Steinberg gets tough: fires consultant, fires back at Arnold

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg apparently wore his tough guy outfit to work Monday (replete with spurs and holster), firing a political consultant and then firing back at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for saying he wanted all his demands met in the budget.

Embittered over the defeat of Mary Salas in the open 40th District Senate Democratic primary, Steinberg fired Democratic political consultant Gale Kaufman for engineering Salas’ loss at the hands of conservative Democratic ex-lawmaker Juan Vargas.

Kaufman worked with the Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, JobsPAC, which teamed with a handful of other corporate-backed PACs to spend millions, largely on attack ads against Salas this spring.

To ensure it wasn’t seen as a Republican-friendly interloper into a Democratic primary, JobsPAC enlisted Kaufman to do some of its hit jobs on Salas, paying her $194,000.

Only last week did Vargas emerge victorious from the June 8 contest, after Salas conceded that a recount would not overcome Vargas’ narrow lead.

Vargas also got help, about $400,000 worth, from the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees, which seemed more worried about punishing Steinberg for accepting harsh budget cuts last year than about whether Vargas, an insurance executive and former chairman of the Assembly Insurance committee, would shill for his corporate friends.

Kaufman had been working on Anna Caballero’s race in the critical 12th District, where Democrats hope to replace term-limited Republican Jeff Denham and get closer to a two-thirds majority.

By firing Kaufman, Steinberg was also, by proxy, paying back the California Teachers Association — typically a staunch ally of Democrats and a longtime client of Kaufman’s — for bankrolling a series of slams on him this summer, accusing Steinberg of not protecting education funding enough. School funding has dropped by 18 percent and $17 billion over the last two years.

The CTA is also sore at Steinberg for backing a bill that would gut protections for teachers. The bill, SB1285 would change how teachers are assigned, laid off and rehired. Steinberg also gutted and amended the bill, bypassing the standard path through committees.

“CTA members have been urging Sen. Steinberg and other lawmakers to focus their attention first on passing a budget that protects education funding rather than looking for ways to blame teachers,” a CTA news release said before their launched their campaign against Steinberg.

Schwarzenegger on Monday vowed that he wouldn’t sign a budget before he left office in January unless it included a number of his proposals, incuding a pension reform measure.

Here is what he said: “And if I don’t get all of the things that we need in order to be fiscally responsible and to make the changes, the tax reforms, the budget reforms and the pension reforms, I will not sign a budget and it could actually drag out until the next governor gets into office.”

That elicited Steinberg’s own vow: he’ll wait until next year to get the budget done.

“If the governor continues to insist on granting billions in corporate tax cuts financed by drastic cuts to public education and programs for working mothers and their children, I am prepared to grant his wish by waiting for the next governor.”

Schwarzenegger also said he opposed Proposition 25, the ballot measure that would allow budgets to get approved on a majority vote.

“It works well in the 48 states that use it,” Steinberg said, referring to the majority vote budget. “Why the governor opposes eliminating budget dysfunction in California defies explanation.”

Steven Harmon

  • Bob Ward

    Tom Torlakson is among the California Teachers Association’s chief beneficiaries in Sacramento. What does he think of Gale Kaufman’s tactics and her firing? Is Mr. Torlakson also nothing more than a puppet of Sacramento’s public employee union bosses? Does Mr. Torlakson agree with Ms. Kaufman’s activities against fellow Democrats?

  • hvyemtal

    “Why the governor opposes eliminating budget dysfunction in California defies explanation.”

    No it doesn’t, the easiest explanation is that if the budget can be passed by a simple majority, then GASbag would actually have to do something like governing. He actually likes the status quo where the minority rules.

  • Mr. Ward –

    Miss Kaufman was not working against fellow Democrats. She worked to get Juan Vargas elected, if you checked the facts you would see that he is a Democrat. And I cannot think of a group that better represents Democrat values in the CTA. Afterall, aren’t they fighting for education and children?

  • Elwood

    If Steinberg’s so tough, let’s see him get a budget passed.

    Is it possible that the legislature’s approval ratings could sink any lower?

    The legislators’ apparent interest in political games over substantive work can only make the public abhor them more.

  • Truthclubber

    Steinberg’s “next Governor” will be…wait for it…Governor Meg Whitman. Good luck on getting concessions out of HER for his friends at the CTA or SEIU…

  • Jason C

    FYI – No! The role of the CTA is not to fight for “education and children.” The role of the CTA is to increase teacher salaries and fight for teacher benefits. Certainly a valid special interest, but let’s not confuse the CTA’s role in the political process.