Monday, January 02, 2006

On My Watch List for 2006

Happy New Year. I was caught flat-footed at our New Year's Eve party with a wish for 2006, and the first thing I thought of that would do the most good for Arizona would be if the Bidwill family sold the Cardinals. But then that might make the new stadium a good idea, and certainly take away an easy metaphor for continuous mediocrity in future columns, so either way, I win.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 1, 2006

Here are two things I’m curious about in politics for 2006:

The first mystery is why the same people who claim that Gov. Janet Napolitano is beatable because her numbers, in one poll, are only slightly higher than 50 percent, are so certain that Sen. Jon Kyl is a shoo-in despite numbers 10 points lower? Somehow, Napolitano is vulnerable, despite not having an actual opponent yet, who ultimately will be a politician unknown to most of the state and without money. Meanwhile, Kyl is opposed by a politician unknown to most of the state who actually has money, but Kyl’s a sure thing. Doesn’t add up.

Jim Pederson's campaign was happy to take my financial contribution; let’s see if they’re as willing to take my advice. First, Pederson needs to hire some of those (hopefully Arizona-based) reality-denying Napolitano-in-trouble-but-Kyl-safe political spinners currently “working the refs” for the Republicans. Pay a modest retainer, and they’re yours. Next, Pederson needs to stop worrying so much about being portrayed as a wealthy developer. (Apparently, wealthy GOP developers have no problem with this particular attack; must be a self-hatred thing.)

There’s an easy response, though: “Yes, Jim Pederson is a successful developer. He’s the guy who brought In-N-Out Burger and Krispy Kreme to Arizona. What’s Jon Kyl ever done?”

Third, Pederson should take a page from the John McCain playbook: Find some bogus “cultural” issue and flog the heck out of it, so you can spend time talking about the issues you want to talk about. It’s the patented McCain “sell just a bit of your soul” approach. McCain has endorsed teaching “intelligent design” in science classes, most recently claiming that “young people have a right to be told” about intelligent design. (He says it’s because he wants to teach “all points of view” but that’s just code for adding watered-down creationism to the school curriculum.)

So Pederson should pick one issue -- a constitutional amendment banning flag burning, or making public school prayer mandatory, or having the government buy everybody who wants one a new gun. And don’t worry about the merits here; pretending that one of these issues actually matters can’t be any more embarrassing than John McCain pretending that intelligent design is science.

The other thing I just can’t figure out in advance is any effect of pending ballot initiatives on 2006 candidate races. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that neither group that promised to get a gay marriage constitutional amendment ban on the ballot in California has enough signatures gathered to make that happen. One group admitted that it will miss the June 2006 primary election, but hasn’t ruled out the November 2006 general election -- but lackluster fundraising, ideological squabbling, and a shift in voter attention to other issues makes that increasingly unlikely.

Here in Arizona, the organizers of a loudly-announced state constitutional gay marriage ban withdrew their original proposal (the grab-bag of hot-button right-wing issues violated the Arizona constitution’s “single subject” rule for legislation), and must start gathering signatures from scratch. So far, the proponents have shown far more interest in suing petition gatherers than in qualifying for the 2006 ballot. If this lack of progress continues, the right-wing issue menu to drive religious conservative voters to the polls will need a different entrĂ©e.

Meanwhile, there likely will be a state minimum wage initiative, which will encourage hopes that the minimum wage can do for progressives what gay marriage did in 2004 for conservatives. Of course, that’s what they thought in Florida, where a 2004 state minimum wage initiative won 72 percent of the vote, while Jeb Bush -- who feared and fought the initiative for just that reason -- also won reelection handily.

So, will ballot initiatives influence results in candidate races? What makes an initiative a hot-button issue, and can wedge issues, like gay marriage, get too “hot” that they eventually fade, like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? We eventually got enough of that, too. I just don’t know, so I’m looking forward to answers in 2006.

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