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Bill Leonard - Contributor

Bill Leonard is a Member of the State Board of Equalization

A Week Under the Dome
GOP Convention, Hot buttons, Gay marriage...

[Bill Leonard] 2/24/04

Republicans Resurgent

It was great seeing so many friends at the weekend California Republican Convention in Burlingame. There was plenty of debate with the head-to-head meeting of our four candidates for the U.S. Senate and plenty of drama with election contests for four party offices. The undercurrent of the whole convention was the resurgent attitude that the Republicans are coming back in California. Voter registration drives are going well. The sense of those in attendance was that with President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger leading there are tremendous opportunities for California in the November elections. I continued my tradition of serving coffee, tea and cocoa to the delegates before the Sunday morning session. I find it is a great opportunity to get a sampling of opinion from Republicans from all over the state that stop by for morning refreshments.

No state party convention can avoid dissenting arguments. (That may not be a law but it might as well be). Republicans share so much in common that any differences -- no matter how minor-- get magnified in the heat of a debate. Those who live in those districts with competitive Republican primaries are now seeing the proof of this in their mailbox. Probably the biggest issue facing California is its fiscal crisis, but you would never know it if you are in one of those competitive GOP districts because almost all of our candidates agree that the solution is to cut spending. That up front agreement means that the intra-party disputes devolve to secondary issues that soon take over entire campaigns.

The campaigns this last weekend for party offices seemed to focus not on how to win in November but who was in the right place at the right time for last October's recall election. All the candidates share the desire to win this November and have similar ideas for how to do that. Therefore, in order to differentiate themselves from each other, some of the candidates started the discussion on who was the most important to the recall. In truth, none of them were.

The truth is that there were really only four people who were the important to the recall. One was Congressman Darrel Issa for his leadership, his financial support and his dedication to making the recall a reality. One was Governor Schwarzenegger, who ran an almost error-free campaign, spoke to Californian's optimism about the future, and gave the money to be seen as a real candidate and more than just a famous name. One was Lt. Governor Bustamante, who ran an error-prone campaign that started out defying the Democrat party leadership and ended up defying the Fair Political Practices Commission. One was Governor Gray Davis, who allowed himself to be taken hostage by the left wing of the Democrat party and added fuel to the fire burning around him by ignoring crisis after crisis until the flames engulfed him.

These four get the credit (blame) for making the recall possible.

The Big Issues

While primaries and intra-party battles are often won over minor distinction of issues, the general election is more dependent on hot button issue. These issues get an emotional reaction from the less active voter who needs a motivation to pick a candidate and get to the polls. It is almost impossible to create a hot button issue, rather hot button issues are almost always given to one party by the other side. Thanks to the Democrats, there are two hot button issues that may drive the emotions of voters all the way to November's election day. Driver licenses for illegal aliens and marriage licenses for homosexual couples are issues created by excesses and political deafness among Democrats. The public is not with them on these issues.

Gimme a Gotcha

Political gotchas are always fun. For a political leader to escape a criticism or to turn the issue around is like the native tradition of counting coup. Counting coup is touching your enemy with a stick in the middle of a battle and escaping with your life. Rarer still than a gotcha is a double gotcha where one comment scores more than one coup. Governor Schwarzenegger accomplished a rare double Friday night. He answered the conservative and media demand for a reaction to the illegal marriages in San Francisco. He did so with a clear and straightforward statement calling for the weddings to cease.

He also deflected the glare onto another politician for that rare double. Our Attorney General Bill Lockyer is a politician with thin skin. When pressed, he has been known to react without thinking about the political consequences. So when the Governor demanded that the Attorney General do his job, Mr. Lockyer reacted not with a reasoned legal discussion but with silly statement that the Governor does not have the power to order the law to be obeyed. Note to the Attorney General: check out Article 5, Section 1 of our Constitution that states, “The supreme executive power of this State is vested in the Governor. The Governor shall see that the law is faithfully executed.”

Sounds clear enough to me. Thanks, Governor.

Now Playing at a Theater Near You

Last week the Board of Equalization heard a case about whether popcorn sold in movie theaters should be tax-free. Remember that prepared, hot foods are subject to sales tax. The Century Theater Group argued that their popcorn is not really hot. They said that it is made in one machine, and then transferred to another to be “conditioned” for public consumption. That conditioning includes heated air, but the purpose of the hot air is only to prevent the absorption of moisture by the “ hygroscopic” popcorn. Any heating of the actual popcorn is merely incidental. Further, they argued that the temperature of the popcorn in the bags given to customers is always between room temperature and body temperature, therefore it will not be perceived as “hot” by customers. We also debated whether the addition of “hot buttered topping” should influence our decision. This argument did not pass the giggle test, since all of us who have eaten movie theater popcorn know perfectly well when we get a batch that is hot, with or without the buttery topping. I think I speak for all movie-goers when I say that I would rather pay the sales tax and eat hot popcorn than save a few pennies and eat room temperature, dry popcorn.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Whoever said tax law was not entertaining? I recently read about two tax cases that are being floated in Hollywood as movie scripts. Both involve single mothers fighting the IRS to clear up large tax bills run up by their ex-husbands without their knowledge. The working title for both films is "Innocent Spouse," and is actually the phrase used by tax officials to describe this situation. The Board of Equalization frequently hears such cases, usually involving women whose ex- husbands managed the family finances. However, the women signed the tax returns and are legally obligated for the taxes due. Unfortunately, many women sign the returns without fully understanding their husband’s business dealings or the tax implications. I have heard cases that are legitimately innocent spouses and the ex was cheating, lying and deceiving his wife. However, there are also cases of willful ignorance.




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