Debra J. Saunders
You've probably seen the ad on TV -- paid for by businessman/Democrat Steve Westly, who's running for state controller -- that portrays rival Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock as a tool of HMOs and other special interests. Don't believe it. Tom McClintock is nobody's handmaiden. In fact, there are Republican suits who, if they were candid, might admit that they'd prefer to see no Republican win statewide office than see McClintock elected controller. They don't want someone so independent and so clearly his own man in the party's top spot. McClintock led the charge against state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, a Republican who resigned in disgrace in 2000. Before that, McClintock so irritated GOP Govs. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian that they endorsed his opponent, Dean Andal, in the primary. "If Tom McClintock gets elected controller, it will drive the governor crazy," GOP strategist Dan Schnur opined, "whether it's Bill Simon or Gray Davis." The California controller cuts checks, manages the state payroll, audits state agencies and keeps the public informed about state finances. Incumbent Kathleen Connell used her position to refuse to pay certain bills, such as a $910 takeout food bill ordered by state electricity buyers. Expect McClintock to go even further. He plans to convene a panel modeled after President Reagan's Grace Commission to examine the state budget line-by-line and office-by-office. He wants the panel to ask: "Why is this project costing us so much? Why are there so many employees here? Why is the per-unit cost so high?" McClintock also wants to put a microscope on school spending with a focus on funds that don't go into the classroom. Westly, for his part, told the Sacramento Bee that the controller's office "is not where you want an ideological gadfly." Wrong. And double wrong. This is exactly where you would want one. This is a David versus Goliath race. Westly had $3.3 million in cash as of Sept. 30; McClintock had $277,000. Westly is a multimillionaire former EBay executive who has poured more than $4.6 million of his own money into his campaign. McClintock hasn't given a dime to his campaign, and if he is elected, the $132,000 controller's salary will be the most money he has made in his life. According to the Los Angeles Times, McClintock prepares his own tax returns. Westly just can't compete with McClintock when it comes to cost-cutting bona fides. McClintock, after all, was the only legislator to vote against the five-year, 34 percent pay raise for prison guards. So Westly has been reduced to bashing McClintock, as he did on KQED's "Forum" last week, for being "anti-choice," anti-environment and a supporter of offshore oil drilling. It's true; McClintock is anti-abortion. But since he's running for controller, what's important is that he is anti-waste. And he's honest. McClintock could have pandered to the left-learning "Forum" audience by stating the he opposes expanding drilling off California's shores. But he was honest about "existing leases," which would be too costly to terminate. (That's why Gov. Davis hasn't.) After this year's $24 billion budget shortfall, and with next year's likely $15 billion hole, Californians are going to need a tight-fisted controller. After the election, it's likely both the governor and the majority of both legislative houses will remain in the hands of the Democrats, who will feel pressure to spend. "If you believe in oversight, this is the best office for a situation where one party is controlling the rest of the government," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. Or as Schnur noted, when a state faces a two-digit deficit, "you need someone who is willing to say no and who is willing to stand in front of politicians looking to take the easy way out."

Debra J. Saunders


 
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