With approval ratings at record lows for Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-dominated Legislature, it would be understandable if Californians started looking outside the two major parties for a savior.
Green Party gubernatorial candidate Laura Wells would like to be that alternative, and the Oakland woman came to Sacramento this week to announce her candidacy while preaching her message of budget reform and higher taxes on wealthy Californians.
Wells is a financial systems manager who lives in the Grand Lake neighborhood of Oakland. Like Republican candidate Meg Whitman, she has no previous elected experience and is emphasizing her outsider status in her campaign. She did run on the Green ticket for state controller in 2002 and 2006.
Unlike Whitman, the former CEO of online auction firm eBay, Wells does not have mega-bucks to spend on her campaign and is making do with a bare-bones team. She toured Sacramento with one press person in tow.
"The two parties, the Democrat and Republican parties, do not address the root causes of the problem," Wells said in a meeting with The Bee. "That's off the table for them. Mum's the word on it. And that is the way the system is structured in order to set up the budget. To get what we want and to have the revenue that pays for it we need to have a budget that makes sense."
For Wells, that means lowering from two-thirds to a simple majority the margin needed to pass a budget and raise taxes. She also supports spending more money on education and implementing a split-roll tax that would keep tax caps on residential property.
So far, even Wells doesn't see a ground swell in support for alternatives to the two major parties, which she says is a result of the "locked-down" system the Democrats and Republicans have put in place. As a case in point, she said she had to pay $6,000 for a 300-word ballot statement when she ran for state controller in 2006, a fee she said blocks minor-party candidates from running.
"The $6,000 that I wrote to the secretary of state ... was nothing to the Democrats and the Republicans when they've got a $40 million, and it's pretty well named, war chest, because it's a war on California. Nothing to them, virtually half my budget."
And how would a Green be any different from a Democrat or Republican?
"We would talk straight to the people of California because we would not be muzzled by for example the health insurance companies or the pharmaceuticals or the Chevrons or the prison unions or the prison contractors," she said.