Whitman’s team wages pre-PPIC spin

The pre-PPIC spin has begun, and, if Meg Whitman’s team’s had anything to do with it, we’d discount the survey because the Public Policy Institute of California was out of the field (finished polling) before Whitman’s punch-back TV ad had a chance to work its way into the viewing public’s mind.

It’s an obvious attempt to limit the damage before it comes down the pike. The poll’s results will be released to the public late Wednesday night.

The PPIC poll will be the first public poll to show her Republican rival in the gubernatorial primary, Steve Poizner, drawing to within single digit percentage points behind Whitman, reflecting a number of internal polls that had signaled his comeback after he trailed by as much as 50 points.

It will be an affirmation of a collapse of epic proportions, a $60 million machine that would be in receivership if the currency were bankable ideas. After all that cash, all those gauzy ads and marketing schemes, all that trouble to insulate Whitman and elevate her as the inevitable candidate, it’s basically back to square one. With three weeks to go.

Whitman folks, though, suggest that Poizner has peaked, and that she’s on her way back to a double-digit lead. They produced a new poll, all but ignored by a press that’s not buying it, showing her with a 17.5 point lead over Poizner — 49 percent to 31.5 percent. The poll was conducted by M4 Strategies (the four m’s standing for Message, Messenger, Medium and Momentum) on behalf of the Small Business Action Committee.

Oh, by the way, the SBAC, headed by President Joel Fox, endorsed Whitman in March. So count that as an internal poll whose likely intent was to alter the horse-race metrics.

Whitman folks say her own comeback started with a widely panned ad that has the former CEO of eBay looking into the camera reassuring Republican voters that she’s “working hard to defeat” Barbara Boxer, leaving open the question of who Whitman is actually running against. She also defends her position on immigration, the issue that Poizner has seized by announcing his support of the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, and by accusing Whitman of supporting amnesty.

Another reason to discount the PPIC poll, Whitman’s people say, is that her Get Out The Vote effort has swung into action just in time to capture early voters casting absentee ballots. Whitman has begun a massive mailing campaign, which could have an impact with early voters. Having campaign literature on hand as you fill out your absentee ballot holds its own level of influence, especially if there is no competing message. The Poizner campaign concedes it has not begun in earnest its own mailing campaign.

Another factor in her favor, Whitman’s people say, is that the furor over Goldman Sachs appears to have calmed down. Poizner has stopped running his “Vulture” ad, and there hasn’t been much in the way of new developments on that front. (It’ll be interesting to see if Goldman Sachs will have died out as an issue in the general election — if Whitman makes it — because it’s been so played out in the primary. Remember the 1988 presidential campaign, when George H.W. Bush took his hardest hits in the Republican primary over Iran-Contra, and when Mike Dukakis tried to raise it in the general, he got a big fat ho-hum from the press?)

Poizner’s campaign spokesman, Jarrod Agen, dismissed the Whitman analysis as “spin coming from a campaign losing momentum. For weeks they were talking about how they were going to win and saying we should get out. It didn’t happen. Now they say they’ve got a better turnout operation. That’s what you say when your message isn’t working.”

Agen scoffed at the notion that Whitman’s new ad would have any impact. First, he said, it’s not being run as often as previous ads. It’s difficult to find open slots for 60-second ads.

More important, he said, the ad is “way off message. It comes across as defensive and confusing. She’s talking about going after Boxer when she’s not running against her.”

The PPIC poll, he said, will reaffirm the Poizner strategy of waiting and waiting and waiting — against the outcry of supporters and pundits alike — until voters “started to focus on the race.”

“It’ll show that Meg really had a glass jaw; she ran up the score with $50 million, but now when it matters, has lost the momentum.”


Yesterday’s GOP gubernatorial debate

If you missed it, here it is:

(Sorry if the sound is a bit spotty; C-SPAN has it too, but that’s not embeddable.)

My take from the panelists’ table: My colleague at the Merc, Ken McLaughlin, nailed it in reporting that Poizner did what he had to do, coming out swinging from the very first question until the final moment. It’s what any candidate who’s so far down in the polls would do, and I think he did it pretty well, although I didn’t see any TKOs that are likely to evolve into race-changers. They both flubbed the final, “lightning-round” question on naming a specific, voter-approved ballot initiative that encumbers the budget and should be re-examined now in the face of our fiscal crisis; Poizner came up with one after he’d taken a few minutes to think about it, during his closing statement, but repealing the measure he eventually named – a millionaire’s tax levied to pay for mental health services – actually wouldn’t help the general fund at all.

