Voters will also be selecting the next attorney general, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, controller and schools superintendent on the Nov.2 ballot.
By Shane Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times
October 10, 2010
Voter attention invariably gravitates toward the top of the ticket and the glamorous job of governor — the heated battle between Republican Meg Whitman and Democrat Jerry Brown in which the winner will be charged with steering California’s ship of the state for the next four years.
But who will be the crew at the captain’s side? The winners of the other seven statewide offices will also hold great sway over California’s future, enforcing laws, keeping the state solvent — no easy task these days — and regulating auto and health insurance.
Those separately elected officials can work in tandem with a governor, paving the way for the chief executive’s agenda, or serve as a roadblock. Just ask Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has wrestled with a nearly all-Democratic group of state officials for much of his tenure.
“Imagine you’re now with the Lakers,” Schwarzenegger explained in August, “and Kobe is there and everyone around him says, ‘Let’s derail him.’ Do you think you’re going to win? There’s no chance. So that’s what makes it difficult.”
In addition to the governor’s job, every other statewide office is up for grabs this fall: attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, controller, insurance commissioner and schools chief.
The attorney general post is widely seen as the biggest prize. “Culturally and symbolically, holders of that office have tended to be bigger players in the state,” said Vikram Amar, a UC Davis law professor.
With broad powers to probe every area of California’s vast public and private sectors, the attorney general job is a proven steppingstone to higher office. Every state attorney general since 1980 has run, at least briefly, for governor.
Democratic candidate Kamala Harris, who is the San Francisco district attorney and is viewed as a rising star in her party, touts her “smart on crime” approach, prosecuting violent and white-collar criminals alike. On the campaign trail, she highlights her creation of a program in the city to bring charges against parents with chronically truant children.
Harris, who is half Indian and half African American, would be the first woman and first person of color to hold the post.
Three-term Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, a moderate Republican, won a heated three-way battle for the GOP nomination in the June primary election. Cooley, who has worked in the district attorney’s office since 1973, has made a name for himself in Los Angeles by prosecuting wrongdoing among elected officials, most recently in Bell.
As attorney general, he says, he would make expanded prosecution of Medi-Cal fraud a priority.
The lieutenant governor wields more symbolic than concrete power. Mostly, the job involves waiting in the wings for the top post should the governor leave the state, become incapacitated or die.
The current occupant, Republican Abel Maldonado, appointed by Schwarzenegger and sworn into office in April, has made the most of his limited opportunities in the limelight. While the governor was in Asia recently, Maldonado signed legislation to refund overcharged property taxes in scandal-plagued Bell. He also rushed to a command center in San Bruno hours after a gas-pipe explosion leveled a quiet neighborhood.
The moderate Republican from Santa Maria stirred controversy as a lawmaker. Some Democrats accused him of extorting them in exchange for his vote on state budgets. Among the things he won was a ballot measure that rewrote state election law; some say the change could benefit him politically.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Democratic nominee, is perhaps best known for granting gay marriage licenses in the city in 2004. Last year, he set his sights on being governor, dismissing the No. 2 spot as a ceremonial post without any real responsibility. But he swapped races after trailing Brown badly in the polls.
Newsom has tailored his platform — education, the economy and environment — to the few official duties the lieutenant governor performs, which include serving on the boards of the University of California and California State University systems and as a member of the three-person State Lands Commission, which oversees offshore oil drilling.
In the insurance commissioner race, two assemblymen, forced from office by term limits, are competing for the influential-yet-obscure post that affects every Californian who buys life, health, car or property insurance.
Dave Jones, a Democrat from Sacramento, has said he would be an advocate for the comprehensive health reform package championed by President Obama. As a lawmaker, he has pushed for consumer rights and has opposed premium rate hikes.
Mike Villines of Clovis, a former GOP Assembly leader, narrowly won a primary against a virtual unknown. He has said he would focus on preventing insurance fraud and keeping workers’ compensation costs low. His candidacy has been buoyed by a statewide TV blitz paid for by the state Chamber of Commerce.
The two Democratic occupants of California’s fiscal offices, Controller John Chiang and Treasurer Bill Lockyer, are running for reelection.
Chiang has been a foil for Schwarzenegger, blocking the governor’s orders to furlough state employees and slash their pay. He also has had the difficult task of watching the state’s shrinking treasury during prolonged budget delays, winning plaudits from some credit-rating agencies even as he has had to issue hundreds of thousands of IOUs instead of paying state bills.
GOP challenger Sen. Tony Strickland of Moorpark has waged an aggressive campaign, accusing Chiang of mismanagement and failure to root out waste and fraud. Strickland has said he would focus on auditing state spending. Their contest is a rematch of a close 2006 contest.
Lockyer, a former state attorney general, assemblyman and state senator, has held state office continuously since 1973. He has earned a reputation for frank talk, be it about the depths of the state’s financial crises, Wall Street rip-offs or the influence that unions exert over Democrats.
His challenger, GOP state Sen. Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel, has argued that it’s time for new blood in state office. She has a platform to curb state borrowing and shrink the debt.
California’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, is up for reelection. A Democrat and veteran former legislator, Bowen touts her efforts to improve voters’ trust in elections and voting systems during her first term.
Her Republican challenger, Damon Dunn, 34, a businessman and former football player, says he wants to ensure that every eligible Californian is registered to vote. He comes with a unique sales pitch: He didn’t vote until 2009, so who better to reach out to the disenchanted masses?
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