Money, Attack Ads Talk; Good Candidates Walk
It's all Sen. Dianne Feinstein's fault. That's what I
Well, maybe not all of it.
But if Feinstein had run for governor three years ago in
the Gray Davis recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger would not have
dared. That's my guess.
We would have been spared that wasteful, costly, divisive
special election last year. And Feinstein, 72, would now be
a shoo-in for reelection â€" not for the
Senate, as she is, but for the state's highest office.
Actor Schwarzenegger wouldn't be running this time either.
He'd assess the situation as analyst Tony Quinn does:
"There's no way Arnold Schwarzenegger would have gotten
elected governor this year as a non-incumbent Republican in
this political climate."
This climate being turbulent for Republicans
Feinstein didn't run in 2003 because she felt that by
offering herself to voters as an alternative to fellow
Democrat Davis, she'd be acting like a turncoat and a jerk.
Anyway, although she'd long coveted the governorship, she
also loved being a senator.
So Democratic voters are stuck with what many view as
disappointing choices: One-term Controller Steve Westly,
whose primary qualification for governor is that he's so
fabulously rich he can pay for his own campaign ($34
million as of last week), and two-term Treasurer Phil
Angelides, who's also wealthy, but not quite in Westly's
league. Angelides has been kept in the game by a developer
pal's $9-million largesse.
You get the idea: In big-time politics these days, it's all
about the money and who's got it.
The candidates need the money, they'll tell you, to "get
out our message" â€" shamelessly delivered, too
often, in attack ads.
Mark DiCamillio, director of the nonpartisan Field Poll,
says the recent deluge of negative ads has kept the number
of undecided voters at a historic high this close to a
gubernatorial primary: 26% in a survey he completed last
Wednesday. He suspects the only decision being made by many
people is that they're not going to vote for either
Westly and Angelides are sloshing through the mud neck and
neck: 35% to 34%, respectively.
Vicious ads return us to Feinstein â€" and why
she also didn't run for governor back in 1998, forever
altering state history. (She had run in 1990, losing
narrowly to Republican Pete Wilson.)
Feinstein had been smacked by a dirty Davis ad while
winning a 1992 Senate primary.
Then, in her 1994 Senate reelection, she barely survived a
relentless shelling by Republican Michael Huffington
â€" another self-financed rich guy. Her wounds
still hadn't healed in 1998 and she flinched.
Too bad for Democrats and California. Lt. Gov. Davis would
have bowed out, I'm sure, and she would have won easily.
Instead, Davis was elected.
A Gov. Feinstein would have been quicker and firmer in
handling the energy crisis, and wouldn't have spent the
state into debt. She would have embarked on an
infrastructure rebuilding program yearsembarked on an
infrastructure rebuilding program years ago.
But there's also another reason why Feinstein is at fault,
all facetiousness aside.
Leading up to 1998, she vacillated so long that it blocked
out another potentially terrific governor: Leon
Panetta, like Feinstein, is a California native who admired
the visionary governorships of Earl Warren and Pat Brown.
Panetta once had the distinction of being fired by
President Nixon as U.S. civil rights director because he
was viewed as moving too fast toward Southern school
He became a Democrat and was elected to Congress for eight
terms from Monterey. Then President Clinton tapped him to
be his budget director â€" they ended deficit
spending â€" and later chief of staff.
Panetta returned to California in 1996 eyeing the
governor's office. "I talked with Dianne Feinstein," he
recalls, "and said, 'If you run, I'll support you.'
"And then she took a long time coming to a decision. By
that time, it was too late for me to raise the money. To be
competitive, I'd have had to raise anywhere from $20
million to $40 million. I mean, my God!"
He settled in as director of the Panetta Institute, a think
tank at Cal State Monterey Bay.
I asked Panetta, 67, why he didn't run this year. He
"I can't afford to," he answered. "I'm not independently
wealthy. I'm not in the ballpark with Angelides and
Although he does own a 12-acre walnut ranch in pricey
Carmel Valley, Panetta is more in the ballpark with Atty.
Gen. Bill Lockyer. This is another Democrat whose
gubernatorial dreams were dashed because he lacked
Lockyer, an effective attorney general and once a skilled
legislative leader, isn't rich and hates to grovel for
money. So he's running for the relatively inexpensive job
"This state cannot survive unless we open up the
opportunity for more good people to run for office,"
Panetta says. "You're either independently wealthy or
you've got special interests backing you. People are just
simply turned off about getting into the process. I
honestly believe that some kind of public financing is
And "these damn attack ads," he continues. Potential
candidates "are turned off by that. They don't want to see
their lives destroyed.
"There are a lot of things that have to change for this
state to be governable." For one, he says, there must be
more flexibility for elected officials to set spending
priorities. Most of the money now is tied up by ballot-box
budgeting through initiatives.
"You'd have to go against a lot of special interests and,
in many ways, against your party to implement these
Feinstein has endorsed Angelides.
I may write in Panetta.
See the article on Los Angeles Times website