Cal Budget 2011, pt 3: Governor Brown offers to let his dog Sutter debate Grover Norquist on budget.




This question of what kind of state California is going to be, whether democracy will be allowed here, if the citizens will even get to CHOOSE whether or not they want to keep paying a tiny bit more in order to avoid an all-cuts budget that will decimate the services we all depend on, is a serious question.  And Governor Brown has offered to debate the issue with ANY CALIFORNIAN REPUBLICAN, anywhere they want to do it.

Evidently ALL the Republican legislators in the state are either painfully aware of how mentally unequipped they are to debate Governor Moonbeam, or even more painfully aware of the fact that their position is morally and fiscally indefensible.  SO, they reached all the way across the nation – all they had to do was yank on their own puppet strings – and called forth their Gepetto from DC – Grover Norquist would debate Jerry Brown at this weekend’s Republican Convention!

And Brown reacted very appropriately to this offer – the offer of an out-of-state anti-tax lobbyist to explain to us Californians why we should forgo a good educational system, good roads, all the rest:  the Governor delegated the task of debating Norquist to his dog Sutter, who is after all, as George Skelton vouches, a “well-mannered Pembroke Welsh corgi.”

Previously in this series:
1. Our big decision:  What kind of state will we be?
The GOP’s Anti-Democracy Caucus, vs. a Few Republican Grownups.

I know I’ve been promising everybody under the sun that I would go after Fleischman, but I think the very real prospect of this Sutter-Grover debate is a game-changer, and I would like to think out the possibilities here.  No disrespect toward the worthy Sutter, but I’m just not used to leaving such a weighty matter up to a dog.  So I would like to help coach him on what Grover’s likely to say, and how he might want to respond.   (Perhaps I shall come to regret my apprehension, and learn to trust more in the canine intellect.)  So, Sutter, here are my humble suggestions:


Not yet knowing the moderator, ground rules, or exact questions, I would still advise you, Sutter, as early in the proceedings as possible, to work in Norquist’s most notorious remark, something like this: “Of course, Mr. Norquist WOULD feel this way, since he once famously expressed a desire to ‘shrink government down to the size where he can drown it in his bathtub.’ Now, Mr. Norquist, I feel I speak for the vast majority of my fellow Californians when I say I don’t want our great state’s government drowned in your bathtub.”

Grover will probably respond that that was intended as humorous, provocative hyperbole.  That’s okay.  It’s memorable, and it’s only a slight exaggeration of what California would look like under the ALL-CUTS BUDGET he and his puppets want to stick us with.  When Grover tries to downplay the horrificness of that budget, I would advise you to give a long, deep, growl,  away from the mike, just loud enough to make Grover nervous without the audience being able to catch it.  And bring up the bathtub at least two more times.

We can predict many of Norquist’s lines from what he and his hapless, goofy-ass California surrogate Jon Fleischman have written recently.  One thing he’ll be sure to bring up when asked why Californians shouldn’t at least be allowed to vote on this question, is that “Californians have already voted on taxes more than once, and they have always rejected them.”

Sutter, you should respond, after a quick impatient yelp, “First of all, what if they did?  Times change, 2011 is not 2009.  Second of all, as my friend Dan Walters has pointed out, the length of the income, sales and car tax increases wasn’t on the ballot in 2009; that election hinged largely on other issues.”

Around here, I can safely predict from watching other Norquist performances, Grover will try to interrupt you even though your time is not up.  Stand your ground, get up on your hind legs if you have to, and bark:  “Grover, Grover, GRRRRRover.  Let me finish!  Why are you folks so afraid of letting the people vote?  What do you have against democracy??  Why are you so sure you’ll lose???”

At this point, pull out last week’s Field Poll from … well, okay, just memorize it.  “61% of voters want to be able to vote on this issue, and 56% of Republicans want to!”  Look at the audience of Republican pols here.  “That’ 56% percent of YOUR CONSTITUENTS, ladies and gentlemen.  They want to be able to vote on this, and most say they’ll vote no. But they believe in democratic principles and resent being treated like children by you, Grover, you and the ghost of Howard Jarvis.  Does the Grand Old Party want to go to its grave denying its members the right to vote??”  End that last part on a sort of howl.

Control the direction of the debate, Sutter.  Good boy.

Whenever Norquist brings up the issue of taxes, how over-taxed Californians are, how lowering taxes even more on the mythical “job-creators” will result magically in economic recovery and flying ponies, steer the debate back to democracy and self-determination.  It will be sorely tempting to argue back with real facts and statistics about the economy (which I’m sure you have at your paw-tips) and we will need at least once to remind the audience exactly how grim the All-Cuts scenario would be, but that debate can wait until the measure is on the ballot.  We need to get it on there first, and Grover’s job is preventing a vote.

Try something along these lines, I’m just spitballing here:  “In my short life, counting my seven years as ‘dog years,’ I have witnessed the immensely moving spectacle of both blacks and women getting the vote. [Just plough through this, Republicans are bad at math and history.] There is nothing like being disenfranchised to make one realize the preciousness of being part of the democratic process.  If, within my lifetime, God willing, [allow tears to come to your eyes here] dogs are given the right to vote [take an emotional pause] I can tell you, looking back on this debate, we will remember which Party fosters democracy and which one stifles it.” [Should applause break out here, nod modestly and paw the floor in appreciation.]

Another clever rhetorical move you can make:

Grover is bound to bitch that a referendum this summer on a tax extension will not be a fair fight, because the dreaded UNIONS will swamp the airwaves with a multimillion dollar campaign in favor, and poor conservatives will have no chance to make their case against that.   What he won’t be expecting is your comeback:

You should say that the Republicans shouldn’t be worried so much about Unions, who are going to be busy nursing their wounds already sustained in the Brown budget, as well as possible pension reform – what they should be worried about the fact that they’re losing the business community over this issue.  Turn again to the audience of Republican politicians and remind them that Fleischman and Norquist’s biggest nightmare has come true:  the California Chamber of Commerce, and several other influential, traditionally GOP-supporting business organizations have come out in favor of the Governor’s tax extension and have been pressuring Republicans to come to an agreement.

With your biggest sad dog eyes, and a tremulous whimper in your voice, ask the assembled pols:  What is to become of the Grand Old Party if and when they lose their most dependable supporters – the business community – just from following “ideologues like my good friend Grover here” into irrelevance?  Then, suddenly wagging your tail optimistically, express your confidence that “cooler heads in this room will prevail, democracy will win out, and this august Party of Lincoln will again see many years and decades of glory.  Even here in California!”  (Just say that, even if you don’t believe it.)

Sutter, we’re all counting on you, and we know you can pull it off!  You know how they say every dog has its day?  If you follow the advice in this post, yours will be the day you debate, and vanquish, the dreaded fiscal terrorist Grover Norquist!

First question:

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Second question:

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About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.