Poizner appeals to Contra Costa taxpayers group

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner

California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner

Contra Costa County continues to attract would-be gubernatorial candidates with a lunchtime speech this afternoon by Republican and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

He was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. Predictably, this fiscally conservative audience of about 150 people loved Poizner’s largely anti-tax stump speech.

You may recall that Democratic gubernatorial candidate and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made a campaign stop in Concord in February.

Poizner was charming and a bit geeky as he pitched his reforms of the state Department of Insurance as a model for what he would champion as governor. (He cut expenses 15 percent through reduced staffing levels and the elimination of what he considered unnecessary programs.)

Poizer continued to voice major opposition to statewide ballot measures on the May 19 special election negotiated by the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a very contentious budget package. He urged everyone vote no on propositions 1A through 1F.

“It was a package negotiated behind closed doors. Tell them no, not any more money, not any more taxes, just go get your job done,” Poizner said.

Of course, Poizner has a long way to go before he has a chance to sweep out the scent of fine cigar’s from Schwarzenegger’s reign. The chief primary rival of the former Silicon Valley high-tech entrepreneur (Poizner’s firm developed GPS devices for cell phones) is expected to be another tech tycoon, multimillionaire and former Ebay chief Meg Whitman.

Interestingly, Poizner failed to mention Whitman in his speech today. But he did deliver a few barbs at Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown, the front-runner in the Democratic field and the Californa attorney general.

In reference to the rapidly changing global economy, Poizner said that “In China, more people are studying English than people speak it in the United States. And that’s true even if you consider Schwarzenegger an English speaker.”

On the matter of building infrastructure in California, Poizner said “We essentially quit building freeways 25 years ago thanks to, yes, (then governor) Jerry Brown.” (When Brown was governor back in the 1970s, he dramatically cut staffing at the California Department of Transportation.)

Poizner also gave the audience a preview of one of his campaign television ads.

He says it will feature Poizner standing at the Nevada-California border holding a camcorder and watching the U-hauls speed by into the Silver State. It’s intended to show that Californians are leaving the state because of excessive taxes and regulations.

The well-spoken Poizner demonstrated passion for the job and a grasp of the issues but even one of the Contra Costa taxpayers this afternoon expressed doubt about Poizner’s ability — or anyone’s, for that matter — to overcome strong Democratic control of the Legislature when the wildly popular action-hero Schwarzenegger couldn’t do it.

Read on for more snippets of Poizner’s speech:

ON HIS FIRST DAYS AS INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: “It took me about an hour to realize that (a state agency) is not like running a Silicon Valley company.”

ON TAX INCREASES: “When people in Sacramento ask you to contribute more tax monery to help fund that big bureaucracy, your answer should be, no, not another dime.”

“To raise taxes $25 billion the middle of a deep recession is a really bad idea. You don’t need to go to Stanford business school (his alma mater) to know that when you raise taxes $25 billion in the middle of a recession, people will spend less, move out of the state and the state will get less revenue, not more.”

ON CALIFORNIA’S ABILITY TO COMPETE IN THE HIGH-TECH GLOBAL ECONOMY: “The folks running Sacramento, from both parties … are oblivious, totally oblivious. The Republicans and Democrats need to get together and completely and urgently overhaul our state in order for us to be competitive or we will be steamrolled.”

ON HIS EDUCATION REFORM PROPOSAL: “We have to fix the public schools by getting Sacramento politicians out of the classroom … Who runs the schools? Not the teachers or the administrators. They dont’ control the budget or the curriculum or antyhing. The Legislature micromanages the schools through the state education code.”

“In higher office, when I get there, here is the goal: Apply the same type of freedom and flexibility of charter schools to all schools and the goals for the school will be simple. No one should leave first grade until they can read and no one hsoudl graduate fifth grade until they can compete. Period. Let’s empower teachers and principles with the goal. If they succeed, we give them a raise. If they fail, we replace them.”

ON HIS REGULATORY REFORM PROPOSAL: “When you want to build something and you need a permit, you can’t get answer in this state sometimes for years and that is show-stopper. What we need is to make sure that anyone who interacts wtih any regulator agency gets an answer in six months or less.”

ON HIS FAILURE TO WIN HIS ASSEMBLY RACE IN 2004: “If I had been elected to the Legislature, it would have been the end of my political career. That palce is dyfunctional. Sometimes, things work out for the best.”

ON HIS CHANCES TO WIN THE GENERAL ELECTION IN A STATE WHERE DEMOCRATS OUTNUMBER REPUBLICANS: “People understand that the governor is not a partisan warrier but a leader in the state … The people who pick the governor will be the swing voters, the 20 percent of voters registered decline to state who are just fed up with both parties.”

ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: “There are plenty of reasons to be angry at the Republican Party, my goodness. Here we are in charge in Washington, D.C., for all that time and spending got out of control and the earmark abuse, shame on us. And, of course, the Democrats, well, there hasn’t been a very good choice. But I am a proud lifelong Republican and I think we need to get back to our core values and we will win.”

ON HIS STRATEGY FOR DEALING WITH A DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATURE: “I will use the power of the governor’s office in appointments, line item veteo and statute veto, and I will focus it on the reform agenda.”

HIS IDEAS ON HOW TO REFORM THE STATE BUDGET PROCESS: “We need multi-year budgeting. We need a sunset on every program in Sacramento so every program must come for renewal. We need to launch a complete, top-down review of the state. I have done it at the Department of Insurance. It can be done.”

ON IMMIGRATION: “As governor, I will do whatever it takes to secure our borders. It is critical from a national security perspective. It is critical from an economic perspective. If I have to send the National Guard to the border, I will do that. If I have to send the California Highway Patrol, I will do that. If I need to send taxpayer groups to the border, I will do that.” (In case that confused you, the last sentence was a joke for the benefit of his audience, the Contra Costa Taxpayers.)

Lisa Vorderbrueggen