Political Fix (20 July, 2017)

Who Wants to Run the Fifth Largest Economy in the World?

In June of 2016, California surpassed France to become the sixth largest economy in the world. This June, California took over England as the fifth largest economy in the world, a possible byproduct of their Brexit vote.

Besides California’s surpassing England’s Gross Domestic Product, California’s economy grew by 4.1 percent in 2015 while the UK economy only grew by 2.2 per cent.

For 2016 California’s economic growth of 2.9 percent was nearly double the U.S. average, and the seventh best among the states. Washington State had the fastest growing economy in the country last year, at 3.7 percent.

Jumping from sixth to fifth gives California major clout as Governor Jerry Brown leads our state to fill the void left by Trump’s White House. Governor Brown met with President Xi Jinping of China on climate change and has courted Canada and Mexico on trade and climate issues.

But California is not alone. Leadership at the state level has taken on global dimensions as Governors approach world leaders on climate change and trade agreements. When Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement a dozen governors reached out to international leaders to reassure them that their state plans on adhering to the agreement.

So now that California is a confirmed world leader, who is going to take the helm in 2018?

At first the Governor’s race looked like it was going to be an epic battle between former California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. But an alleged unspoken agreement between the two led Ms. Harris to run for the United States Senate, leaving the Governor’s seat race open for Mr. Newsom.

The last time a backroom deal deciding who would run for governor and who would run for the United States Senate didn’t turn out so well. California Senator Bill Knowland challenged the current Governor Goodwin Knight in 1958. After being pressured by then Vice President Richard Nixon, Mr. Knight stepped away from the governor’s race and agreed to swap offices with Mr. Knowland and run for Senate.

Both Mr. Knowland and Mr. Knight went down in flames in 1958, with both losing to Democrats. Mr. Knowland lost to the father of our current governor, Edmund G Brown, and Mr. Knight lost to a Bakersfield farmer, Clair Engle, for Senate.

Coincidently, or maybe not, their losses left Mr. Nixon as the undisputed head of the California Republican Party and in a prime position to run for president, an office for which Mr. Knight and Mr. Knowland aspired to run.

Neither Mr. Knight or Mr Knowland ran for public office again.

But this isn’t your grandmother’s California and the backroom deal might work in 2018. Ms. Harris easily won her US Senate seat and she and Mr. Newsom share the same consulting agency, SCN Strategies.

Since Ms. Harris’ victory, Mr. Newsom took an early lead in the polls for the governor’s race. Of course no one else had yet declared until this spring. Mr. Newsom’s strategy was to raise millions of dollars early on and scare everyone else away with his good looks and political clout.

Ms. Harris employed this strategy and it worked.

Newsom’s strategy worked for a few months but one candidate, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has been closing the gap in the polls. Since this spring 35 additional candidates have jumped in the race, not all of them viable of course. Those running for governor range from beer makers to motivational speakers, but seven candidates, three Republicans and four Democrats, have managed to float to the top,

I say serious candidates in terms of the three Republicans with a wink, wink and a nod, because no Republican is going to win a statewide race in California. The only viable Republican candidate would be San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, and he has declined to ruin his political career just to be the Republican sacrificial lamb.

The three Republicans who have filed paperwork and are considered serious are former assemblyman from Torrence David Hadley; John Cox, a businessman; and Travis Allen, a member of the State Assembly.

Don’t worry, no one else in the Valley has heard of them, either.

The two other main Democrat candidates besides Mr. Newsom and Mr. Villaraigosa are former California State Treasurer John Chiang and former Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

Mr. Villaraigosa, who is not in full campaign mode, is only five points behind Mr. Newsom, and there is still almost a year and a half until the general election. Both men need to overcome their history of womanizing to win the Governorship. But their good old fashioned extra marital affairs look absolutely quaint compared to Our Dear Leader. In this day and age their affairs are irrelevant.

Mr. Chiang has also raised millions in donations and has not started campaigning in earnest. He has not been able to breach the five percent level and is not expected to make it past the primary. The question is whether his supporters will go towards Mr. Newsom or Mr. Villaraigosa.

Ms. Eastin is considered the weakest of the main candidates and her supporters are anticipated to vote for Mr. Villaraigosa once she leaves the race.

People living in the Central Valley may not have heard of many of these people but they have heard of former Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida. Mr. Ishida decided not to defend his supervisor’s seat so that he could run for Governor of California.

