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
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
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."