Opinion: Garamendi makes it official for 2010. Who else?


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November 2008 election? That is so last month. March 2009 city election? Boring! Let’s move directly to 2010 and the race to be the next governor. In a shocking surprise to no one, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s understudy, Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, makes it official today: He wants the job. Still.

Garamendi is instantly the most experienced candidate, meaning he has more experience running for the office than anyone else. He tried in 1982 and 1994, but until today he had yet to log in for the 2000s, unless you count his ever-so-brief candidacy in the 2003 Gray Davis recall. That puts him ahead of even Jerry Brown, although Brown actually won the two times he ran (so far).


Garamendi has been defeated by a who’s-who of California’s Democratic political establishment: Tom Bradley aced him out of the 1982 gubernatorial primary, Davis beat him for controller in 1986, Kathleen Brown (Jerry’s sister) beat him for governor in the 1994 primary.

But he was a strong, consumer-oriented insurance commissioner twice – the state’s first elected commissioner in 1991 and, restoring order after the rocky and abbreviated tenure of Chuck Quackenbush, in 2003. He’s widely considered a hero to consumer advocates and the bane of the auto insurance industry.

He’s a vigorous Californian in the old-school image – born in the Mother Lode country. Cattle rancher. Environmentalist. He was deputy U.S. secretary of the interior. He has famous barbecues at his Sacramento delta spread. He’s got a Vise-Grips handshake and a flashing smile that are simultaneously comforting and intimidating. But with all that, is he just a little too, well, you know – boring – when stacked next to the likes of colorful mayors, current and ex, like Brown, Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa?

By the way, everyone knows that Villaraigosa and Brown have filed to run – except they haven’t. Not yet, anyway.

On this last day of July, here’s a recap of the month’s developments in the 2010 race to succeed Schwarzenegger. Democrats first, since we’re already on their case.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom publicly entered the fray on July 1.


Just to remind you of how unpredictable the weather patterns are on Planet Newsom, recall this:

In 2002, Newsom was a restaurant and wine shop entrepreneur backed by billionaire Gordon Getty. In 2003 he was a business conservative – OK, conservative for San Francisco – candidate for mayor who surprised almost everyone by winning. In 2004 he was the trailblazing liberal who ordered city-county officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples (sparking, perhaps, a nationwide marriage backlash that helped re-elect George W. Bush and launching, perhaps, the equal marriage drive that culminated in the May state Supreme Court ruling and November’s Proposition 8); meanwhile he and TV commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle were feted in a Harper’s Bazaar spread as the “The New Kennedys.”

In 2005 he and Guilfoyle divorced, but the public didn’t get the full story until 2007 – when his friend and campaign manager, Alex Tourk, confronted him over an affair Newsom had had with Tourk’s wife, who also was working for Newsom at the time. Newsom’s political future? Toast. He made Villaraigosa’s affair with a TV broadcaster look positively saintly in comparison. Then Newsom did the requisite apology/substance abuse treatment and got re-elected mayor without serious opposition. And now he’s again a major player for governor.

Brown’s musings have been interpreted as genuine interest in a return to the governor’s office at least since March, but he has yet to file a declaration of intention or take any other official step.

It’s noteworthy, though, that he recently changed the name of his “Brown for Attorney General” re-election campaign fund to the more generic, and intriguing, “Jerry Brown 2010.” There is some chatter potential in the fact that his top political man, Ace Smith, also has Villaraigosa as a client.

We’d give you a rundown on the last three decades of global climate change on Planet Moonbeam, but there’s just not enough time, space or (for now) patience.


Villaraigosa is being cagier still, brushing aside questions about his statewide intentions and saying in one interview after another that, gosh, he’s just far too focused on his job as mayor to even have thought about running for something else. Everyone who buys that, raise your hand.

Yeah, me neither.

The “focusing on being mayor” line is starting to wear thin, especially since he has spent so much time focusing on getting Hillary Clinton, and now Barack Obama, elected president. The Downtown News editorialized this month that it’s time for Villaraigosa to come clean about his intentions.

A second-term Mayor Villaraigosa would be sworn in on July 1, 2009, less than a year before the gubernatorial primary. He would have to begin to ramp up for the second campaign within weeks of taking his oath of office. The city would lose his focus immediately. If that is the situation he envisions, then the public, which put its trust in him when it elected him in 2005, deserves to know his plan.

Villaraigosa, by the way, can roll over the money he’s currently raising for his March 2009 mayoral re-election primary to the governor’s race, if a campaign committee eventually opens an account. But each dollar has to be attributed to its original donor to assure that no single contributor to a Villaraigosa governor’s race gives more than the maximum (gulp) $24,000. The max for the mayoral race is a comparatively paltry $1,000 per donor.

Also running on the Democratic side is one of the Sanchez sisters, a term that refers to neither a Swing-era singing group nor a Carmelite order, but to Southern California congressional siblings Loretta and Linda Sanchez. It’s elder sister Loretta who’s running for governor, at least on paper, and has been toying with the idea since the Gray Davis recall. Go ahead, ask her about her historic overthrow of Bob Dornan in 1996, and ask her about the 2006 Sanchez-versus-Baca, Latinas-versus-Latinos political family dynasty squabble. Just don’t ask her about Orange County Republican Loretta Brixey, who once ran for Anaheim City Council but disappeared from the political scene at about the time her doppelganger, Latina Democrat Loretta Sanchez, showed up.

And then there’s Vibert Greene, repeat candidate for mayor of the Bay Area city of Newark, who must have figured he just hasn’t been setting his sights high enough.


We haven’t yet heard anything about the race from former state Controller and 2006 gubernatorial challenger Steve Westly, the only Silicon Valley Democrat being talked about for 2010. But it’s early. Westly for now is helping lead the campaign to pass Proposition 11, a redistricting measure.

Yes, Westly’s positions and registration say he is a Democrat, but the former eBay exec’s CV sure blends in well with those of the dot-commish Republican hopefuls. See the Times commentary by Greg Lucas, and then see the evidence: Silicon Valley is where it’s at for GOPers running for governor.

Tom Campbell, former Stanford law professor-turned-congressman, then Schwarzenegger budget chief, now U.C. Berkeley biz school dean, made it official this month.

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a software and communications entrepreneur, is testing the waters. He may still be calculating whether the points he scored with California voters for leading the charge against this year’s failed Proposition 93 term limits extension will be enough to overcome a name that sounds uncomfortably like “poisoner” and a face and demeanor that are, well, absolutely perfect for an insurance commissioner.

Also surely enjoying the speculation is recently retired eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Whitman may be thinking more about a cabinet post, but she should reconsider. Think of it: Westly versus Whitman, eBay dude versus eBay chick. Forget voting booths. Put the governor’s office up for auction, and let the two of them bid for it online.

Any Silicon Valley Republican would be following in the moderate GOP footsteps of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was manufactured overseas but, I’m pretty sure, only after software was designed and blueprints drawn up at a low-slung office park in Mountain View. (Or was it Sunnyvale? Someone keeping up with the Sarah Connor Chronicles, please let me know).


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