When Sarah Palin wrote a cheat sheet for an interview on her hand last weekend, liberal commentators predictably bashed her — although the ex-Republican veep candidate did nothing that California’s top Democrat hadn’t done before.

From Arianna Huffington to Andrea Mitchell, lefty pundits pounced on Palin, after photos showed that she’d scribbled brief talking points on her palm — “energy, cuts, tax, lift American spirits” — before sitting for questions during last weekend’s big, conservative Tea Party convention.

Capitol Letters

Veteran California political scribes recalled, however, that now-senior Senator Dianne Feinstein pulled the same stunt during a crucial debate when she unsuccessfully ran for governor against Pete Wilson. Back in October 1990, Feinstein and Wilson had their one-and-only debate of the campaign; nervous before the statewide televised event, DiFi scrawled three words — “growth, education, choice” on her palm in blue marker, to remind her of the policy themes she wanted to sound.

Her action technically violated a ground rule, on which the campaigns had agreed, against bringing notes to the podium. When reporters challenged her about it after the debate, Feinstein hid her hand behind her back, said, “I’m not going to show you,” and walked away.

Her bizarre reaction only fed the story for several days; an L.A. TV station showed blown-up pictures of her scrawled hand, and the Wilson campaign paid for a computer-enhanced picture that they circulated to the press corps. It was a superficial issue, but it helped the Republican candidate advance the notion that his Democratic rival — the first woman to win a major party nomination for governor — was too unknown to trust in the job. Whether or not the handwriting flap was a factor, Wilson beat Feinstein in November.

In Palin’s case, the embarrassment about the notes on her hand adds to her well-earned reputation as a flake, not to mention something of a hypocrite: In her address preceding the interview, Palin whacked President Obama for using a teleprompter in his speeches.

First lieutenant: Few state political stories have as strong a Santa Barbara angle as Governor Schwarzenegger’s nomination of state Senator Abel Maldonado to be lieutenant governor, which has at least four layers-within-layers, local storylines wrapped up in it.

• Santa Maria Republican Maldonado represents the northern part of the county, among other coastal areas, and if he is confirmed by both legislative houses, the vacancy created would trigger a hotly contested local special election with statewide importance. If Democrats could pick up his 15th District seat — in one of the few, genuinely swing districts in California — they’d be only one vote from the crucial two-thirds majority in the senate. At the same time, they have a fair shot of capturing a GOP seat in the 12th District, in and around Salinas.

• But Pedro Nava, the Santa Barbara Democrat running for attorney general, is leading the charge against Maldonado in the Assembly, joining with several other Latino legislators to charge that the Republican has a poor record on farmworker, civil rights, consumer, labor, and women’s issues.

• Nava’s position comes despite Maldonado’s promise to the Senate Rules Committee that he would continue to oppose the Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling project, off the coast near Lompoc. Maldonado voted against the project in the Senate, but backers — led by PXP oil company and Santa Barbara’s Environmental Defense Center — entertain hopes of him switching his position as lieutenant governor, where he would have the decisive vote at the State Lands Commission.

• The controversial T-Ridge project, of course, is a central issue in the Democratic primary for the 35th Assembly District seat being vacated by Nava. Santa Barbara Councilmember Das Williams jumped into the race because coastal advocate Susan Jordan, who is married to Nava, opposed EDC’s deal with PXP on the offshore project, which Williams supports.

At press time, Maldonado had won backing in the Senate, but approval by the Assembly remained problematic.

Must-see TV: As Capitol Letters forecast several weeks ago, former representative Tom Campbell has jumped from the Republican primary for governor into the campaign to win the GOP Senate nomination, and the right to challenge incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer. Since his move, Campbell has been under steady fire from fellow moderate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO. Fiorina’s latest shot is a three-minute Web attack video that portrays Campbell — literally — as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The Demon Sheep ad, which has gained national attention, can be viewed by visiting tinyurl.com/ye2wzhl.


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