That’s the advice Democratic activist Christine Pelosi had for lawmakers and political wannabes Thursday evening at a POLITICO event here previewing the 2012 elections.
“You are being watched,” she said, adding that technology has upended traditional hierarchies and a perceived sense of political predictability. Information, she said, now travels in concentric circles like a beehive.
To the layperson that means politicians and their campaigns must move fast as news breaks and allow staffers to respond to, and by way of, Twitter and Facebook posts.
Pelosi joined Democratic strategist Chris Lehane and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, along with POLITICO’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, in discussing how California politics is changing and what it might mean for the nation.
California is plagued with a broken education system, a broken state government and a spiraling public employee pension system, the speakers said. As is the norm in California’s fractious political environment, they each offered different solutions. Lehane said that California, the largest state electorally in the nation, is a place where people are willing to try out ideas.
But pessimism is clouding California’s famously sunny climate, and it may be a sign that how Americans see themselves is changing, Lehane said. He described the rise of “angry bird voters,” people who “have a sense that the political process is not working. Writ large, there’s a sense that American exceptionalism is fading, that the American dream is not working.”
“You need both parties to be healthy,” said Schmidt, who managed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign in 2006. “The Republican party is an ideological party. What the state needs is a reform party. We have no opposition party in this state. You are on the verge of supermajority. There is no opposition, there’s no alternative to the status quo.”
The California GOP, frequently in the minority in bright-blue California, still wields power at critical moments, Lehane said, but is too beholden to the messages of anti-tax activists like Grover Norquist. “He lives in D.C. yet he exercises more power over the state than the lawmakers who have been elected to solve the problem,” he said.
Schmidt suggested that moderate Republicans may have a better shot when California holds open primaries in 2012. “It may create a vital center in the electorate,” he said. Pelosi countered by saying that, in reality, this means that two Democrats will run against each other, with one seen as more moderate than the other.
Although politicians are being scrutinized more closely than ever as new forms of social media — largely developed in or from capital raised in nearby Silicon Valley — spread campaign news instantly across the Internet, Pelosi had one watchword for those looking to California for an emerging national dynamic: Weed.
“Marijuana is functionally legal in California,” Schmidt said, in reference to the fact that medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, although the state rejected a 2010 ballot measure push for full legalization. “Getting marijuana in California is the same as getting a beer in Utah 10 years ago.”
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