Politics 2002Week of October 7


Garden Grove, Calif.-It didn’t really matter that, for the first time in memory, there was no well-known speaker from out-of-state at the California Republican Convention. This was Bill Simon’s convention. The 1,500-plus delegates and other participants at the Garden Grove Hyatt last week were enthusiastic about their gubernatorial standard-bearer and, almost to a man, were convinced he can unseat Democratic Gov. Gray Davis-the polls and Davis’ own $20-million anti-Simon TV assault notwithstanding.

But there were other major developments at the three-day party conclave that were of great interest on the right. . . .


Bill Simon was the most popular figure at the state party convention in Garden Grove, but Tom McClintock was a close second. Although swashbuckling conservative McClintock did not arrive at the convention until its final day, the man who is probably the best-known state senator after Democratic Senate President John Burton and Republican Minority Leader Jim Brulte was the subject of enthusiastic talk throughout the three-day GOP gathering. The last Field Poll before the convention showed the 46-year-old McClintock leading Democratic opponent Steve Westly 42% to 30% in the race for state controller, making the Thousand Oaks legislator the lone Republican leading in any polls on the eight statewide offices up for election in California this year. (Days after the GOP convention, however, a Los Angeles Times poll appeared showing onetime eBay senior vice president and Democratic National Committee member Westly ahead of McClintock 44% to 35% statewide. But McClintock campaign manager David Reade told me, “We’re suspicious of that one. This is also the only poll that has ever shown 50% of Californians saying Davis has shown “decisive leadership” as governor-come on! That is contrary to every other poll in the state, where his approval rating never rises above 40%!”).

Unfamiliar to most out-of-state observers, the state controller of California is equivalent to the chief financial officer of a major corporation or the finance minister of a large and diverse nation. The controller is responsible for all state checks, sits on all the boards that determine tax policy, and has audit power for fiscal policy no matter who is governor. Much as when Federal Reserve Board head Alan Greenspan addresses interest rates, the controller’s remarks about anything to do with the seventh-largest economy in the world command attention from Wilshire Boulevard to Wall Street.

That McClintock-long a conservative attack dog on spending in Sacramento-could wield that kind of power is a Golden State conservative’s dream come true. Indeed, with the exception of McClintock’s good friend and 1992 Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Herschensohn, the lawmaker from Thousand Oaks is easily the most durable and fiercely loved figure among California conservatives. (HUMAN EVENTS, as McClintock proudly likes to recall, named him one of “Ten Young Conservative Leaders for Tomorrow” in 1991.)

As a young assemblyman in 1991, McClintock broke with just-elected Republican Gov. Pete Wilson over a proposed record-high, $7-billion tax increase. Reminding voters that Wilson had campaigned on a “no-new-tax” pledge the year before, McClintock offered a budget of his own with massive cuts in state spending and no tax increase.

One of the leaders behind the 1990 statewide initiative limiting the terms of state officials, McClintock has been in the forefront of virtually every major conservative cause in California for the last two decades. He was a force behind the near-successful effort four years ago to defeat a statewide measure crafted by producer Rob (Meathead) Reiner to raise the cigarette tax and, most recently, he successfully led the fight to reduce the California Vehicle License fee by nearly 70%. And, as McClintock proudly likes to point out, he has voted for just six of 14 budgets during his career in the state legislature.

Elected as the youngest (26) state assemblyman in 1982, McClintock was a newspaperman by trade who wrote for the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle. He had also served as the top aide to conservative Republican State Sen. Ed Davis. Like Winston Churchill in his wilderness years, McClintock has run a cottage industry as a writer and speaker. His op-ed pieces, in-depth magazine articles, and many appearances on talk radio programs no doubt have enhanced his name recognition among voters.

McClintock is also the political “energizer bunny.” Defeated in a race for Congress in 1992, he bounced back two years later to become the Republican nominee for controller, losing a heartbreakingly close race to Democrat Kathleen O’Connell (who is termed out of office this year). Two years ago, he came back to win a state senate seat.

Opponent Westly is a first-time office-seeker and major Democratic fund-raiser who won the primary in an upset over Johann Klebs, a former chairman of the state assembly’s Ways and Means Committee. “How he could be a fiscal watchdog is beyond me,” observes McClintock campaign manager Reade. “With all that money he’s getting from the California State Employees and all of those other public sector unions, you wonder how he could ever cross them!”

In addition to its power, the office of controller is also a post that often has led to bigger things. Republican Tom Kuchel and Democrat Alan Cranston both served as controller before going on to the U.S. Senate. Gray Davis himself held the office from 1986-94 before becoming lieutenant governor.

“What Tom McClintock says today he says yesterday and says tomorrow,” says Lyn Nofziger, Ronald Reagan’s longtime political operative. “None of this running to the right in the primary and to the center in the general. As Californians have gotten to know him, they’ve gotten to trust him. If California Republicans were smart, they’d take the next five weeks making sure he has enough money and enough people working on his behalf to elect him.”

(McClintock for Comptroller, 1127 11th St., Sacramento, Calif. 95814; 916-448-9321)


Changing of the Guard? Although State GOP Chairman Shawn Steel and Bush First Friend and Republican power-broker Gerry Parsky-who often seem like two Doberman Pinschers waiting to tear into one another-restrained themselves throughout the convention out of respect to gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, talk of who’s going to be in charge of the party after the next convention in February was very audible in Garden Grove.

Motions to abrogate the controversial “Parsky Plan” that gives the investment banker enhanced power in the state party and to condemn the judicial selection mechanism crafted by Parsky were tabled in committee. State Party Vice Chairman Bill Back, widely considered Parsky’s closest ally within the party hierarchy, was making little secret of his desire to run for chairman at the February convention regardless of what Steel does. The same is true of conservative State Party Secretary Shannon Reeves, former head of the Oakland NAACP and widely regarded as one of the state GOP’s rising stars.

Steel-an activist since he changed the “Coldwater Canyon” highway sign in Los Angeles to “Goldwater Canyon” as a teenager in 1964-can under party by-laws seek a second two-year term. But the Palos Verdes lawyer appeared genuinely undecided about his plans. “It would be wonderful to have more time with [wife] Michelle and our two girls,” he told me over breakfast on the convention’s opening day. But he also underscored his concerns about the party organization coming under the complete control of unelected leaders. Pressed as to his intentions, Steel finally told me, “I’ll call you on October 15.” That’s the last possible day party rules permit a candidate to declare for a statewide office at the next convention.

Conan the Republican: Several sources within the California Republican Party insisted that, while Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted very much to address the Garden Grove convention about a statewide ballot initiative he’s supporting, he was persuaded not to by the GOP hierarchy because the muscleman with the Austrian accent would almost surely have drawn attention from Bill Simon. The actor appeared instead at the Crystal Cathedral, just down the road from the Hyatt, and plugged his Proposition 49 for before- and after-school programs and received the blessings of the most well-known religious figure in Southern California, the Rev. Robert Schuler, who endorsed “49” and told a standing-room-only congregation, “Thank you, God, for this man.”

Proposition 49 would provide $550 million a year in tax dollars for before- and after-school programs, ostensibly to help latch-key children. Crafted in large part by Schwarzenegger (who has so far donated $1 million of the $3.6 million raised for passage of the measure), “49” was also endorsed at the state GOP convention. Although there was some grumbling about giving support to a measure requiring more government spending, most conventioneers went along with it largely because of Schwarzenegger, who is a registered Republican often mentioned as a future candidate for statewide office.