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Tom Steyer looks good in his own Senate 2016 poll

Hedge fund billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer said Tuesday he’s considering whether to run for California’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016, but apparently he’s been mulling this for a while: A polling memo shows he commissioned a survey on his chances in mid-December.

And those chances aren’t bad, the poll found (which, no doubt, is why I was able to obtain the memo).

“Our December survey shows that Tom Steyer is clearly a strong contender to win the seat now open due to the announced retirement of Senator Barbara Boxer,” according to the memo from the firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. “Steyer’s profile, background and the storyline of his political and charitable involvement combine to form an attractive foundation for a candidacy.”

CincinnatusLest anyone worry how healthy an opinion Steyer, 57, of San Francisco has of himself, the memo was addressed to “Team Cincinnatus” – presumably referring to the Roman statesman hailed as an icon of virtue, selflessness and humility after twice being chosen for, and then twice resigning, the mantle of dictator in order to protect the republic. Big sandals to fill, there.

The poll conducted from Dec. 18-22 asked 600 California registered Democrats and nonpartisan voters about their priorities; they named the environment – including climate change, the need for clean-energy jobs, and anti-pollution efforts – among the three top issues facing California’s next senator, along with education and income inequality. The poll also found:

    75 percent would be likely to support a candidate who led the fight to pass Proposition 39, the successful 2012 ballot measure that closed a corporate tax loopholes for out-of-state companies and set some of the revenue aside for schools and clean-energy construction jobs;
    79 percent would be likely to support a national leader in promoting new clean energy technologies;
    66 percent would be likely to support a candidate who “believes climate change is the biggest challenge of our times”;
    66 percent would be likely to support a successful businessman who understands how the global 21st Century economy works; and
    65 percent say they would be likely to support a candidate who has committed to giving away the majority of his personal wealth to help the next generation get a fair shake.

All of these questions were asked without any mention of Steyer’s name. Afterward, when respondents were read an actual description of Steyer, 75 percent said they would be likely to support him, including 41 percent who said “very likely.”

Tom Steyer“Much of the elements of this campaign are, of course, yet to be determined so soon after Senator Boxer’s announcement — particularly the precise make-up of the field, including Republicans since all candidates must attempt to qualify for the November general election by finishing in the top two,” the memo said. “What is clearly evident, however, is that unlike other wealthy and mainly self-funded candidates in the past, Tom Steyer possesses a very sound foundation among the voters in terms of the issues, and political and charitable activities that provide his motivation for running. That is a huge asset for him going forward.”

Read as: Voters won’t be quick to peg Steyer as a rich dilettante who’s trying to buy one of the state’s top political posts, like a certain someone whose name starts with “M” and ends with “eg Whitman.”

The memo also notes that depending on whether Republicans can field “a credible and financially resourced candidate” in June 2016’s top-two primary, California could wind up with two Democrats going head to head in that November’s general election. “In such a scenario, Tom Steyer’s profile can make him the best positioned candidate to have cross-over appeal, especially with non-partisan voters,” the memo concluded.

What does it all mean? Some context, after the jump…
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1

‘Think Long Committee’ won’t go for 2012 ballot

The Think Long Committee for California – a panel of experts funded by an itinerant billionaire that had developed plans for tax reform and a citizens’ oversight committee – will delay putting its plans to voters from 2012 to 2014.

The committee, which released its report in November, issued a statement today sying it has been “vigorously discussing and developing a viable action plan and timeline for implementing our broad range of proposals ever since.”

“Consistent with our collective view that California needs to think, plan and act for the long term, we’ve been guided by the cardinal rule that it is far more important to get our reforms done ‘right’ than ‘right away,’” the committee said.

The committee had proposed broadening the state’s tax base while raising $10 billion per year in new revenue by extending the state sales tax to services such as auto repair, dry cleaning, legal work and accounting (but not health care or education), while lowering the sales tax on goods, reducing personal income tax rates and reducing the corporate tax rate.