Yes, mine was the question perhaps most ignored by both candidates. I’d asked Poizner about the “open carry” movement, in which gun enthusiasts say they’re exercising their constitutional rights and defending their personal safety by carrying unloaded firearms in plain sight in public places; a pending bill supported by the California Police Chiefs Association would essentially outlaw this, and I asked whether the chiefs are wrong to support this ban, and why. Poizner spent most of his time following up a previous discussion about changes in his policy positions since his 2004 Assembly race, but eventually got around to saying he opposes any new gun control bills, no matter who supports them; Whitman spent about four seconds of her rebuttal saying she agreed (possibly the only time that word was uttered yesterday).

My second question, to Whitman, was on education funding: I noted that California remains toward the bottom of the heap in per-pupil spending, and asked her – if she believes K-12 education already has enough money to prepare our children for college and the workplace – to address many parents’ concerns about increased class sizes, pink slips sent to thousands of teachers, and the elimination of art and music classes, nurses and counselors, and summer school sessions. She said the K-12 system already has enough money, and the key is to move more of it from administrative overhead into the classroom.

But I’m having trouble substantiating her claim: Is there too much non-classroom administrative overhead? Per the Education Data Partnership:

California ranked next to last among states on the ratio of total school staff to students in 2005–06, according to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics). The state had only 72% as many school staff members as the average state. With respect to school and district leadership, California had 0.4 district officials and administrators per 1,000 students that year. That was considerably lower than the U.S. average of 1.3 per 1,000 students, and lower still than the average of 1.8 per 1,000 students in Texas and Illinois. California had only 33% as many district officials/administrators as the national average and only 63% as many school principals and assistant principals.

With respect to teachers, California ranked 49th, with 75% as many as the national average. California ranked 51st—last—on guidance counselors and librarians. The state had only 1.1 guidance counselors per 1,000 students, compared with an average of 2.1 nationally, and only 0.2 librarians per 1,000 students, compared to 1.1 nationally.

And, from the summary of this 2005 RAND study:

California’s demography presents extraordinary challenges to public education and it may be the case that these challenges cannot be effectively met unless the state’s K–12 system is funded at relatively high levels. However, California school districts have experienced comparatively low levels of funding compared to funding in most other states. California’s schools have been further stressed by extreme fluctuations in real spending per pupil. These relatively low funding levels in California’s K–12 schools reflect comparatively low effort relative to the state’s capacity.

The comparatively low funding afforded K–12 public education in California can be seen in the resources the schools are able to make available to their students. A substantial portion of the state’s teachers are not fully qualified and state certified. California continues to have the second highest pupil-teacher ratio of any state. And despite substantial progress in dealing with school facilities over the past 10 years, California continues to lag the nation in addressing K–12 facility needs.


‘A long time ago, we used to be friends…’

(Headline h/t to the Dandy Warhols.)

Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Poizner’s campaign issued a communiqué a short while ago crowing over a new poll KABC/SurveyUSA poll showing that primary rival Meg Whitman leads him 49 percent to 27 percent, a 22-point gap.

And a new Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll shows Meg Whtiman leading Poizner 47 percent to 19 percent, a 28-point gap. Both these polls would sound bad, until you remember last month’s Field Poll showing Whitman leading Poizner 63 percent to 14 percent, a 49-point gap.

Poizner’s camp says he’s closing the gap. Communications director Jarrod Agen said:

“Meg Whitman has spent record amounts of her Wall Street billions to tell a record number of lies, but all of Goldman Sachs’ money and all the Queen’s men won’t be enough to put this rookie candidate back together again. Seven years ago, Republicans were fooled by marketing and a celebrity. It isn’t happening twice.”

But lest we forget, Poizner must’ve been among those “fooled by marketing and a celebrity,” and it wasn’t even seven years ago.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed Poizner as he spent almost $14.9 million of his own money in a failed attempt to win an Assembly seat in 2004. From our May 2004 story on the endorsement:

Poizner, a former high-tech entrepreneur and teacher who has modeled his campaign on Schwarzenegger’s moderate conservatism, hopes to capture some of the energy for change that swept the governor into office last October.

“I think it will be a huge boost,” Poizner said of the endorsement. “Democrats, independents and Republicans have been very impressed with what (Schwarzenegger) has done over the last several months.”

