I get a little nervous when I hear prominent Democratic leaders talking about how important it is to elect John Garamendi lieutenant governor. Republican Tom McClintock, his ugly-right Republican foe, is such bad news that he must be stopped; the checkbooks need to come out and the boots need to hit the ground.
I don't disagree on one level — but the prospect of a bad lieutenant governor isn't by any means the scariest thing that could happen in November. In fact, the prospect of another four years of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't the scariest thing. That designation is reserved for Proposition 90.
And the situation with Prop. 90 is pretty damn scary.
This is a measure that would effectively end the ability of state and local government to regulate business. It would prevent any new law reguutf8g rents or condo conversion. It would halt most new zoning (and would allow developers to build almost anything they want in Southeast San Francisco). It's awful, awful, awful.
And right now, it's way ahead in the polls.
There's a reason for that: the right-wing backers have carefully hidden the worst of the measure behind language about halting the abuses of eminent domain. If you ask California voters whether the government should be able to seize someone's house to hand it over to a private developer who wants to build a Wal-Mart, 90 percent of them will say no. And if we hit Nov. 7 and the majority of the electorate thinks of this proposition as a way to protect homeowners, it's going to pass.
The No on 90 message is a bit more complicated. That's the problem with this sort of Trojan horse initiative — it's hard to explain why it's bad in a 30-second sound bite. But it's possible: every single public safety group in the state (cops, firefighters, etc.) is against it, as is every major environmental group and some of the big taxpayer-rights groups, who say it will cost the public a fortune and lead to bogus lawsuits.
Explain it right and the voters will get it — but in California, that's a very expensive proposition.
The airwaves are choked with political TV ads right now. Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides are beating each other up, the tobacco companies and the health industry are battling over the cigarette tax (Proposition 86), the oil companies and environmentalists are going at it over Proposition 87 — and needless to say, with all the numerical alphabet soup, the public's attention is a bit scattered.
Without a really big splash in the next few weeks, it will be hard for No on 90 to be heard above the din.
The campaign isn't by any means floundering. The two main No on 90 committees have raised more than $3 million and have about half of that still in the bank. But $1.5 million isn't going to be enough to make the case in a huge state where TV time is really expensive.
Most of the money right now comes from political action committees controlled by the League of California Cities, the State Association of Counties, and a few well-heeled businesses. But everyone needs to step up here; all these Democrats who have big stashes of money (Carole Migden, John Burton, etc.) need to get on the stick before we run out of time. SFBG