It also proposed creating an “independent, impartial and nonpartisan” Citizens Council for Government Accountability. That council would have 13 members — including nine named by the governor — to oversee government functions and conduct long-term planning. It would have power to place measures directly on the ballot without collecting signatures, and to have the secretary of state publish its comments and positions on measures in the state voters’ guide. It also would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

Members of the committee include former Gov. Gray Davis; former Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor Willie Brown; former U.S. secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz; GOP power broker Gerald Parsky; Google Chairman Eric Schmidt; and many others. Committee founder and funder Nicolas Berggruen had promised to put up at least $20 million to convince voters to implement these plans as ballot measures in 2012.

Although the proposals had seemed to meet with muted, if not negative reactions from many current politicos, the committee’s statement today says it was “gratified by the overwhelming interest from elected leaders in both parties, including Governor Brown, stakeholders and everyday citizens in these bold, broad-based changes.”

California is “hungry for real reform and are more willing than ever to support a sweeping plan that is fair and will put an end to California’s perpetual financial volatility and suffocating wall of debt,” the committee said.

“At the same time, we recognize the practical constraints of the 2012 election calendar – and have come to the conclusion that it will take more time to perfect these proposals, eliminate unintended consequences and provide every stakeholder and everyday Californians a meaningful voice in that process,” it said.

And so the committee will keep trying to sell the plan with hopes of putting it to voters on the November 2014 ballot.

“In the meantime, a high-turnout election is a terrible thing to waste. California voters deserve the opportunity in 2012 to begin the long process of reforming state government,” the committee’s statement said. “Therefore, in the coming days, we will be announcing our intention to partner with other organizations by generously supporting one or more reform measures that have already been filed for the 2012 elections, consistent with our Blueprint.”

The statement doesn’t specify which measures the committee will back.

The committee said it also will co-sponsor the California Economic Summit in May to develop a statewide job creation and competitiveness implementation plan; support regulatory reform, including that of the California Environmental Quality Act, to maintain the state’s environmental leadership while speeding up permissions for job-creating projects; and work with the governor and other state, federal and local officials to create “plug-and-play” pre-permitted zones to attract new investment to California.

UPDATE @ 3:40 P.M.: Gov. Jerry Brown just issued this statement: “Think Long is doing very important work and I look forward to working with them on the critical issue of more permanent tax reform.”

7

Maybe she should have bought them polo shirts

Former Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman reported yesterday that she had put another $2.6 million into her campaign on Election Day, Nov. 2, bringing her total personal investment to $144,175,806.11.

The latest, not-yet-finalized ballot tally (updated last night) shows she got 3,930,138 votes. So, Whitman spent about $36.68 out of her own pocket, not counting other contributions to her campaign, for each general-election vote she ultimately received.

FYI, if you Google $36.68, you find it’s the price for:

  • a book on wine-cellar design;
  • a pair of Lacoste shoes;
  • a Ralph Lauren polo shirt; or
  • a place in the history books as the woman who spent more out-of-pocket on her own political campaign than anyone else in American history, yet still lost even while her party did exceptionally well all across the rest of the nation.
  • Well, the last one’s not exactly on Google, but you get the picture.

    8

    Whitman would save millions from her tax cut

    Continuing a meme that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown started during the debate last week, his supporters released a memo today estimating that Republican nominee Meg Whitman would see personal savings of between $8.2 million and $41.2 million over a four-year gubernatorial term if she keeps her promise to eliminate the state’s capital gains tax.

    Brown had asked Whitman – the billionaire former eBay CEO – during their Oct. 12 debate at Dominican University of California in San Rafael how much her tax plan would benefit her own finances; she didn’t answer, and hasn’t released an estimate since. Today’s memo was prepared and released by California Tax Reform Association Executive Director Lenny Goldberg.

    Whitman says eliminating the tax will stimulate investment, leading to job creation. Democrats say it would blow an even bigger hole in the already-shredded state budget while mostly benefiting the very rich, with no guarantee of an economic benefit.

