressive win against the state’s insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner, by running as an outsider who could clean up Sacramento.

The race to replace Poizner was one of the more interesting of the night on the Republican side, and a good example of the anti-establishment sentiment. Assemblyman Mike Villines, a former Assembly Republican Leader, was the presumptive nominee. His only opponent, Brian FitzGerald, is a career employee at the State Department of Insurance. (It’s not a typo. He capitalizes the G in his name on his website, While the Los Angeles Times reports that Villines spent $228,000 on his race this year and had another $227,000 in the bank, FitzGerald reported raising zero money and spending less than $5,000 that would have triggered electronic reporting.

With all precincts reporting, Villines is currently trailing FitzGerald by 0.8%.

Some speculate that the reason for Villines’ showing was his listed occupation on the ballot as “businessman/state assemblyman.” FitzGerald listed his occupation as “department’s enforcement attorney,” referring to the Department of Insurance.

Villines earned the enmity of many conservative Republicans by agreeing in 2009 to a budget deal that included temporary tax hikes when he was the Assembly Republican Leader. He later stepped down from the leadership post as a result. While there are still some absentee and other ballots to be counted that could change the outcome of this race, it now looks likely that a candidate who spent no money will be the Republican nominee for a statewide race in California.

That thought has got to be keeping many an incumbent awake at night.