"Unlike Arnold, I've taken real bullets," said Jackie Speier in a campaign speech recently as she runs for the office of lieutenant governor of California. Speier, as some may recall, was a young government aide gunned down in Guyana while investigating the People's Temple conditions. Speier survived to go on to a life of accomplishment in politics.
At the event I attended, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom pointed out the importance of the June 6 primary election. He didn't have to say it, but we all know that for certain offices, thanks to gerrymandered districts and political machinations, the election that determines success or failure for candidates is actually the primary. The election itself can be a foregone conclusion.
Why this digression into electoral politics? The quality of life for future or current retirees can be dramatically different depending on whom we elect. During the Nixon era, the phrase I recall was, "Would you buy a used car from this man?"
Today, when sizing up political candidates, we might be wise to be asking "Would we choose this person to manage our money?" Gray Davis deserved to be recalled after committing so much of our future tax money to increase pension benefits at a host of state agencies. In his wake, we have state income taxes or debts that just keep rising with no value-added benefit -- for us taxpayers -- from all that additional money.
Politicians seem to break down into two basic categories -- those in government for the intoxicating narcotic the power the job brings, and those who sincerely want to play a role in making the world a better place.
For the former, each success is just a step along the way to greater political aspirations. There is said to be no senators in Washington who don't view themselves as a future president.
In my experience, there have been exceptions. A close family friend is "Mac" Mathias, the former long-term Republican senator from Maryland. Another great was Coke Stevenson of Texas, who was Lyndon Johnson's nemesis. Pete McClosky, age 78, who is currently running against Richard Pombo for a congressional seat, also makes my sincerity hall of fame. And, of course, there was Harry Truman.
Insincere politicians make decisions based on something the Cato Institute think-tank once dubbed "the path of minimum regret." They decide how to vote based on minimizing the wrath of their constituencies.
Mike McCurry, former President Clinton's press secretary, once told me that a politician's day includes at least three fund-raising events in a typical evening. The decision-making exercise for someone hoping for a long future in politics is one that delicately balances the pandering to sources of money while still meeting the needs of the electorate. In a perfect world, receiving small donations from a large number of constituents aligns everyone's interests, but this is rare in the absence of campaign finance reform.
In the spirit of being "fair and balanced," I think the three serious contenders for the lieutenant governor's office all look good on paper. They all hope to make something of the office besides just "reading the obituaries every day to see if the governor has died."
Speier makes the point that she wants to correct the situation where prison guards make $75,000 a year (plus huge pension benefits) while starting college professors make $54,000. The prison guard's union, with a $35 million political war chest, can be expected to oppose her possible victory.
John Garamendi brings years of political experience in a variety of offices he has held over the years, and he has a Harvard Business School degree.
On the Republican side, there's Tom McClintock, who was initially elected to the Assembly at age 26 and who has been in politics for more than 20 years. He's a proponent of lower taxes, less government and stronger property rights.
If the Florida presidential election six years ago taught us anything, it's that every vote counts. Second-tier elections such as this June 6 primary amount to loose cannons on the deck because the small number of voters can allow special interests to have a disproportionate influence. And, in some situations, these primaries determine the final outcome.
We make most of our decisions based upon our emotions and instincts. Then we pick whatever rationale we need to support what we feel like doing. In this case, we should recognize that we're effectively voting for our money manager. With a 10 percent California marginal state income tax plus sales and gas taxes, we're all effectively tithing to keep our state afloat. Let's vote with our feet and make it to the polls to select politicians we would otherwise choose to be our financial planners -- those whom we trust are in the running for the right reasons regardless of their political affiliation.