Sarah Palin stirs up California

Sarah Palin speaking at a rally in Elon, NC du...
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Sarah Palin flew in for a much-ballyhooed speech Friday night, at a price still undisclosed — and which may never be known. Therein lies the rub. It also, as Palin is inclined to do, decidedly pumps up the politics.

Palin was invited some time ago to speak at  a fundraising event for the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation‘s 50th anniversary celebration. How much she was paid — the event raised $200,000 for the school’s endowment — became a subject of much controversy and high political drama. Eventually it invoked an investigation by State Attorney General Jerry Brown, now facing off for Governor against gazillionaire former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, into whether public disclosure laws are being broken by the university’s refusal to say what she got paid. Along the way, sides are being drawn by incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, whose opponent former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina rather famously criticized Boxer’s hairdo a little while ago and said more recently she is honored by Palin’s endorsement; and by Democrats in general who see the Palin Effect as fine ammunition to aim at state Republicans.

In other words, as San Francisco Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci commented in today’s update, “They don’t call Sarah Palin the Thrilla from Wasilla for nothing.

After months of buildup, including investigations, outrage and celebration, the former Alaska governor’s trip to California’s farm belt over the weekend proved beyond a doubt that she delivers – for Republicans and Democrats.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown probably will be grateful that he was the focus of the 2008 vice presidential candidate’s barbed criticism as he investigates her compensation from the Cal State University Stanislaus Foundation for her speech Friday night at the nonprofit’s 50th anniversary event at the Turlock (Stanislaus County) campus.

Brown’s office is looking at whether the campus foundation violated state public disclosure laws by refusing to make public the terms of Palin’s contract for her appearance.

In her speech, Palin quipped of Brown: “This is California. Do you really not have anything better to do?”

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s response: “I don’t think she understands the process. It’s about the operation of the foundation to see if they handled things professionally.”

The Palin Effect played well in Republican primaries, but may not be quite so welcome as candidates now seek to broaden their appeal.  All of which makes watching the political high-wire balancing act, though sometimes tiresome, never dull.

Boxer’s campaign manager, Rose Kapolczynski, called Palin and Fiorina “two peas in a pod” and released a Web video aiming to remind voters that the Republicans’ “shared positions are out of step with Californians.”

On the GOP side, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Fiorina said that while she couldn’t meet with Palin on this trip, she was “honored” to be endorsed by Palin, who characterized Fiorina as a “commonsense conservative.”

“It’s the question of how she will play to the political middle. Will she take away votes?” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

He said that a close connection with Palin may be a concern for candidates like Fiorina, in part because Palin manages to stir it up, no matter what her forum.

“If you think people are tired and worn down by politics, Sarah comes into town and the circus follows, and the arguments break out,” he said. “Wherever she goes, there’s a dustup. … It gets everyone angry and yelling, and it stirs up divisiveness.”

It’s going to be a long, hot summer in California.

Palin’s Stanislaus visit shows political power.

One campaign, $68 million and counting

SUNNYVALE, CA - APRIL 27:  Former eBay CEO and...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

California gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman made a bundle as head of eBay. Where she spends it, her supporters say, is a matter of personal choice. She is currently choosing to spend it on buying her way into the governor’s office. Recent reports list her total costs closing in on $70 million — no big deal, since she has been quoted as saying $100 million on this phase wouldn’t pose any problem. This phase is still just the June primary.

Whitman has spent $68 million of her own money on the race so far, the Los Angeles Times reports. Whitman blasted the California airwaves with ads in March, according to the LA Times, but (opponent Steve) Poizner eventually made his own investments and gained traction with damaging attacks against Whitman’s stance on illegal immigration (he called her too soft on the issue). As a billionaire former business executive, Whitman was also hurt by the focus put on her ties to Goldman Sachs.

This space isn’t going to get into political endorsements or heavy-duty oppositions. And in any event, as a registered Democrat married to a confirmed Decline-to-state, votes from here are unlikely to affect the California Republican nomination.

But at what point does the investment of personal wealth throw up red flags about one’s motivations? Is wanting political office any different from wanting a Rolex watch or a ranch in Montana? When someone has no legislative experience, no known stands, no voting record (Whitman never bothered with voting much), how are we supposed to know what’s really driving the reach for power? Ross Perot spent about the same amount of his own money on his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Presidency in 1992 as Whitman has thus far on a gubernatorial primary race. Perot dropped a little less on a similar adventure in 1996. He did have somewhat of a record of his convictions, and he was defended both times with arguments that it is a personal right to do whatever one wants with one’s personal wealth.

That is undoubtedly so. It’s a personal right. Why does it somehow feel wrong?