Poizner said the endorsement gives him political credibility and shows he will be able to effectively work with the governor — something, he said, his Democratic rival cannot claim. Mark Watson, the former chairman of the San Mateo County Republican Party, said the endorsement will have practical benefits for Poizner’s campaign.

And, from our July 2004 profile of Poizner:

The 47-year old Los Gatos resident bills himself as a “reform” Republican, following in the footsteps of Bay Area legislators such as former Silicon Valley Congressmen Tom Campbell and Pete McCloskey, both of whom have endorsed his campaign.

Poizner believes the time is right on the Peninsula for a nonpartisan, moderate Republican who can reach across Sacramento’s often gaping political divide and work effectively with a Republican governor.

And though he’s received the blessing of the Republican establishment, Poizner has positioned himself as strongly independent. He’s rejected money from the party, corporations, political action committees and labor unions because he feels they corrupt the political process.

Poizner also has eschewed much of the traditional Republican platform. He’s pro-choice, for stem-cell research and is not yet sure whether he will cast his vote for President Bush or John Kerry in November’s election.

“I’ve been a moderate Republican all my life, but at times it’s been frustrating — especially in the last few years in the Bay Area and California,” Poizner said. “The party has gone much further to the right from where I am. My mission here is not only to provide some great leadership for this district and state, but I also want to revitalize the moderate wing of the Republican Party.”

Soon after Poizner lost that race, Schwarzenegger announced he would name Poizner to the state Public Utilities Commission, a $114,191-a-year post (which is, admittedly, peanuts to Poizner). Poizner withdrew from consideration for state Senate confirmation after learning his extensive investments would keep him from voting on telecommunications issues.

Schwarzenegger and Poizner still liked each other enough in 2005 so that the governor tapped Poizner to head the campaign for Proposition 77, a redistricting measure rejected by voters in the 2005 special election that Schwarzenegger called. And Schwarzenegger again endorsed Poizner for Insurance Commissioner in 2006.

Poizner’s hard turn to the right in this gubernatorial primary is well-documented, but rhetoric won’t change history – it’s only been in the last few years, as Poizner turned his eye toward the governor’s office, that he threw Schwarzenegger and his policies under the bus.


The final Poizner-Whitman debate

The final debate between Republican gubernatorial primary candidates Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman is scheduled for 5 p.m. – yes, it has been been moved to primetime after this week’s kerfuffle over who had picked the original 2 p.m. slot – on Sunday, May 2 at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.

The candidates will field questions from a media panel consisting of yours truly; the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci; the Sacramento Bee’s Jack Chang; Mike Blood of the Associated Press; and Univision’s Santiago Lucero, with KQED Public Radio Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers as the moderator.

If you have a good idea for a question to be posed to either of the candidates, feel free to post a comment here by the end of this week.

The hour-long event is sponsored by Comcast, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Time Warner, Charter, Cox Cable, Cal Channel, CCTA and the Tech Museum, and KQED and 27 other California public radio stations will air it live. It also will air live and then be replayed several times in the following week by Comcast Home Network Channel 104 and the Cal Channel.

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen Reports poll shows 71 percent of California voters like the idea of a three-way debate between Poizner, Whitman and presumed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown, an idea Brown pitched at the California Democratic Party’s convention last weekend. But while Poizner – still trailing far behind Whitman – instantly and eagerly accepted, Whitman nixed the idea, so it’s not going to happen (which Brown certainly knew before he even suggested it).

Rasmussen also shows “Brown’s numbers are little changed” while “Whitman’s unfavorables are up as she and Poizner batter each other with television ads in their heated primary contest.”


Campaign finance: Arnold, Anthem & much more

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Dream Team ballot measure committee put $500,000 last Friday to the campaign for Proposition 14, the “top-two” open primary measure forced onto the ballot by state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, now Schwarzenegger’s nominee for lieutenant governor – and a measure wildly unpopular with both the Republican and Democratic establishments. A day earlier, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings gave $257,328.40 to support the measure.

Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner, last Tuesday put another $370,500 into his “Voters First Act for Congress” ballot measure, bringing his total out of pocket since October to just over $3.1 million. The proposed constitutional amendment would remove authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and would give that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries (as required by 2008’s successful Proposition 11). He’s the only major donor to the campaign, and had until last Monday to gather and submit 694,354 registered voters’ valid signatures; county voter registrars and the Secretary of State’s office are now in the process of verifying them.

