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Two Passionate Voices Are Making Themselves Heard

Sacramento

Phil Angelides and Howard Dean. They’re operating from the same playbook.

“Letting it rip,” to quote Al Gore about how he should have run for president in 2000. “If I had it to do over again ... I would have poured out my heart and my vision....”

The former vice president’s endorsement of Dean’s presidential candidacy Tuesday was a salute to the Democratic front-runner’s let-it-rip stump style -- one also being employed by state Treasurer Angelides.

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It would be easy to overreach here. There are dissimilarities. Dean is a former governor of pint-size Vermont, and Angelides is a wannabe governor of behemoth California. Dean is playing in the big leagues; Angelides is in the minors.

Unlike Dean, Angelides doesn’t seem prone to off-the-cuff, self-inflicted wounds. Of course, we really can’t be sure because hardly anyone pays much attention to a California treasurer.

There is one huge similarity, however. Neither Dean nor Angelides holds back his views on front-and-center policy issues.

Early in the White House jockeying, Dean became the loudest, most articulate critic of President Bush’s war policies, before the experts could be certain how that would play politically.

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Angelides, 50, gearing up to run for governor in 2006, has become the most outspoken critic -- the clearest voice -- challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget policies. Nobody can be sure today whether he’ll wind up sounding shrill or sage. Or how many people will even know or care.

But give this to Angelides: He has recognized and seized a golden opportunity provided by Schwarzenegger’s celebrity. The bright spotlight shining on the new governor illuminates all of Sacramento, especially people playing in the same issues arena as Schwarzenegger.

The latest example was Wednesday, when thousands showed up to oppose various proposed budget cuts. Several hundred rallied on the Capitol’s north steps to protest the governor’s plan to cut services -- $260 million worth over 18 months -- for about 200,000 people with developmental6 disabilities, such as autism, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

True, this was not a Schwarzenegger-size throng, where thousands turn out mostly just to ogle a movie star. These people were there to fight for a cause. Their determination and hardship stories make them deceptively dangerous for budget cutters.

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Angelides was introduced as “our favorite action hero.” People held signs proclaiming, “Don’t Terminate Us” and “This is Not a Movie, Arnold.”

“Gov. Schwarzenegger promised to bring us together and to end waste in government,” Angelides shouted to the protesters, many of them in wheelchairs. “I don’t see waste, fraud and abuse in this crowd today.”

The Democrat delivered what has become his favorite line, a paraphrase of John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural address quote: “Gov. Schwarzenegger is not asking what we can do for our children. He is asking what our children can do for us.”

The treasurer last week inserted that comment into a TV ad and ran it in three cities -- Sacramento, San Francisco and Bakersfield -- to protest Schwarzenegger’s proposed 30-year, $15-billion borrowing plan to balance this year’s budget. That would have saddled our children and grandchildren with the burden of paying for current daily spending, including car tax cuts.

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Angelides also hit the road -- a bit like Schwarzenegger -- and held several “media-ops” around California. They attracted small crowds, but up to 10 TV cameras. Since then, the governor has backed off his long-term borrowing scheme and Angelides claims some credit. “Absolutely,” he told me after the Capitol rally. “And I’m going to continue speaking out.”

“The car tax,” he said, “has been cut for people, even like the governor, who own Hummers. And that’s being financed with borrowing and more cutbacks on the disabled and our university system....

“The notion that it’s more important to give a tax break on a Hummer than to help the disabled become full, productive members of our society just seems wrong-headed. All I’m asking Arnold Schwarzenegger to do is the same thing Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson did when they faced a similar crisis.”

Govs. Reagan and Wilson, of course, raised taxes -- particularly on the highest income earners.

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“It doesn’t lend itself to sound bites,” Angelides added, “but if you want to shrink the size of the bureaucracy, that takes darn hard work and a commitment to really manage. That’s what the governor ought to be doing -- not all this showboating about a spending cap that won’t make any real change in today’s deficit.”

As for Dean: “Yes, I respect what Howard Dean has done. He has spoken out, energized people.... I’m a big believer that people want [politicians] who are in the arena, willing to say what they think and smart enough to make things happen.”

Angelides months ago endorsed Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. But he’s following the playbook of Howard Dean.


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