The Race for Controller

Republican veteran Tom McClintock takes on Democratic
newcomer Kathleen Connell

by Mary Beth Barber
Copyright 1994, California Journal

Almost every California taxpayer is vaguely aware of the state
controller, but only because of his or her signature on such things as tax
forms and refunds. Beyond that, little attention is paid to the job by the
population at large. Even less attention is paid to it by voters at election
time, given the plethora of decisions that must be made regarding every
constitutional office, the Legislature and a laundry list of ballot measures.
Nor do statewide offices, with the exception of governor and attorney
general, gain much media coverage.

Thus, obscurity itself poses a problem for the two major-party candidates
running this year for controller -- Republican Tom McClintock, a former
assemblyman from Thousand Oaks; and Democrat Kathleen Connell, a political
newcomer with extensive experience in the corporate business world. Incumbent
Democrat Gray Davis is vacating the job to run for lieutenant governor (see
story, page 22).

McClintock and Connell each emerged from a primary where they faced
significant opposition. Connell took on two experience politicians --
Assemblyman Rusty Areias of San Jose and Alameda County Supervisor Don
Perata. She won impressively, capturing 49 percent of the vote. Despite her
opponents' political experience, Connell ran the most adroit campaign,
centered around polished television and radio advertisements that focused on
her success as a businesswoman and preyed on voters' dislike of incumbent
politicians. She spent a mint on her primary campaign -- about $1.5 million
-- much of it from her own pocket. Areias actually outspent her, but his
last-second infusions of cash proved to be too little, too late.

The Republican primary, on the other hand, contrasted vividly with the
Democratic fray. It was the old hand -- McClintock -- who emerged victorious
over the independently wealthy political neophyte, John Morris, heir to the
Mervyn's retailing fortune. McClintock, a staunch conservative with views
approaching libertarianism, gained more than 60 percent of the GOP vote. Like
Connell, Morris spent plenty of his own cash; about $800,000. In the end,
Morris' money wasn't worth nearly as much as McClintock's ballot designation
-- "taxpayer advocate." Since leaving the Legislature to make an abortive run
for Congress in 1992, McClintock has headed up the conservative Center for
the California Taxpayer.

In the general election, the two candidates face the singular problem
that will plague every candidate not running for governor, U.S. senator or
attorney general -- getting heard above the election din. That will take
money, of course, probably on direct mail and perhaps some last-minute
television blitzes -- provided either candidate can find air time that is not
wrapped around the Home Shopping Network or cable re-runs of "Gilligan's

Meanwhile, the candidates themselves present vastly different pictures to
the public. The 38-year-old McClintock was first elected to the Assembly at
age 26 and quickly became known as a conservative gadfly willing to tangle
with governors from his own party and with fellow lawmakers regardless of
party. He constantly predicted doomsday budget problems and criticized
administrations and the Legislature for what he called "waste in government."
Few state departments were spared his wrath; McClintock even alienated
typical GOP supporters like law-enforcement and prison-guard unions by
suggesting they were overpaid. While some of his free-market ideas such as
privatizing street lights are still pshawed as the ranting from the hard
right, many of McClintock's dire budget predictions came home to roost in the
1990s. None of this hurt McClintock in his Southern California district, nor
with conservative Republicans who rally around his anti-government battle
cry. Some conservatives even touted McClintock as a potential gubernatorial
rival to Governor Pete Wilson in 1994, but he decided to run for controller

While McClintock is a familiar face in Sacramento, Connell, 47, is a
relative newcomer. She has had some experience in local government after
having served as Los Angeles' housing director under then-Mayor Tom Bradley
from 1977 to 1983. Most of her experience is in the private sector and in
academia. She was known on Wall Street as former head of financial services
for Chemical Bank and as the chief of a Southern California financial
consulting firm. Academics know her as a founding member of the Center for
Finance and Real Estate in the business graduate program at UCLA.

Californians, however, got to know her as the woman in pre-primary
television commercials. Those commercials, dropped into the primary race with
about a month to go, were slick, positive and informative, and contrasted
markedly with the tough-talking self-promotional ads pumped out by the Perata
campaign. Connell's media campaign -- produced by the consulting firm of
Grunwald, Eskew and Donilion, which worked for President Bill Clinton in 1992
-- provided her with much needed momentum heading into early June. Her
campaign team also included issues and policy director Fred Register, a
consultant who's worked for former Democratic Attorney General John Van de
Kamp. Connell, who is married to a successful Simi Valley real estate
developer, holds a doctorate from UCLA.

As for the fall campaign, both Connell and McClintock have indicated that
in addition to publicizing the positive about themselves, they will let
voters know some negatives about their opponents. McClintock, for example,
may be accused of being a career politician who never got any of his ideas
past the Legislature and was disliked by his own party. Connell, on the
other hand, could be lambasted for having her initial campaign money come
from her own pocketbook, and accused of having the Los Angeles housing
commission receive some negative publicity during her tenure.

Both candidates indicate that the mud their opponents might hurl is
actually an advantage. McClintock, for instance, plans to portray
himself as an outsider willing to "speak up against waste," even against
his own party. Connell, who says the money she poured in from her own
account was a loan that will be repaid, can mention that as someone
willing to bankroll herself, she's not beholden to special interests for
campaign cash.

"Connell on television and on paper looks like a great controller, and
she's a woman," said pollster Alex Evans, who worked for Perata during the
primary. Evans believes that women especially will support Connell in large
numbers. Women's groups like NOW and EMILY's List, a Washington, D.C., PAC
dedicated to electing Democratic women to office, have voiced support for
her, as have a number of state employees' unions who dislike McClintock's
anti-government reputation. And Connell will get support from the Democratic
Party, he said, even if she is a newcomer. "She's potentially a star," said

Republicans, on the other hand, think that other factors give the
advantage to their candidate; namely, low-voter turnout, ballot measures that
appeal to conservative voters and a heated battle expected between Wilson and
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown. The "Save Our State"
initiative that would limit medical coverage and education to undocumented
immigrants and their children, as well as the "Three Strikes" crime
initiative, will likely bring out conservative voters, said consultant Wayne
Johnson, who's running McClintock's media campaign and has been highly
successful with other conservative Republicans. "I suspect SOS will be a
disaster for Democrats," he said.

Johnson agrees with Evans that the controller's race won't gain much
attention. But the two other high-profile women on the ticket, Brown and
incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein, will affect Connell on the ticket, he
believes. "There is a major gender gap going on in the Democratic Party with
the alienation of Democratic males," he said. "It's not an issue, it's a

Evans agrees that the Republican ticket as a whole is a lot stronger than
it has been in past years, but the idea that Connell will lose because of
alienation of Democratic men is bunk, he said. "That has always been the
case," said Evans of the theory that moderate, inland men don't often vote
for women. "The key is to get the moderate Republican women on the coast --
and she's got them."

While political consultants may be spouting theories about who will
become the state's check-writer, no one has any hard evidence either way.
Pollsters have concentrated on other races, the media have focused on the
races for governor and the U.S. Senate, and both candidates are just
beginning their drive toward November 8th. Commercials for most statewide
races won't appear until after Labor Day, said Johnson. And neither campaign
has any idea exactly how much money it will spend, just that the fund raising
has been looking up since the primary. Estimates are close to $2 million


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