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Angelides Strives to Get His ‘Anti-Arnold’ Message Heard in Bid for Governor

Sacramento

People react to state Treasurer Phil Angelides in three ways -- only one of them good:

* They’re grateful for his playing the role of California’s leading anti-Arnold.

* They deride him as an opportunistic, tax-and-spend liberal.

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* They shrug and ask, “Who is he?” If they even care.

Most people fit into the last category.

When the Field Poll, in mid-February, asked voters their opinion of Angelides, 62% said they had none. They didn’t know enough about him. Among those who did have an opinion, it was almost 2 to 1 favorable.

By contrast, only 5% had no opinion of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But 62% had a favorable opinion.

There was other bad news for Angelides. Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, his expected chief rival for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, was predictably better known, given the AG’s longer political career. Just 45% had no opinion of Lockyer. Among the rest, it was 2 to 1 favorable.

“Polls don’t mean anything at this point,” says Angelides.

But they do mean he has a tough climb to the Democratic nomination, let alone to oust Schwarzenegger, who seems likely to run for reelection. In the poll, Schwarzenegger trounced Angelides, 52% to 35%.

All this helps explain why Angelides officially announced his candidacy for governor two weeks ago -- a seemingly ludicrous 15 months before the primary and 20 months before the general election.

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“Why wait?” Angelides said in an interview. “Why not just be flat-out honest about what I intend to do and where I want to lead this state?”

The strategy isn’t exactly to carve out the role of anti-Arnold for himself, because Angelides has been doing that practically from Day One of the Schwarzenegger administration. He’s now trying to make sure Democratic activists and ordinary voters know about it.

“I stood up and said Schwarzenegger was wrong and I didn’t care how high his poll numbers were or how big his megaphone was,” says Angelides. “And too many other Democrats laid down.”

He means Lockyer, who acknowledged voting for Schwarzenegger in the recall election. “I think people ought to be judged by how they act in the crucible of critical times,” the treasurer asserts.

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Angelides, 51, a rich Sacramento housing developer and former state party chairman who first was elected in 1998, says there’s another factor that distinguishes him from Lockyer: “I’m not a lifer in the public sector.” His 15 years as a developer, he contends, gave him “a keen understanding of what’s required to build a strong economy.”

Lockyer, 63, was a state legislator for 25 years, including Senate leader, before being elected AG in 1998.

Angelides is not the most captivating candidate you might want to match against a celebrity governor.

“Angelides has about the same appeal as a toad,” a reader wrote to the Sacramento Bee this week. “Beyond that, he is too liberal for even California.”

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But he’s the Democrat with the most articulate, consistent message that Schwarzenegger’s policies are wrong for California. He has been the anti-Arnold torchbearer, hoping to spark party passions as Schwarzenegger becomes increasingly more partisan and polarizing.

“I believe we can still be a place of economic success and opportunity, but only if the state rolls up its sleeves again and only if we’re willing to invest in the next generation like previous generations invested in us,” says Angelides, a California native.

“Only if we have the most livable cities, the best environment and the best-educated workers do we have a chance of competing in the global economy.”

Investing means tax increases, right? “It’s not a starting point, but it’s the reality.”

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Schwarzenegger adamantly opposes tax hikes -- and more adamantly all the time.

Angelides asserts, however, that Schwarzenegger is proposing a $400-million tax increase by paring back breaks for homeowners and renters who are elderly, poor or disabled.

Can any spending be cut? Sure, Angelides says, but it has to be “fair.” And it can’t be education or transportation. “I want to spend more on education, not less.”

That leaves for cutting -- and you won’t hear this from him -- mainly prisons, healthcare and benefits for the aged and disabled.

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“A governor only has the moral authority to balance the budget if he or she starts by asking those who have the most to participate in solving the state’s problems,” Angelides says. “How can you have any moral authority when you won’t ask me or any of your millionaire buddies to pay a dime more, but you’ll raise community college fees?

“The governor had a tremendous opportunity to balance the budget. Instead, he took the cheap route. He borrowed massively.

“Now to compound all this, he has gone from the governor who had the greatest chance to unify our people to one who is the single most divisive figure in recent California history. I’ve never seen a leader of this state allow our politics to devolve so quickly into a TV advertising war.”

Is there anything good about Schwarzenegger’s proposed ballot initiatives? “None. The governor ought to be governing.”

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A Schwarzenegger-Angelides contest definitely would offer voters what Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater once called “a choice, not an echo.”

George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at george.skelton@latimes.com.


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