    “Meg Whitman has millions to gain, but we have everything else to lose,” California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski told reporters on a conference call.

    He said eliminating the capital gains tax would reduce state revenues by $4.5 billion per year, with each dollar lost bringing “a decrease in the quality of life for Californians:” failing schools, reduced college admissions, shortages of police and firefighters, crumbling infrastructure, struggling seniors and disabled, and reduced or no child care, all without creating jobs.

    Pulaski and Goldberg repeated their calls for Whitman to release her tax records so estimates such as theirs wouldn’t be necessary.

    State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, agreed the memo underscores Democrats’ contention that Whitman offers “a one-sided solution to our budget problem – it is to enrich the rich and cut from children and the poor.”

    California saw faster economic growth than the rest of the nation from 2000 through 2007 even with the capital gains tax in place, said University of California, Berkeley Economics Professor Michael Reich, while other states such as Texas have outperformed California in recovering from this recession because they weren’t as hard hit by foreclosures.

    Whitman’s campaign issued a statement saying leading economists are on her side.

    “Having closely studied the issue, Meg Whitman’s proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax in California will spur investment and create jobs. As a whole, Meg’s economic policies of streamlining regulation and implementing targeted tax cuts are crucial in getting our economy moving again and getting Californians back to work,” Hoover Institute Senior Fellow John Taylor – an economic advisor to governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pete Wilson, as well as to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush – said in the campaign’s statement.

    But Reich said California investors have diversified national and international portfolios, and so their reinvestment wouldn’t benefit the Golden State’s economy all that much. He also said millionaires haven’t been leaving California in any measurable way due to taxes, and so it’s unlikely any would return if the tax was eliminated.

    13

    Jerry pitches town-hall tour, Meg says no

    Democratic gubernatorial nominee and state Attorney General Jerry Brown launched the general-election season today by proposing that he and Republican nominee and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman hold 10 joint town-hall appearances around the state to talk about “job creation, schools and the state’s budget mess and to answer questions from voters.”

    “Partisan bickering and attack-dog politics have created an awful mess in Sacramento, and I think Meg and I now have an opportunity to change the tenor of politics in California by conducting a responsible campaign that shows the politicians that there is a better way to do business,” Brown said in a news release. “I’m inviting Meg Whitman to join with me to run a campaign that will put the focus on town halls where each of us in an unscripted manner will discuss our positions and answer questions.”

    Brown suggested starting in San Diego or San Jose, and then hitting Fresno, Anaheim, Oakland, Sacramento, Riverside, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Francisco. “I think we should have a variety of formats. Some of the town halls could have a panel of reporters asking questions. Others might have local teachers. Some could have regular voters asking Meg and me whatever questions are on their minds.”

    He said the meetings could give voters a “full picture” of the two candidates for governor and make TV advertising less important – thus negating the billionaire Whitman’s monetary ace in the hole, a tactic to which she surely would never agree.

    “If I never see another political ad in my life, I’ll be happy,” Brown said. “And I’ll bet that most people feel the same way. The town halls will show the voters that we can act as adults and actually treat each other with respect. Meg and I may not agree on many issues, but we can at least tell the truth and explain how we would approach the job of governor.”

    WhitmanNot gonna happen, Whitman replied this afternoon.

    “There will be plenty of debates in the future,” she said in an e-mailed statement. “But in the present what I recommend to Jerry Brown, instead of playing political games, is to lay out his plan for California. His website has virtually nothing on it and he hasn’t told Californians much of anything. I put out a 48-page policy book and detailed the plans that I have to turn California around. Jerry Brown should lay out a plan for California, and then at least we’ll have something to debate about.”

    Brown, lieutenant govnernor nominee Gavin Newsom and other Democratic nominees for statewide office will be at Solaria Corp., a Fremont solar-panel manufacturing plant – no, not the same one President Barack Obama visited recently – tomorrow morning while Whitman has a “homecoming rally” scheduled at the Tech Museum in San Jose.