Vote 02: The Tree-hugging Republican
Bruce McPherson takes a run at the Lieutenant Governor's job from a position just right of center.
Thursday, October 3, 2002
Sen. Bruce McPherson is being held up by a table of cops in a Salinas Starbucks. He''s talking anti-terrorism training with them--the very peace officers who will benefit from a bill that he authored and Gov. Gray Davis recently signed into law.
McPherson''s legislation will create statewide terrorism-response training for California''s 220,000 police officers, firefighters and paramedics. He expects the federal government to allot $3.5 billion nationwide for such training, and estimates California could get upwards of $300 million.
Later in the afternoon, McPherson will present an award and a Senate resolution to a Salinas teacher before jetting off to a fundraiser at former L.A mayor Dick Riordan''s home. It''s all in a day''s work for the man who wants to be California''s next lieutenant governor.
McPherson faces an uphill battle, campaigning against a Democratic incumbent (Cruz Bustamante) who''s running on the coat-tails of a Democratic governor in a Democratic-dominated state.
But some political junkies say the Central Coast''s Senator is the type of Republican who can win California.
McPherson is pro-choice and he is friendly with enviros. He prioritizes public education and coastal protection. He takes a tough stance on gun control, and he plays well with his Democratic colleagues in Sacramento. And he''s got juice: he''s the only GOPer on both the Senate Appropriations and Budget Committees.
After 9-11, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton appointed McPherson to chair a Senate committee on terrorism.
"When I went to Washington and met with [Homeland Security Director] Tom Ridge, he asked me two things: ''How well are your first responders trained?'' and ''Can they talk to one another?'' So that''s when I introduced SB 1350 on terrorism."
McPherson showed the six-page proposal to Ridge in March. California was the first state to carry an anti-terrorism training plan.
"He said it was the best proposal he''d seen," McPherson says.
McPherson has also worked on more prosaic local issues. He has helped reduce class size in California, provide more money for textbooks and pass two state school bonds. If elected lieutenant governor, McPherson says he''ll work to make it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to California universities.
He cast the deciding vote to prohibit drilling for oil off the California coastline, and a $2.1 billion housing bond that will be on the Nov. ballot. In both instances, he was the only Republican to vote with the Democrats. He also secured $2.1 million to help fight pitch canker, a deadly tree fungus killing Monterey Pines up and down the coast.
"Working with Democrats is a reality in this district, and in this state," McPherson says. "When I was elected to the Assembly in ''93, my colleagues in my caucus were ecstatic that a Republican could win an Assembly seat. One of the first things I did was make it clear to my colleagues that this is who I am. This is what I ran on. A couple of things that aren''t very Republican in the minds of many: not giving up on our public education system. Believing we need to protect our precious natural resources. Being pro-choice. The gun-control issue--and it''s not just because of my personal situation right now--you can go back and read editorials I wrote from 10 years back [as editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel]. It''s who I was, who I am, and who I am going to be."
In a race for what''s generally considered to be a relatively low-key job, things got hot in September, when McPherson''s campaign blasted Bustamante''s record.
As lieutenant governor, Bustamante sits on both the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California Board of Regents. He''s also chair of the state''s economic development commission. McPherson said Bustamante attended only one CSU meeting and five of 35 UC meetings during his four years in office.
"And in four years, I don''t think he''s been seen in an economic development meeting four times.
In attacking Bustamante, McPherson shows his Republican stripes.
"This administration has overseen a terrible economic policy in the state, going from a $12 billion surplus to a $24 billion deficit," McPherson says. "Cruz Bustamante didn''t say one word when Gray Davis was implementing everything that would take us downhill."
Bustamante''s campaign fired back, calling McPherson the "invisible senator," saying McPherson had not voted on more than 500 bills during the last legislative session.
Some pundits say a Republican lieutenant governor would serve as an effec- tive foil to an unpopular, but soon-to-be reelected Democratic Governor. Voters have done it before--electing Republican Mike Curb alongside Gov. Jerry Brown in 1978. And in ''94, voters elected Davis to keep Gov. Pete Wilson in check.
So while Davis leaves the state to pander for money, McPherson will have the authority to act as governor--free to sign and veto bills, issue executive orders and pardons, and make appointments.
"It''s not going to be one day in, and I''ll start issuing executive orders," McPherson says. "But should I be elected, and he heads off to Iowa and New Hampshire to test the waters for presidency, then I will be the governor of California, and I will be ready to take over as the governor of California."
Vote 02: Independent Lieutenant
In a phone interview with the Weekly, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante paints himself as a ruggedly independent Democrat who''s not afraid to pick a fight with Gov. Gray Davis. And despite charges emanating from Bruce McPherson''s campaign, Bustamante says he''s earned an A-plus for the job he''s done as lieutenant governor--fighting for good schools, good jobs and a clean environment.
He calls McPherson''s enviro-friendly stance a "sham."
"If you compare him to Republicans, he''s done a pretty good job," Bustamante says. "If you compare him against anybody else, he''s basically taken a walk on the environment."
He accuses McPherson of not voting on bills that would improve air quality, reduce motor vehicle emissions and allowed oil companies to abandon old equipment on the ocean floor--"some of California''s most important issues," he says.
Bustamante says he worked with coastal groups to defeat the oil companies debris bill. He also worked to close a loophole that drove up the cost of coastal land being acquired for preservation.
"When you compare him to the other Republicans, you can see a difference between him and some of the really hard-core right wing extremists," Bustamante says. "But when you compare him to a progressive Democrat, he does not compete.
"I know that [McPherson] has touted his relationship with Fred Keeley," Bustamante continues. "Keeley endorsed me, not him. I''m the one that got the Coastal Hero Award. The Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood--they didn''t endorse him. Maybe Bruce McPherson is a nice man who just doesn''t like to offend anybody. I think they''re looking for somebody who''s independent.
"I can honestly say my relationship with the governor is as good as anybody else''s in Sacramento. [But] I''m independent. There are some people who have said ''Bruce McPherson has been asked to come to bill signings by the governor. Don''t you see that as a Democratic governor being disloyal?'' I see that as my independence. I''m not anybody''s person. I work on behalf of the people who put me in office."