Say this about Steve Poizner: He’s persistent in pursuit of his dreams. He
has dedicated his life and petty cash of late to playing on California’s
political stage, and he’s gradually worked his way into the mix, bless’m.
He’s the leading Republican candidate for insurance commissioner in 2006 and
Arnold’s recent choice to play Custer in the Prop. 77 redistricting
melodrama. He even outfitted his own pack train last week by giving the 77
campaign $1.25 million.
Both gigs play on the big stage.
Poizner began modestly last fall by running for the Assembly from Silicon
Valley precincts that now and then elect a moderate Republican.
Unfortunately, Steve Poizner was no Tom Campbell. Events proved that he
wasn’t Jim Cunneen, Pete McCloskey, Chuck Quackenbush or Ed Zschau, either,
so he lost an expensive brawl to Democrat Ira Ruskin.
The ridiculous cost of that race was the work of Poizner, who lavished more
than $6 million of his own money on the campaign. Now, you and I might see
$6 million as a fair pile of coin, but Poizner is said to be a billionaire
thanks to smart and timely entrepreneurship during the dot-com craze. For
Poizner, spending $6 million on a hobby is the wallet dent most of us suffer
when we leave extra change on the bar at Simon’s.
Even veteran campaigners were astonished to watch Poizner at work. For
openers, he dropped $500,000 on a primary against Harvey the Invisible
Rabbit. After that uncontested tune-up, he often gave himself $250,000,
occasionally allowing a day or two between checks to recover from writer’s
For a time, Poizner was the single biggest advertiser on Bay Area cable
TV — sort of Bud Lite with a pulse.
The average Joe has no context for this degree of self-indulgence. What do
you compare it to? A spree at The Beat? “And give me that new Bobby Watson
CD, will ya? Here’s another quarter mil. Keep the change.”
After a while, this kind of spending looks a lot like a fever.
But the troubling part of Poizner’s binge wasn’t his wealth; it was his
attitude about the more cosmic notion of money in politics. Midway through
the election season, he began to fuss about Ruskin’s fund raising, grousing
that “plumbers in Fresno” — among others — were propping up the Democratic
campaign. During several interviews with California Journal, Poizner
insisted that it was inappropriate for “outside special interests” to
influence an election in the 21st Assembly District. It was as though
Poizner — mouth stuffed with lobster thermador — was annoyed that his
hollow-eyed opponent begged scraps outside the window of Poizner’s private
The question that he could not or would not answer was how any candidate
short of Gordon Gekko could compete against an opponent with the personal
resources of a Steve Poizner? Ruskin had mortgaged his small home to
jumpstart his primary. Wasn’t he now forced to seek help wherever he could
find it because Poizner had raised the financial bar well beyond the reach
of an ordinary citizen?
Poizner offered a novel response: I have to — but he can’t. He justified this
attitude because Republicans were victims of a gross gerrymander and the
playing field could only be leveled with cash. Hubris intact, he refused to
acknowledge that Ruskin might need help to keep it level.
Poizner seemed blind to one of the great dangers of modern political life:
only well-heeled people can run for office. Under his view, the lesser among
us shouldn’t play if we must rely on support from outside the neighborhood.
I like to believe this is not what Steve Poizner really thinks about
campaign finance. But it is the notion he tried to fob off as a philosophy
during the heat of an Assembly race, admittedly as outside money beat him to
Poizner has declared for statewide office where he’s in a position to wield
his considerable fortune the way Bufford Pusser administered the law in
That’s okay–as long as he doesn’t whine when an opponent borrows a
Louisville Slugger to defend himself.