Anthem Blue Cross has been the target of a lot of political scorn since it announced insurance premium hikes of up to 39 percent a few months ago, but it’s still doling out money in Sacramento: The insurer last Thursday gave $2,000 to Garrett Yee, a Demcoratic primary candidate in the East Bay’s 20th Assembly District (the seat from which Alberto Torrico is term-limited out this year); $1,900 to incumbent Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana; and $1,000 to incumbent Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner put another $196,680 into his own campaign last Monday, bringing his total out-of-pocket spending to $19,396,680 so far.

Former state Senate President Pro Tem and current Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata’s Hope 2010 ballot measure committee last Tuesday put another $40,000 into Californians for a Cure, the committee formed by the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and American Heart Association to support the proposed tobacco-tax-for-cancer-research measure Perata helped author. This brings Hope 2010’s total ante to $320,000 so far. They have until May 17 to gather valid signatures from at least 433,971 registered voters in order to place the measure on November’s ballot.

Former state Controller and 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Steve Westly gave $5,000 last Wednesday to Californians for a Fresh Start, the committee pushing a proposed ballot measure for November that would replace the separate eight- and six-year term limits on future state Senators and Assemblymembers, respectively, with a 12-year limit on combined service in either or both chambers. The lion’s share of that measure’s financial backing (at least about $871,000 so far) has come from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO.

On the celebrity watch, television producer (“Alias,” “Lost”) and movie director (“Cloverfield,” “Star Trek”) J.J. Abrams and wife Katie McGrath of Pacific Palisades – who gave $50,000 last November to state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial campaign – gave $13,000 last week to Democratic state Attorney General candidate Kamala Harris’ campaign. Harris’ campaign also picked up $1,000 last Wednesday from San Francisco Giants former president and general managing partner Peter Magowan.


More health insurance oversight? Poizner says no

The national healthcare reform just signed into law by President Barack Obama will be a huge boost for low-income Californians and people of color now suffering a disproportionate lack access to care, but further state-level reforms are urgently needed, according to the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based public policy and advocacy group.

The new law “doesn’t go far enough,” Greenlining health program manager Carla Saporta said in a news release. “We urgently need to pass state-level legislation such as AB 2578 so that we have the same sort of strict regulation of health insurance rates that California has now for auto insurance. Surely our health is at least as important as our cars.”

AB 2578 – which in a previous incarnation as AB 1554 passed the Assembly in 2007 but died in the Senate Health Committee, and as AB 1218 was nixed by the Assembly Health Committee last year – would force insurance companies to justify rate hikes to state regulators and require the state Department of Insurance or Department of Managed Care to approve any rate hikes over seven percent per year.

As Democrats declared victory this week in Washington, the Assembly Health Committee passed AB 2578 on Tuesday; Greenlining says continuing public anger over huge rate increases by insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross has helped the bill, too.

“Lack of health coverage is a true emergency for communities of color,” Saporta said. “Latinos, for example, have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group, African-Americans are more than half again as likely to be uninsured as whites, and Asian and Pacific Islanders are more likely than whites to forego routine and preventative care due to costs. National health insurance reform will do a lot to help fix this, but the measure President Obama signed doesn’t do nearly enough to control insurance rates. Our communities urgently need the added protection that AB 2578 will give, and we hope the legislature will pass further consumer protections as well.”

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento – a Democratic candidate for state Insurance Commissioner – is a driving force behind this bill. Republican gubernatorial candidate and current state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has said he favors better state regulation of insurers rather than the federal regulation contained in this week’s new health reform law. And Poizner has voiced outrage at Anthem Blue Cross’ rate hike.

But Poizner doesn’t support this bill, campaign spokesman Jarrod Agen said today.

“He believes that additional bureaucracy envisioned in the bill doesn’t deal with the fundamental problem of health care — rising medical costs. Steve is committed to lowering healthcare costs, but President Obama demonstrated with his healthcare bill that he is not the least bit interested in lowering healthcare costs for consumers,” Agen said in an e-mailed reply to my query. “Steve wants greater choice and competition in the healthcare marketplace through measures like reducing the number of mandates, increasing the use of electronic medical records, and giving consumers the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines. He believes measures such as these, rather than more government incursion into our healthcare system, will make healthcare more affordable for California’s citizens.”