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Political street theater comes to town

Santa Barbara News-Press, 6/5/10

Santa Barbara News-Press
June 5, 2010

 Santa Barbara received a special visit from Queen Meg on Friday, a comedic performance of a royal pain who claims to be running to be the next governor of California. The farcical impersonation of candidate Meg Whitman was sponsored by the California Nurses Association, who created the guerilla theater at Shoreline Park to illustrate what they claim are Ms. Whitman's unscrupulous defense of business and her attacks on the environment.

Her chariot was a campaign-worthy bus bearing the motto "Queen Meg 2010: Rich Enough To Rule," and promising "Healthcare for the nobility, Education for the few, Prison for all." When Queen Meg descended from the bus at around noon, along with two gentlemen in tuxedos bearing the names "Goldman" and "Sachs" written on sashes around their shoulders, she was enthusiastically greeted by about 20 individuals dressed in nurse scrubs, pearl necklaces and blonde wigs. Her Majesty was warmly received.

The political circus, as orchestrated and entirely funded by CNA, is part of their effort to bring some of Ms. Whitman's policies to light, they said, which some voters might not know about. "It's what we call street heat," said Sherri Stoddard, a registered nurse in San Luis Obispo and member of the board of directors for CNA. "We don't have the kind of money that Meg Whitman has to do commercials. It's a fun way to draw attention and get out the information."

In particular, CNA is worried about the nurse-to-patient ratio, which Ms. Stoddard suspects Ms. Whitman wants to abolish, but their concerns extend to her entire platform. "We see her as pretty much anti-job and anti-working people, and we are certainly that. We're concerned she's going to remove the protections that we've worked for in this state. We're here to protect our patients, we're here to protect our profession."

According to Shum Preston, a coordinator for the event, Ms. Whitman's personal financial resources will guarantee her the nomination of the Republican Party. "Meg is going to be successful in her effort to purchase the Republican nomination, and we think voters deserve all the information," he said. "Our message is, why don't we just have a queen? It seems a lot more modest."

The crowd greeted Queen Meg with signs reading "Drill, Baby, Spill," and began chanting "All hail the queen!" as they moved over to a kiddie pool filled with an assortment of plastic ducks, all drenched in oil. The group is also protesting Ms. Whitman's proposed "gutting" of AB32, which, they said, would reverse several new laws about how to regulate greenhouse gases.

Queen Meg positioned herself over the kiddie pool and decreed, "I am here to denounce environment. It's bad for business! I didn't make $1.9 billion planting trees or anything like that," she said with evident disdain, while looking down at the plastic ducks. "I have no need for ducks. What have ducks ever done for me? Off with their little ducky heads."

The potential massacre was interrupted in the nick of time by Das Williams, a Santa Barbara City Councilman and the Democratic nominee for California's 35th State Assembly District. "It's a little scary when we see candidates denounce the environment, but unfortunately that's what candidates are doing all over the state," he said. "It's not right to pit the economy against the environment. The path forward needs to be green energy, and investing in alternative energy jobs."

Mr. Williams said he came to the rally to deride what he saw as extremist policies. "Their message is let's fire a bunch of people and wreck the environment, and I reject both. It's kind of a joke, but it's too close to the message of the Republican Party. The status quo is ideological warfare."

When asked if his participation in an event like this would be an example of ideological warfare, while mocking someone he might have to work with in Sacramento, Mr. Williams demurred. "I suppose it would be, but it's my hope we would have a candidate that's better for the state of California. I think when people want to scrap the environment and fire 35,000 teachers to balance the budget, they're already invoking ideological warfare."

Sarah Pompei, press secretary for Ms. Whitman's campaign, called the protest the predictable backlash of special interests who are opposed to real change. "The union and other entrenched interests have joined together on behalf of Jerry Brown to oppose Meg, because they know she wants to end the status quo," she said. "They're opposed to her plans to create jobs, quit spending and fix education in this state."

Their attack on Ms. Whitman's opposition to AB32 is also a mischaracterization of her stance, Ms. Pompei said. "Meg has proposed a one-year moratorium on AB32 to analyze its impact on jobs in California. As analyzed by the governor's office, it has the potential to have more jobs leave the state, which Meg is absolutely opposed to. Her goal is to not have another job leave the state." Ms. Pompei added that Meg Whitman created nearly 15,000 jobs while the head of eBay.

Mr. Preston, representative of the nurses union, said the November statehouse election more than any other will see the environment as a top-of-mind issue for California voters -- prompted largely by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I believe Californians will have the environment in their hearts when they pull the lever in November."
The circuitous route to Ms. Whitman stems from, primarily, her call to take a slow approach in implementing AB32, California's law to reduce so-called greenhouse gases, to figure out how it will affect the economy.

"It's our belief voters are in no mood for that," said Mr. Preston.
City Editor Scott Steepleton contributed to this report.

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