Dispatch from California

In my last dispatch of the goings-on in California, I reported that the Democrats who control the legislature were stonewalling Gov. Schwarzenegger’s requests for a $15-billion bond issue to pay for their previous profligacy. They were also blocking a constitutional amendment that would prevent similar behavior in the future by allowing increases in state expenditures only for inflation and population growth. I predicted that the governor would get both, however, by putting them on the ballot as popular initiatives in November and having the voters pass them over the legislature’s head. This ghastly prospect seems to have sobered the Democrats considerably, for at the last minute they struck a deal that gives the governor most of what he wanted. He gets the bond issue, and he also gets a cap on legislative spending–though the cap simply limits the state budget to the revenues taken in (letting the legislature spend any increases in state revenues) rather than to increases only for inflation and population growth. This at least guarantees a balanced budget, stemming the wild overspending that produced California’s current $38-billion deficit. As a result of the compromise, both the bond authorization and a constitutional amendment to implement the spending cap will be on the ballot on Tuesday, March 2, the date of California’s primary elections. For a while it seemed possible that the bond issue would be defeated, since voters are understandably reluctant to saddle the state with more debt, but vigorous campaigning by the governor has had its effect. In addition, the Democrats in Sacramento have finally thrown in the sponge and endorsed it, because their pet special interests around the state faced brutal reductions in their usual subsidies if it was defeated (since Schwarzenegger grimly refuses to raise taxes). So score one–in fact, two–for the governor. But the Republican voters of California have another big decision to make on March 2. The Democrats will be renominating Barbara Boxer to the U.S. Senate, and the Republicans must choose her opponent. Boxer is universally agreed to be vastly less appealing than her fellow senator and fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein. But she has been in the Senate for two terms, and was lucky in having a weak opponent in 1998. A great deal, therefore, depends on who is chosen to run against her this time. Schwarzenegger has endorsed Bill Jones, a former Secretary of State of California. Jones is a pleasant fellow, and a “moderate” by California Republican standards (which is probably why Schwarzenegger, who is a “moderate” too, endorsed him). But he lacks entirely the will and ability to “mix it up” that is essential in anyone who seeks to beat Boxer. There are also former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey, whom are competing (unsuccessfully) with Jones for the “moderate” vote. But that leaves a fourth contender, whom conservative Republicans have rallied around. He is Howard Kaloogian, a former assemblyman from the San Diego area, who played a key role in launching the recall effort that toppled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. He has received endorsements from an impressive number of leading conservatives, both in California and at the national level. State Sen. Tom McClintock, the solidly conservative Republican who impressed just about everybody in the debates among the gubernatorial candidates, is in his corner. So is Bruce Herschensohn, Boxer’s opponent back in 1992. At the national level, he has been endorsed by Lew Uhler, chairman of the National Tax Limitation Committee, Jack Kemp, Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich. The reason isn’t hard to find. Kaloogian is a battler for conservative principles. He calls for lower taxes, including an end to the death tax, higher pay for the military, and more concern for national security. He plans to support President Bush “most of the time,” but frankly disagrees with his proposal to make it easier for illegal aliens to work here and become citizens. If California Republicans decide they want a candidate who will really tangle with Boxer, Howard Kaloogian is ready to oblige.