If you're like me, you've been thinking about the problems many states are facing; few are worse off than CA. Huge budget shortfalls and political stagnation are crippling the state. Arnold seems content to block reforms passed by the legislature and take money out of the University of California system budget any time he gets a chance (even though the UC is one of the most important vehicles for growth in the state).
With these sort of problems, a Governor with a 42% approval rating and 2 years to run out the clock, we need to start looking ahead soon, maybe within the next 6 months or so. We need a smart, non-ideological, fact-oriented leader to take charge and get CA on track.
We need CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen as Governor.
She has an impeccable record on voting rights protection, consumer protections, and environmental protections. And she knows where to turn for counsel when she needs it. She gets things done.
None of the other potential Democratic contenders have what we need right now.
Bowen was one of the first legislators in the world to understand how technology can transform our government. (We need no further proof than the fact that this is posted at DKos.) Starting in 1993 - before many folks had a computer, let alone Internet access - she pushed to put state legislation online and open up campaign finance records. She's fought for consumer and environmental protections in the state legislature. Her husband does climate science policy work for the U.S. Forest Service.
(I don't want to use the word "progressive" because it has been used by some in this community as a word to divide Democrats, and I don't like that. But I think it probably applies to Bowen.)
In their endorsement of her for Secretary of State, the SF Chronicle praised Bowen's ability to get things done:
Beyond that, Bowen has proved to be one of the most focused and effective representatives in the 120-member Legislature, especially on consumer and privacy protection. She takes on tough issues, stays with them and gets results.One of her boldest demonstrations of leadership was the California "top to bottom review" of voting systems. As we all know, many popular electronic voting systems are fundamentally flawed. Unfortunately, many of the results came from the outside, and were both narrow and not taken seriously within government. Bowen commissioned a study of California's voting machines to be conducted by actual computer security experts (led by two highly respected University of California computer science professors). When she began this study, there was plenty of braying from the usual quarters about how it was paranoia to worry about broken electronic voting machines and how counties should keep using broken machines since they had already overpaid for them.
The results were both groundbreaking and what we would expect - all three electronic voting systems in California were fatally flawed (a single voter could create a virus to compromise an entire state-wide election, among other problems). Bowen decertified all the machines and returned us to optical-scan paper ballots, and has led other secretaries of state across the nation to re-examine their voting systems. She was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award for her work on voting reform.
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At this point you're probably where I was - "OK, Bowen seems good, but do I really care? But is she the right person for the job - does she have that intangible quality we look for in our leaders?"
I was convinced that she had the ability to think complex issues through and find the right solutions after listening to her talk and Q&A session at Usenix Security - a computer security conference - discussing voting security. I encourage you to listen to her 80 minute talk here. (It was highly educational too - she explains all the important, and sometimes quite technical, issues in voting security with great clarity.) Dare I say it, I haven't been this interested and even surprised by a potential candidate since I first heard Barack Obama speak in low-profile interviews a few years ago. (This is not to say that they are similar in style, because they clearly are not.) Also, and this is completely an afterthought, Bowen would become California's first female governor.
I don't want to forcefully bash any of the other potential Democratic contenders, but let's just briefly consider their strengths and weaknesses. The names I've usually heard for Governor include Diane Feinstein, Gavin Newsom, Jerry Brown, and Antonio Villaraigosa. (We have to consider their strengths and weaknesses for a general election, not just for the primary.)
Diane Feinstein / pros: has high name ID and has vast government experience / cons: would be 77 if she were to take office and has had a mediocre record in the senate of late.
Gavin Newsom / pros: has high name ID, star power, and reasonable experience / cons: has high name ID, is a divisive figure, and is scandal prone.
Jerry Brown / pros: has high name ID and vast government experience. / cons: would be a retread, would be 72 if he were to take office, and opinions of him are likely hardened already.
Antonio Villaraigosa / pros: has some name ID, star power, and reasonable experience. / cons: isn't known state-wide/never elected to state-wide office, scandal prone.