You have to love it when conventional wisdom is badly mistaken.
When insiders guess wrong, politics can go askew. A politician elected without establishment backing can turn out to have an independent streak. No telling what might happen then.
Example: Jeff Stone, Republican.
Stone is a former Riverside County supervisor who won a state Senate seat in November by defeating Republican Bonnie Garcia, the former assemblywoman who was the darling of her party and the lobbying corps.
So what did Stone do as one of his first acts? He signed on as a co-author of a bill that goes against Republican orthodoxy, one that surely will be fought by one of the California Republican Party’s few remaining patrons, the tobacco industry. One carried by San Francisco lib Sen. Mark Leno, no less.
The bill, SB 140, would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces such as bars and restaurants. Philip Morris and its crew won’t be able to count on lockstep Republican opposition to the restrictions, unlike in past years.
Stone has a boyhood memory of driving with his mother, Charlene, in 1965, and hearing a radio news bulletin that the great singer Nat King Cole had died of lung cancer.
“I will never forget it. I told her he died of lung cancer because he smoked. You need to quit,” Stone said.
His mother did quit, at age 42, but died of cancer at age 57, 20 years ago. The autopsy showed the disease originated in her lungs before spreading to her breasts and liver.
“My mom was truly addicted,” Stone said. “I never saw anyone puff on a cigarette so hard.”
Stone, a pharmacist by profession, talks about “cancer sticks,” the addictive nature of nicotine and the huge sums of money the state and counties spend caring for people who become stricken by tobacco-related disease.
He sees ads depicting fun-loving and glamorous people using battery-operated nicotine delivery devices and worries that a whole new generation will become hooked and start smoking.
Stone intends to argue that Republicans ought take the side of public health on the question of electronic cigarettes. It will be a tough sell.
The California Democratic Party vastly outraises the California Republican Party. But Republicans suck up far more tobacco money than Democrats. By my count, Republican candidates and the California GOP took $1.65 million from the two main tobacco companies, Philip Morris and Reynolds American, in the 2013-14 election cycle. Democrats received $387,000.
No fewer than 32 Republican legislators took tobacco donations in the last election campaign; 17 Democratic incumbents did, too. Stone was not among them, and never will be.
“I wanted to make a statement,” he said. “They weren’t even going to be able to come through the door and try to persuade me their products are safe.”
Stone’s talk of persuading fellow Republicans is complicated because he doesn’t have natural allies. At least 16 current and former Republican legislators donated to Garcia’s campaign, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff included.
Garcia got money from all the insiders, including pharmaceutical manufacturers, the California Medical Association, the California Hospital Association, health insurance companies Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross.
Drugmakers, doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies make up the health care industry and presumably oppose cancer. But in Garcia, they found common ground with tobacco companies. Philip Morris and Reynolds American donated to Garcia’s campaign, too. Such are the ways of Sacramento.
Republican mega-donor Charles T. Munger Jr. is trying to turn the party more moderate and elect Latinos, laudable goals. But he wasted $485,000 on an independent campaign to defeat Stone and elect Garcia. You have to wonder who gives him advice.
A political action committee called Building and Protecting a Strong California, which is funded by unions representing prison guards, firefighters, the building trades, retail clerks and, oddly, the Realtors, spent $270,000 to return Garcia to Sacramento. They knew how she’d vote, based on how she voted when she was in the Assembly from 2002 to 2008. Stone would be unpredictable.
FairPAC, a tobacco- and business-funded political action committee that seeks fairness insofar as fairness means limiting the right to sue its funders, spent $240,000 to keep Stone out of Sacramento.
Two other tobacco industry-funded committees, Alliance to Get California Working and California Senior Advocates League, spent $50,000 to block Stone’s election. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but the alliance is not allied in the cause of getting Californians working. Nor does the advocates league advocate for seniors.
An amalgam of political action committees funded by such interests as dentists, credit unions, real estate interests and charter school advocates gave more than $200,000 to keep Stone down in Temecula. One of the California Chamber of Commerce’s campaign committees spent $20,000 to elect Garcia; it, too receives tobacco money.
To the unpracticed eye, prison guards, doctors, tobacco companies, the chamber, Realtors and the rest would have little in common. To the contrary. They all understand a fundamental truth: Lobbying starts in the campaign.
That sage and shrewd liquor, gambling and tobacco lobbyist of yore, Artie Samish, discovered that concept in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Identify the right candidate, elect that person, and a lobbyist’s job is all but done. Select and elect, as Samish would say. Smart lobbyists do the same today.
You’d better guess right, however. Or else some mother’s son like Jeff Stone might get elected and start acting screwy by taking a stand against his party and the tobacco industry’s latest method of hooking kids on nicotine.
Follow Dan Morain on Twitter @danielmorain.