Calbuzz Take on the Governor's Race One Year Out

07/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One year from today, Democratic and Republican primary election voters will choose their candidates for governor of California.

Seldom in California's history has there been an election with stakes as high for the people of the state. A global recession, felt more acutely here than elsewhere in the nation, has crippled families and tax revenues alike, exposing for all to see the economic and political decay at the core of state government.

With about eight in 10 voters saying California is on the wrong track, the battered economy and political gridlock in Sacramento have combined to create a dark and turbulent atmosphere. Candidates who seek to lead the Golden State will be facing angry, frustrated, pitchfork-wielding voters.

The political unrest and budget meltdowns of recent years, among other things, have triggered a wave of reform efforts aimed at the Capitol unprecedented since the beginning of the last century.

Calls for a constitutional convention, demands for sweeping changes in taxation and the basic structure of government, plus efforts to pass initiatives that change the mechanics of governance all will roil the waters in 2010. That's not to mention continuing fallout from the Proposition 8 gay marriage battle, conflicts over the embattled public schools and institutions of higher education, or concerns about California's failing water and infrastructure systems.

Amid this treacherous landscape, candidates will face widespread skepticism about whether California is governable at all, and whether or not it really matters who is elected to succeed the failed Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At Calbuzz, we think it does matter: Governors put people in charge of huge agencies and departments and small bureaucracies, they appoint judges, manage relations with trading partners and neighbors, shape the budget and the legislative agenda, wield the blue pencil, rally the people and set the tone for civic discourse.

But if voters are unhappy with the trajectory of the state and demand "change," what will that mean next year in California? In 2008, Barack Obama personified change -- a radical shift from all things Bush-Cheney: easy to identify, easy to encapsulate.

But in 2010, in California, will change mean competence and common sense? Reform and realignment? Private sector values and principles? Will it mean a change in party or a generational shift or both? After Arnold, can another rich Republican outsider stand for change? Can a septuagenarian lifelong pol challenge the status quo?

We've been watching the candidates closely since launching Calbuzz a few months ago and offer this year-out scorecard as a handicappers' guide to the meta-messages they're pitching.

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