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Stateside: Madam Rosa's Tea-cup Prediction

Stateside with Rosalea

Madam Rosa's Tea-cup Prediction

One of the places I visited on my little trip to San Jose at the end of last year was San Jose State University. It's pretty much right in the middle of town, and is a very pretty campus with a mix of Spanish-style and modern architecture, having as its centrepiece an ivy-covered attempt at a medieval university tower building. The thing that most struck me about the campus, though, was the rubbish bins. They had a sign on them to the effect that anyone taking rubbish out of them would be fined.

Such is the essential difference between the germanium heart of Silicon Valley, down in the South Bay, and cities like Oakland and San Francisco in the East Bay and on the tip of the peninsula respectively. Up here the rubbish bins have a little pyramid on top for cans and bottles to be put in so they can be recycled more easily. Usually by street dwellers, since a refundable deposit is part of what you pay when you buy drinks in cans and bottles in California.

It was from SJSU last Tuesday that the California Broadcasting Association televised the debate between the three Republicans vying to be on the November ballot for Governor. The March 5 primary will be operating under rules that are different from the last statewide primary. Though California briefly flirted with having an open primary, the usual system is a closed primary, in which voters get a ballot paper tailored towards the party affiliation they listed when they registered to vote. Those voters who declined to state their affiliation at the time of registration get a ballot paper that has no primary choices on it. That way, voters registered as Republicans get to make the choice of who the Republican candidate will be in November but can't affect the choice of who will be the Democratic candidate.

This election, California is using a modified closed primary system.This permits an individual who is unaffiliated with a party to request a ballot for a specific political party if that political party has established rules that allow unaffiliated voters to vote in their party. The American Independent, Democratic, Republican and Natural Law parties have established those rules. The Greens have not. Not all parties are holding primaries - for example, the incumbent Democratic Governor of California, Gray Davis, had no challengers from within the Democrats, so will be on the ballot in November.

There are three contenders for the right to carry the Republican flag into November's battle, and it was the debate between these three men that was televised. If you survived the last two paragraphs you will realise that they were trying to win the hearts of several different categories of voters - the ones who are registered as Republicans, the unaffiliated voters who have until February 19 to either choose to affiliate or choose to request the Republican ballot paper, and the wider audience of all voters who will be voting in November. They had to disagree with each other about who was best to be the Republican candidate and agree with each other that Gray Davis was ineffective and didn't deserve another term as governor.

Well, the second part came naturally, of course, and the first part was noteworthy for its politeness and lack of negativity - even the debate moderator commented on that. Besides giving opening and closing statements, the candidates were asked questions by a political reporter from each of the media - print, radio and television. The televising of the debate was paid for by organisations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, who endorse the various candidates.

In the morning news before the debate, Dick Riordan was the strongly favoured contender. He has been advertising heavily on television for several weeks now and is the former Mayor of LA. Since only Maryland and Hawaii are more Democratic strongholds than California, the Republicans would be getting "the camel's nose into the tent" if they were to capture the Governorship here, and Riordan has the support of 80 percent of the House Republicans in Washington.

Riordan is very accomplished and smooth on camera and came across well in the debate. The candidate who says his endorsements show he is the best candidate to balance the budget - Bill Simon - sat stiffly and came across as a bean-counter's bean-counter, but it's unlikely that the budget will be the deciding factor when voters go to the polls in March. The third candidate is Bill Jones, who is currently Secretary of State in California. In buttonhole interviews in the weeks before the debate, he had come across badly but in the debate he was by far the most interesting.

He is the only Republican elected official in the State of California. He was elected to the California State Assembly before that, so he has already shown himself twice a winner in statewide elections. He spoke about pushing to get voter registration numbers up so that democracy is more fully participated in by all the people in California. (In his role as Secretary of State he already has a good track record of trying to get elections - such as San Francisco's notoriously bad ones - cleaned up.) And he paraphrased a quote he said was on a plaque on President (and former California Governor) Ronald Reagan's desk: "There's no limit to what we can do if we don't care who gets the credit."

For my money, Bill Jones is clearly the man to watch, not only in this March primary but - if he gets the Republican nod - also in the November election for Governor. As one political analyst said the morning after the debate, when the economy goes sour the incumbent is likely to suffer. Not needing to waste energy on it, Jones seems to be very sensibly leaving the battle about numbers to the Washington Republicans. This coming Tuesday, President Bush will be delivering his State of the Union address and it will presage the fight that will be taking place over his economic recovery plan. The fallout from that fight is likely to have a greater effect at the level of state elections than state-focused budget battles will.

So, there you go. That's my pick for who will be the next Governor of California, even if the first ad to air after the debate was Riordan's and even if Governor Gray Davis is already airing ads listing his achievements, with the catch phrase: Effectiveness you can count on.
Lea Barker
Sunday 27 January, 2002

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