According to the Foothills Sun-Gazette, Ishida announced his candidacy for governor in 2015, three years before the election, in order to build up the necessary campaign coffers to compete against the political establishments in the Bay Area and Southern California.

But after meeting with friends and supporters in Sacramento he decided to leave politics and return to farming for the first time since being elected to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. “I would be 80 years old by the end of two terms,” he told the Sun-Gazette.

“I still believe I can win. If I was 10 years younger I would not be withdrawing from the race.”

All the President’s Men

One anomaly, among many, during the Trump Presidency is that news outlets continually remind us how long the president has been in office. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidents have been scrutinized after their first 100 days, but for President Trump the countdown continues.

First it was 100 days, then 120 days, then 160 days. Now the headline is six months and Mr. Trump has the lowest approval ratings in history of any president.

And while the Republican-controlled Congress and Senate have not passed any legislation in six months, most of Mr. Trump’s cabinet and all of his family during this time period have lawyered up.

Besides the countdown, Mr. Trump’s presidency has been compared to two major historical events – Watergate and Iran Contra. Watergate is associated with leaks, tapes, special prosecutors and attacks on the media. Sound familiar?

Things could be going better.

The gears of impeachment started to turn during the Watergate and Iran Contra affairs. Mr. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and Mr. Reagan convinced the world he was kept in the dark about the illegal doings of Iran Contra.

In both cases, loyal soldiers of the presidents took the fall and went to jail. After years of court proceedings Oliver North and John Poindexter were sentenced to prison for their involvement in Iran Contra. All convictions were later vacated on appeal.

As for Watergate, 22 government staff or officials went to jail, most notably H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, John Mitchell, Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy.

This begs the question, who would take the fall for Mr. Trump, if anyone, should the occasion arise?

Growing up, Watergate and the Iran Contra Affair were part of my youth. My grandmother and I spent many hours watching the evening news together and it was hard for her to see someone she considered a friend fall from grace.

She was a California delegate at the Republican Convention in 1952 when Mr. Nixon was chosen as Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice Presidential running mate. It is said she helped hold the media back as a surprised Mr. Nixon wrote out his acceptance speech. He would become the country’s second youngest vice-president ever.

My grandmother would say as we watched Watergate unfold every night, “What do you expect from a small town boy from a humble family?”

Watergate, just like the war to end all wars, was the scandal to end all scandals. America was permanently changed after Watergate, some thought for the better, as our government passed laws and strengthened oversight committees to ensure something like Watergate would never happen again.

But we all know that WWI wasn’t the last war, and we know that Mr. Nixon wasn’t the last president to abuse his power.

As far as Iran Contra, I was so beleaguered with work, kids, and bills in 1987 that when the story broke it barely registered in my consciousness that I had been witness to the scandal.

Taking a semester off from Cal to do peace work in Central America, I was in northern Nicaragua not far from the Contra War in 1985.

The Boland Amendment prohibited the CIA or Defense Department to use American taxpayer money to fund the Contras.

Yet Nicaraguan soldiers would come down from the war zone in Honduras and Nicaragua to the little town of Jinotega telling tales and wearing American uniforms taken off of dead Contras. They said that when an American fighter would get killed the body was burned beyond recognition. The Contras were supposed to be Nicaraguan rebels fighting a communist regime that had taken over their country.

They were in fact a group of mercenaries made up of a majority of Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Americans and other international soldiers paid by the United States.

Everyone knew the United States was fighting the Contras, we just didn’t know how they were doing it – until the Iran Contra scandal broke.

Two years after I returned from Nicaragua, Justice Department lawyers found evidence that proceeds from arms sales to Iran had been diverted to illegally fund the Contras in circumvention of the Boland Amendment banning U.S. aid to the rebels.

When I came home full of energy and pep that summer of 1985 saying, “By the way, the United States is funding the Contras,” it didn’t go over very with my Republican family – like they quit talking to me. Years later when I was finally vindicated, I was too tired to gloat.

It’s not exactly fair to compare Mr. Trump’s presidency to the two worst scandals in recent American history. There are major differences, one of which is that President Nixon and President Reagan were well into their second terms when Watergate and Iran Contra took over the evening news.

Mr. Trump is only 182 days, 6 hours and 22 minutes into his first.

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