Doug Gamble- Contributor
Gamble is a former writer for President Ronald Reagan and
in Carmel. [go to Gamble index]
Dems’ Vacuum At The Top
Schwarzenegger’s power enhanced by lack of powerful rival
Wanted: Political leader for demoralizing position. Must be
willing to labor in shadow of popular governor and devise ways
to put best face on defeat in 2006. Masochistic tendencies a
plus. Apply to California Democratic Party.
One of the reasons Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
has been able to steamroll from one victory to another during
his six months
in office is because there is no one among state Democrats who
comes even close to being his counterpart. It is a vacuum that
threatens to make the party increasingly irrelevant, despite
its hold on every statewide office except the governor’s.
The Democrats’ most forceful, and blustery, voice these
days is that of Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, but the
longtime legislator will leave office at the end of this year
because of term limits. His effectiveness has been diluted not
only by his lame-duck status but also by his admission that he
too has fallen prey to Schwarzenegger’s charm offensive.
The person considered by many to be the de facto
leader of California Democrats is the state’s senior senator, Dianne
Feinstein, but she is preoccupied with issues in Washington and
seldom focuses on state party issues or Sacramento policy, at
least not in public. Although it’s not known if Feinstein
plans to seek reelection in 2006, it would be most state Democrats’ dream
come true, not to mention political writers and pundits, if she
would decide to return to California and run for governor that
Barring a decision by Schwarzenegger not to run again or some
unforeseen calamity that would cause his popularity to plunge,
there appears to be no one save Feinstein who would have any
chance against one of the most famous people in the world. A
match-up between the two would be a battle of the titans, pitting
the seemingly unstoppable Schwarzenegger against a highly respected,
savvy, somewhat moderate lawmaker who has twice won more popular
votes than any other senator in U.S. history.
Some consider San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi
worthy of being called Democratic leader in the state, but
she is hampered by geographical distance and her responsibilities
as party leader in the House.
Where the Democrats miss a single, commanding
voice is during the current budget process, following revisions
that essentially avoided tough decisions and pushed action on
the deficit into the future. And while they control both the
Assembly and the Senate, their power is diminished by Schwarzenegger’s
ability to dominate the media spotlight and rally voters to put
pressure on legislators who resist his wishes.
If debate on the budget propels any Democrat’s voice
to the forefront it should be that of state Treasurer Phil Angelides,
referred to by some as the "Un-Schwarzenegger." Opposing
March’s Schwarzenegger-backed Proposition 57, a $15 billion
bond issue to refinance state debt, Angelides called the governor’s
agenda antithetical to Democratic values.
But the treasurer has uttered barely a peep
lately, strange for someone apparently eyeing a run for the
office in two years. If I didn’t know better I’d
think he was among the Democrats who have emerged anesthetized
from Schwarzenegger’s cigar tent.
Two other Democrats vying for party leadership,
and likely Angelides opponents in the 2006 Democratic primaries,
Steve Westly and Attorney General Bill Lockyer. But Lockyer has
been lying low after admitting he voted for Schwarzenegger, referring
to the governor’s alleged sexual harassment as "frat
boy" behavior and calling women at the party’s state
convention "cranky." Westly, who aligned himself with
Schwarzenegger in pro-Prop. 57 television ads and appearances,
may find such coziness will come back to haunt him in two years.
Republicans rode waves of cash at Monday night’s
multimillion-dollar L.A. fund-raising bash, state Democrats are
starting to resemble the Titanic. And they’re heading toward
the iceberg without a captain. CRO
California-based Doug Gamble contributed speech material to
Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and writes a twice-monthly
column for the Orange County Register and CaliforniaRepublic.org.
2004 Doug Gamble