Obama Flinches

By Jerry Roberts

Democratic presidential wannabe Barack Obama changed his position on drilling for oil in coastal waters Friday, two days after a new poll in California confirmed a major national movement towards favoring the policy.

In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Obama for the first time softened his staunch anti-drilling stance. Earlier he had argued that developing new resources offshore was a short-term and foolhardy effort. Yesterday he emphasized the need to bring down gas prices as his top priority: "My interest is in making sure we've got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices. If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage - I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done." The full story is here.

In backing away from his liberal base on the conflict, Obama provided the latest evidence that Republicans had at last found an issue on which to gain traction in a political year that appeared to be stacked against them. In recent days, President Bush has stepped up his attacks on the Democrats for refusing to join him in expanding offshore exploration and development, and both houses of congress have engaged in bitter, polarized debates on the matter.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally turned out the lights after adjourning the House over protests by Republicans, who wanted to vote on an offshore measure. Refusing to be silenced, they kept speechfying in the dark about the need for more drilling. Several of the GOPers mentioned the new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, reported on the Independent's web site on Wednesday night, as evidence of the widespread support for oil drilling in coastal waters, taunting the Speaker by saying she was out of step with her own state.

As a political matter, Obama seems to have recognized the potential serious danger in the issue, and decided to move to the middle on it sooner rather than later. The move further opens him to the charge of flip-flopping, particularly given his earlier switch on a measure to protect telecom companies against lawsuits for giving the Bush Administration private information about customers as part of its intelligence gathering.

But he is calculating that the flip-flop charge will be easier to finesse than the more substantive energy issue. McCain himself switched his position on offshore oil not long ago, and Obama will likely argue that it proves his own case that the presidency needs an open minded and pragmatic problem solver, not an ideologue who clings to his position regardless of the facts (I name no names).

That was the week that was:

Budget madness: To the surprise of no one, The Terminator signed his threatened executive order Thursday, to lay off temporarily 20,000 part-time state workers, and to cut the pay of 200,000 more to the federal minimum wage, $6.55 an hour. As CL reported on July 23 & 26 - with a stunning instinct for the obvious - the move was a clear and clumsy bid to Bring Pressure to Bear on the Legislature to pass the damn budget, now seven weeks overdue.

Arnold insists his legal authority to take these steps is certain and absolute. Others, not so much. SEIU, the biggest union representing state employees, went to court within 24 hours to block the move, and Democrat Controller John Chiang, who signs the checks, has vowed to defy the governor.

The big problem with the governor's grandstand play is that his political brand has devolved into the guy who'd rather make monkey shines for the cameras than sit down and govern the state. George Skelton, the Mr. Cranky of the Sacramento press corps, returned from vacation just in time to nail Schwarzenegger with a most trenchant analysis on this point, which can be found here.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee's Dan Weintraub, defying columnist protocol by actually leaving the office to do some shoe leather reporting, came up with a fine
inside dope column
that presents the likely framework of an eventual budget deal.

The Swami says: The Big Fella's big budget play will take effect about the time when, oh say, Larry Crandell grows modesty. Bottom line: more work for lawyers.

Why Caruso Thinks He's All That: A multi-zillionaire himself, Gov. Almost-a-Kennedy did everything but shed crocodile tears in professing his heartfelt concern for the economic pain of state workers, as he signed his executive order to inflict a whole bunch of it on them for the assembled benefit of most of the media west of the Mississippi.

Lucky for him, his week wasn't a complete bummer: Schwarzenegger turned 61 on Wednesday, and celebrated with special friends at the home of none other than Rick Caruso, controversial Miramar developer and possible candidate for L.A. mayor, who hosted a fundraiser for The Man.

Glamour and the/ Governor's Race: Lieutenant Gov. John Garamendi, the Harold Stassen of California politics, announced his 2010 candidacy for governor Thursday, barely beating the filing deadline by 19 or 20 months.

Look, Garamendi seems like a genuinely a nice man, he was an All-American at Cal and no one can dispute that he ranks high on the list of Great Americans of Basque-background. But give me a break. Starting in the early Pleistocene Era, this guy has run for governor so many times his mugshot pops up when you search "perennial candidate." (okay, I made that part up).

The Democratic primary race is already shaping up as a heavyweight celebrity death match with Jerry Brown (yes, the same one), L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom all but certain to make a run, and Senator Dianne Feinstein and Santa Barbara's own Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of schools, among other possibles in the wings. In that field John Boy will be running for the exercise.

Hiram Johnson, call home: Following up on my column about the November lineup of 12 ballot measures in this week's print edition of the Indy, here are some useful online resources for those who want more information:

  1. Secretary of State Deborah Bowen's web site offers evidence of how big a business initiative campaigns are in California. Example: besides the 12 measures on the ballot, 10 more are already in various stages of approval for future elections, while another dozen circulated this year but didn't make it.
  2. Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill is one of the smartest people in state government, and her office provides a[ gimlet-eyed view][8] of the financial costs and implications of all the measures.
  3. Merv Field's [ website][9] provides the latest non-partisan, independent survey research on the November initiatives, and historical analysis of what similar current numbers have meant for past initiative campaigns come election time.
  4. UC's [ Hastings College of the Law][10] maintains a very cool data base that contains historic info on nearly all of the 1,005 measures voted on since Californians approved the right to initiative as part of Gov. Johnson's political reform package of 1911.
  5. The [L.A. Times][11] reports that backers and foes of Prop. 8, which would overturn the state Supreme Court's decision allowing gay marriage in California, have already raised $11 million for their battle of the airwaves, much of it from out-of-state sources. Pro and con sides of all the initiatives have raised $70 million to date.

[9]: Poll

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