Maybe California voters have had enough of a celebrity fix for awhile. Back in 2003, they elected Arnold Schwarzenegger governor largely on the strength of his movie stardom. Not even his admitted personal peccadilloes could bother the bulk of the voters, who wanted to get rid of the grayest governor this state might ever have seen, Gray Davis.
Maybe it’s also true that voters will continue a long tradition of rejecting hyper-wealthy self-funded candidates and opt against the likes of Insurance Commissioner and ex-Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Poizner and former eBay chief Meg Whitman in the Republican primary next June.
Democrats did something similar in 1998, nominating Davis over Northwest Airlines mogul Al (Checkbook) Checchi and Congresswoman Jane Harman, whose husband made at least $100 million awhile back selling off a home electronics company he founded.
The list of ultra-wealthy would-be officeholders in this state goes back to Norton Simon’s failed 1970 bid to wrest a Republican Senate nomination from then-Sen. George Murphy. The bipartisan list also includes shipping scion William Matson Roth and oil company heir Michael Huffington, among others.
So what do Republicans get if they reject the big-money candidates and go for something a little more modest? That would be Tom Campbell, who lost one primary race for a U.S. Senate seat to far-right Bruce Herschensohn and was soundly beaten by Democrat Dianne Feinstein in another Senate run.
Since then, Campbell has taught law at Stanford University, served as dean of the business school at UC Berkeley and spent about two years as Schwarzenegger’s state finance director.
He yearns to be governor so much that a few months ago, he took a leave from Berkeley and moved to Orange County, where he teaches law at the conservatively-inclined Chapman University. Campbell, who spent more than a decade representing liberal portions of the San Francisco Peninsula in both Congress and the state Senate, plainly moved to the OC so he’d become more familiar and palatable to conservative Republicans there.
“Chapman has a lot more Republicans than Berkeley,” Campbell observed in an interview. “I’m the only Republican dean at Berkeley, but the environment is certainly different where I am now.”
And Campbell would certainly be a different sort of governor than his former boss Schwarzenegger.
“I would surely use the governor’s line-item veto to hold down spending more than he has,” Campbell said. “He gave too many quid pro quos to the Legislature, promising not to veto their pet items if they would go along with his. Also, after his 2005 initiatives failed, the governor signed a number of public employee union contracts that he did not have to. State law lets you operate under the last best offer made if there is no new agreement. He could have done that, but did not.”
Campbell says he would limit any budget increases to a combination of the rate of increase in population and inflation, no more.
Schwarzenegger blanched at criticism that he’s let state spending increase too much. “The number one thing I could have done is to stop the world economy from going down,” he wisecracked at a press conference. “I’m very proud of my record. If you look at the past governors, the average increase of Ronald Reagan was 13 percent, of George Deukmejian was 8 percent, of Gray Davis was 6 percent, of Pete Wilson it was 4.9 percent. Mine is 3.7 percent.”
Those percentages reflect increased spending over and beyond what it would take to match population increases and inflation.
Campbell also said he would back gay marriage, rather than vetoing the idea, as Schwarzenegger did early in his tenure. That goes against the overwhelming majority view of California Republicans.
But Campbell knows his only hope for the nomination is to attract virtually all moderates and independents who vote in the Republican primary and let Whitman and Poizner, both running as far to the right as they comfortably can, split the conservative vote that normally dominates GOP primaries.
No way can he spend with them, dollar for dollar. And yet, early polls show him running either first or second in the GOP. “I’ve spent wisely,” Campbell said. “I’ve hired the best webmasters and I’m getting a positive response to the message I get out on the Internet. I also have the issue of finances. I am right there on the subject of the day.”
Whether the state budget will still be the subject of the day 11 months from now is anyone’s guess. But if voters next year are looking for not for stardom but expertise, experience and intellectual qualities, they may just turn to Campbell, who remembers well that even though California is often considered a reliably Democratic state, four of its last six governors have been Republicans.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected] For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net