Gubernatorial generation gap

Local party loyalists back Angelides, while young activists lean toward Westly

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides made a quick visit to Chico’s Citrus School Tuesday to energize the troops and capture media attention.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides made a quick visit to Chico’s Citrus School Tuesday to energize the troops and capture media attention.

Photo By Robert Speer

Democratic slippage: The percentage of registered Democrats in California slipped from 49.1 percent in 1992 to 43.0 percent in 2004, while Republicans increased only slightly, from 37.0 to 37.4 percent. The Democrats lost most of their members to the “decline to state” category, which has increased from 10.3 in 1992 to 17.7 percent in 2004.

The way Jim Gregg sees it, the Democratic Party once again may be doing what it seems to do best: self-destructing.

At 79, the retired Chico State University political science professor is a much-respected Democratic Party elder who once worked in the Brown administration—Pat Brown’s, not Jerry’s. He’s had such a long and varied association with the party he’s able to laugh when he says, “You know, the Democrats are one of the most disorganized groups in the world.”

These days, he’s concerned about the increasingly nasty and expensive primary race for governor between state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly.

“I had a chance to talk with Westly early on,” he says, “and I told him we couldn’t afford a bitter campaign, we couldn’t afford to split the party over this.”

And yet that’s exactly what’s happened—and Arnold Schwarzenegger has to be watching with glee.

While Angelides and Westly beat up each other and spend mega-millions, Schwarzenegger, unchallenged in the Republican primary, can relax and hoard his money until the fall campaign. And, thanks to an influx of more than $5 billion and perhaps as much as $7 billion in unexpected additional tax revenues this year and bipartisan passage of a bill putting a $37.3 billion infrastructure bond measure on the November ballot, the governor is looking confident and competent after his disastrous drubbing at the polls last November.

With Westly spending a big chunk of his eBay fortune—some $32.5 million so far—to mount a credible campaign against Angelides, Democrats are faced with a daunting choice. Do they vote for the centrist Westly, who paints himself as the moderate, pragmatic Democrat who can beat Schwarzenegger in November, or do they go with Angelides, the anti-Arnold whose aggressive partisan campaign makes him attractive to core Democrats in the primary but may turn off undecided independents in the general election?

Locally, party activists are as split as Democrats elsewhere, with older, more traditional left-liberal activists lined up behind Angelides and a group of younger, less party-bound moderate Democrats backing Westly. Both groups were visible this week, when the two candidates made back-to-back visits to Chico—Angelides on Tuesday, Westly on Wednesday.

It’s appropriate that both men were in town this week, at the end of their primary race, since Chico has figured prominently in their campaigns all along. Westly kicked off his statewide campaign here on Jan. 31, and Angelides has been mining the area for allies for years. One of his chief paid campaign strategists is Bob Mulholland, a Chicoan who is a longtime party operative and the husband of Supervisor Jane Dolan. Throughout the 1980s, before Mulholland began working for the state party in Sacramento, their campaign organization dominated local liberal politics.

Angelides also has the support of such longtime local party stalwarts as former mayors Mike McGinnis, Shelton Enochs, Mardi Worley and Jim Owens and former councilman Dave Guzzetti. McGinnis, Enochs and Guzzetti all were active in the Mulholland-Dolan organization.

Angelides opponent, Steve Westly (shown here at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. during his January visit to Chico), made a similar stop Wednesday morning at Moxie’s Café downtown.

CN&R File Photo

Westly, in contrast, appears to be attracting younger Democratic activists, people like former councilman Dan Nguyen-Tan, a 30-something who is his volunteer regional director, and Randall Stone, 33, chairman of the Democratic Action Club. Dan Cossio, the Butte College ASB president, is active for Westly, as is Minerva Williams, leader of the Chico State Democratic Club, Nguyen-Tan says.

These young Democrats see the political landscape changing, with more and more voters registering independent or crossing party lines when they vote. Hewing to party ideology and doing the bidding of the unions doesn’t work for them. They’re tired of gridlock in Sacramento and are looking for candidates who can appeal to bipartisanship and the political middle and who will raise taxes only as “a last resort,” as Westly has pledged.

Nguyen-Tan says he started backing Westly in January, following the candidate’s visit to Chico. He’d met Angelides before, but he thought Westly had “a stronger, more positive message that would resonate not only with progressive Democrats, but also with moderate Democrats who might vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

He says he respects the older Democrats who support Angelides, and if Westly loses he’ll back Angelides 100 percent, but right now he doesn’t consider himself “tied to the old school.”

Stone, for his part, said “holding the party line is unimportant to me.” He wants a candidate who can beat Schwarzenegger and then get the job done, he said, and Westly is the guy.

It’s not going to happen, Mulholland says. “All internal polls show Phil ahead. It turned at the Democratic Party convention, when he gave a great speech and took 67 percent of the vote [for endorsement].

“I’ve known both these guys for a long time, Phil for 30 years,” he continued in his machine-gun patter. “Phil’s a fighter. He doesn’t give up.”

Angelides’ supporters portray him as a man of courage and determination, someone who isn’t afraid to do battle with the Governator, someone who’s forthright and isn’t trying to please everyone. He may look like a wimp, next to a former Mr. Universe, but nobody questions his political fortitude.

He’s willing to say he’ll raise taxes, for one thing. “It’s the Clinton plan,” Mulholland said. “Forcing the very wealthy to pay their fair share.” Clinton campaigned in 1992 that he would increase taxes on the wealthy and balance the budget, Mulholland continued, “and that’s what he did, and we had one of the greatest periods of prosperity in our history. Phil’s wants to do the same thing.”

As Gregg puts it, “A lot of Democrats admire Angelides for standing up to Arnold and for his willingness to ask the rich to return some of the money gotten because of the Bush tax reductions.”

Angelides will stand up for the environment, for education, for public services, Mulholland says. That’s why firefighters, the police, teachers and health-care workers have endorsed him.

Whoever wins the primary, the important thing is for Democrats to unite behind the victor, Gregg says. He likes Westly personally. He sat next to him at an event once and found him to be “quite different in person than on TV, quite likeable and believable.” But he’s backing Angelides.

Stone and Nguyen-Tan said they intend to back whoever wins June 6. “Like many Democrats,” the latter said, “I see a hard-fought primary election, and I’m getting behind either candidate who wins.”