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Independent voters haven’t yet seen what they’re looking for in California governor’s race

Do you get the feeling that the campaign for governor of California has been going on for far too long, and yet it hasn’t really begun?

Yeah, me too.

Something’s got to give pretty soon, though, because election day is barely more than two months away. The race is close, and questions abound.

Will Jerry Brown show up, and, if so, when?

Is 10 weeks enough time for Meg Whitman to set fire to another $100 million of her own money? As for the first $100 million, does it seem to you that she spent half of it telling us she’ll be “tough as nails” on illegal immigration and another $50 million saying “never mind?”

It doesn’t seem to matter that no governor or other state official can have much of an impact on a federal matter. When it comes to a flammable topic like immigration, it’s not about policy, reality or public good. It’s about political calculation.

“The emphasis on illegal immigration is an attempt to appeal to the nativist impulses of white, male voters. The calculation is that it’s better to rally these voters even if it means blowing off the Latino vote,” says my old college classmate Phil Trounstine of CalBuzz.com.

And so it goes in dysfunction junction, where the state budget deadline came and went two months ago, where the deficit is about to be officially designated as the eighth wonder of the world, and where no festering crisis is so great that we can expect an adult conversation on how to fix it.

A few months ago, I rounded up some independent voters with the idea of tracking their reactions through the campaign as they try to decide which candidate they liked, if any. Would it be the guy who was already governor so long ago most voters couldn’t tell you what he did or didn’t do, or the political novice who seldom voted but is spending a king’s ransom in the hope that you will?

But with so few developments, there’s been very little for us to talk about except how little there is to talk about. They all agree on one thing, though: They haven’t yet seen what they’re looking for.

“The choice is not very clear because I don’t see a candidate that really has a plan for a better future for California at this point,” said Maureen Hayes, a Ladera Ranch resident and vice president of a construction company.

Hayes hasn’t yet located the details in the limited proposals from either candidate, and to the extent that they do have “plans,” she’s not sure how either can expect to implement them given the corrupted political process.

“Is Jerry Brown even running?” asked Santa Monica physician Paul Song. “Other than an occasional union-funded TV spot, I have not gotten the impression from him that he is even running for office.”

As for Whitman, Song said, “I find it amazing that even despite putting over $104 million of her own money into this race that she has had to continue to blast Brown rather than be able to successfully define herself and provide a real definitive plan for what she will do.”

Adam Serrano, a 23-year-old Arcadia resident who works as a high school tutor and online sports reporter, said he hasn’t forgotten how Whitman exploited the immigration issue in the primary.

“As a Latino, it is still very alarming that she played to her base in such a way,” Serrano said.

But he fully anticipated her subsequent double-axel flip to the center for the sake of wooing enough moderates to have a shot at winning, even if the Neanderthal wing of the GOP has been carping about Whitman’s shocking betrayal.

“It’s classic politics,” said Serrano, who added that the federal government’s monumental failure to enact immigration reform — he favors a path to legalization in some cases but not without stiff penalties for lawbreakers — has understandably fanned the flames in Arizona and California.

Randall Gwin, a Newport Beach toy designer, said he finds Whitman’s softer stance on immigration heartening, but as with other issues, he’d like to hear more substance.

What are the true costs of illegal immigration? What are the benefits? And what are the practical realities of a situation in which a wealthy country that wants cheap labor shares a border with a corrupt country whose masses are hungry for work?

“Let’s discuss the [economics] instead of participating in the thinly veiled xenophobic rodeo that [the discussion] has become,” Gwin said.

Well, we can wish and dream, can’t we?

In that spirit, Gwin suggested that “instead of having five stupid, disingenuous debates where each candidate blusters and hiccups and panders to some imagined lowest common denominator,” he’d prefer a kind of reality TV miniseries that would work like this:

Meg and Jerry would “sit down” each week with a different concerned citizen and the challenge would be to earn their vote.

“The complete lack of specificity in these campaigns is frightening,” said Gwin, who has offered himself up as the guinea pig. “So Meg, Jerry, convince me. I will buy you both lunch and I promise you that at the end of it, one of you will have my vote.”

I think this could work, particularly if the loser each week has to eat worms, or, even worse, watch their own campaign ads over and over and over.

steve.lopez@latimes.com


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