California: Brown, Bowen, Poizner and the Rest

If you're a California voter, you may not be much inspired by Arnold vs. Phil. That just means you're normal. But ducking the election is not an option.

As I laid out previously, there are big issues on the ballot well worth your time on November 7. A big risk if we have low turnout among progressive and Democratic voters is that the state Republican party could grab a bunch of statewide offices, and some of those actually matter.

Who should be in charge of elections, insurance regulation and law enforcement? Worry about it now, or worry a lot more later.

THE BIG THREE

Attorney General. A lot of my friends have come to loathe Jerry Brown (here is the obligatory "Governor Moonbeam" reference) due to his policies as mayor of Oakland. Too deferential to business and law enforcement, they say. I didn't much like his prominent opposition to Proposition 66, a needed rollback of the "three strikes" law. But fear is a powerful motivator, which is why I whimper as I write, "Jerry Brown deserves your vote." In a lesser-of-two-evils contest, the supreme evil is Chuck Poochigian, a nasty, far-right, termed-out legislator who could make our previous Republican A.G., Dan Lungren, look like Gandhi by comparison. Brown for A.G.

Secretary of State. The one reason we have a Republican Secretary of State now is that the Democrat elected four years ago imploded. Or exploded. Kevin Shelley was a hothead who alienated everyone around him and had to resign. Arnold appointed Shelley's successor, Bruce McPherson, a respected centrist, but a Republican nonetheless. Bottom line: We owe McPherson thanks for cleaning up Shelley's mess, but we should put elections offices in the hands of true progressives like Debra Bowen when possible. On the substance, she is a huge skeptic of electronic voting. Reason enough to say yes to Bowen.

Insurance Commissioner.
Having just dismissed a capable technocrat just because he is a Republican, I will now endorse a Republican, Steve Poizner, to regulate a vast industry - insurance. (I'm not alone - he has attracted credible consumer-rights supporters, too.) The first rule of running for this job is: Don't take money from the insurance industry. Poizner didn't, but Democrat Cruz Bustamante did - lots. The second rule is: show good judgment and be incorruptible. Bustamante fails those tests, too, having jumped into the recall race in 2003 and having flaunted campaign finance laws in his effort to win. It was a grotesque spectacle, but not, apparently, enough to shame him out of politics.

It seems obvious that Poizner, a billionaire who is largely self-financing his campaign, is positioning for a future run for governor. He should be watched closely if he wins. Demerits to Poizner for cheap name-calling: his ads feature the slogan, "If You Cruz, You Lose." (It's wrong, but funny.) If you don't like Arnold as governor, vote against Bustamante, one of the people most responsible for his ascendance. Poizner for insurance commissioner.

THE OTHERS

No strong feelings, no endorsements here, but I'll offer a little insight on the down-ballot races.

Lieutenant Governor. This race - for an office with no apparent function - is tighter than expected, though Democrat John Garamendi is well-respected and Republican Tom McClintock is an articulate ideologue. This race flips R if turnout is iffy. Life is probably worse for the person who wins.

Treasurer. This is the race to replace Phil Angelides, who did some decent things by directing state investments to clean energy and socially responsible corporations. Termed-out Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, hopes to hold this spot while awaiting another chance to run for governor. Republican Claude Parrish is not totally unqualified, but he did have his luxury car repossessed when he was running an ice cream company. Who should direct state investments?

Controller. There is no statewide office less well-understood than controller. Think of this job as state auditor, though there's more to it. Increasingly this is campaign is a fight about the state's free online ReadyReturn program versus Intuit's TurboTax software. Big, late money from Intuit and casino-owning Indian tribes is pouring in to support Republican Tony Strickland. Democrat John Chiang is highly qualified, and has been a booster of ReadyReturn. Another post that could go R if turnout flags, or maybe just from the new onslaught of support for Strickland.

HANDY SUMMARY

In the order they appear on the ballot:

Lt. Gov.: Pick 'em - Garamendi (D), McClintock (R), or anyone else.

Sec. of State:
Debra Bowen.

Controller:
Pick 'em - Chiang (ReadyReturn) or Strickland (TurboTax).

Treasurer: Pick 'em - Lockyer (current A.G.) or Parrish (former ice cream CEO).

Atty. General: Jerry Brown.

Insurance Commissioner:
Steve Poizner, NOT Cruz Bustamante.