Taking on the Terminator
Westly, Angelides try to make names known in governor race
Steve Westly made his fortune as an early eBay executive, but nowadays he surfs the site in search of tennis gear, board games and the occasional toy soldier for his kids, ages 4 and 5.
State Controller Westly, who kicked off his campaign for California’s governor with a trip to Butte County Jan. 31, is positioning himself as the everyman, non-politically connected fiscal comeuppance of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But first the Democrat has to beat state Treasurer Phil Angelides in the June primary.
“No one knows who either one of us are,” Westly admitted. A recent poll showed that 19 percent of Californians recognize Angelides’ name compared to 15 percent for Westly. “All that matters is who the heck gets the other 60 percent.
“We’ll define the race,” he vowed. “People are tired of the star power thing. They want someone who can fix things. They want a problem-solver.”
Westly, who has poured $20 million of his own money into the campaign so far, said he specifically chose Butte County as its launching point—even including Chico-specific TV ads.
“Too many elected officials spend their lives in Sacramento and L.A.,” he said. “We’re talking to real people.”
The previous day, a group of former Chico mayors and city councilmembers gathered in City Hall to declare their collective support for Angelides.
“I’m endorsing him because of his active participation in the North Valley and his stance on education,” said former Chico Mayor Mike McGinnis. Former city leaders joining McGinnis included mayors Kary Ory, Mardi Worley and Jim Owens, along with former councilmember David Guzzetti. Former Mayor Shelton Enochs also pledged his support.
Angelides, 52, who worked his way through Harvard to become a big-time developer in Sacramento, has been a repeat visitor to Chico, including appearances at local schools. He has $17 million in his war chest to Westly’s $24 million.
But Angelides has snared key names within the party, including Democratic Party strategist Bob Mulholland, along with Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez.
Westly said he’s not surprised nor intimidated. “My opponent has been a career Sacramento insider.”
Westly, 49, is quick to point out that \he has made public his tax returns for the last 10 years and has challenged his opponents to do the same. “Everyone should know where our money is coming from,” he said. “What are these guys hiding?” He also said his role as controller is “a much more important job” than that of the treasurer, characterizing his job, overseeing 8,000 employees, as being in charge of all the money coming in and being paid out in the state, whereas Angelides makes “short-term” investments in his role as treasurer in charge of about 800 workers.
Westly, whom some predict could nab Republican crossover votes, plans to find a middle ground between what he called Schwarzenegger’s “no new taxes ever” stance and Angelides’ “tax everything” approach. Westly has also put forth some lofty proposals, including free community college. He wants to raise money in part by hiring more state auditors, each of whom brings in as much as 14 times his or her salary by collecting on funds owed the government.
Westly’s Web site is complete with Podcasts, Flikr photos and appeals to teenaged volunteers ("you’re on board, you’re jazzed"), a contrast to Angelides’ often-stiff, heavily managed persona and more-basic Web site.
“California has always been about the future,” Westly explained. “My whole background has been about innovation.”
The group of Chico Democrats who endorsed Angelides this week were reluctant to out any beefs against Westly, other than to say they know Angelides better and like his platform and personality.
Craig Donnelly, 2nd Assembly District chairman for the Democratic Party, said Angelides is the only candidate who has a chance of beating Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “who is basically Mr. Photo Op.”
Westly instead predicted the primary will play out like it did in the 2004 presidential bid: “Howard Dean was exciting, but he couldn’t beat Bush.” (Of course, he hopes to end up with a better finish than Al Gore.)
Angelides, he said, is “the status quo.”