Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The State of Kalifornia - The Governor and his Reforms

This morning I went to the Golden State Breakfast (formerly called the Host Breakfast) which is in its 79th year. It is an event that presents the business community with the Governor. Only once in all that time has the Governor failed to show.

For those in the political class that think the Governor is in decline, they might want, as Fagin suggested to "think it out again" - obviously this is a partisan group but he was still good. As noted when I saw him do Crossfire, he is great at staying on message. But in this case he was not only good at that (not a hard job here) but also testing some messages for the four themes he wants to pursue in the Special Election. He did a good job of reciting what has happened in the last 12 months - for example - last year, he claimed, the legislature wanted to increase taxes by $5 billion - yet he argued that we could grow the economy to get us out of the budget problem. He then said they want to do it again - even though state revenues have grown by $6 billion -" they still want more."

He restruck the "reform" agenda he has been using all spring - but with a special vigor. Each of his comments could be repackaged in a good sound bite or into speeches. On redistricting - "You'd think if we can fight for democracy in Iraq that we should also pursue it in California." On the education reforms - "We have unions for teachers and nurses and all sorts of other public employees but where is the union for the students?" On the budget package (Live within our means) - he did a great cut at the history of the legislature since 1998 and whether they deserve the 12% payraise the commission granted them yesterday. He had a string of one liners that are perfect for repackaging - "Power is not with the money of the unions but with your vote."

I was reminded a lot about the history of California around the turn of the last century and the efforts of Hiram Johnson and the progressives that brought us a political legacy that lasted almost 40 years. This will obviously be a big fight - this afternoon the unions are coming to the Capitol to rally - all wearing SEIU purple. But this is one area where the size of the group and the size of the bankroll may not tell the story of what will resonate with voters.