Republicans on the Rebound? 

California GOP leaders are buoyed by Obama's shrinking poll numbers and the controversy over health care. But they lack strong political candidates.

California GOP leaders apparently think they have a shot at winning a statewide election next year. Republicans are particularly excited about the prospects of wealthy candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, who are running for governor, and Carly Fiorina, who is preparing a campaign for the US Senate. They're buoyed by predictions of large Republican gains nationwide in next year's elections because of President Obama's allegedly shrinking poll numbers and the opposition to health-care reform. But are the pundits and Republicans right? Is California about to embrace the party of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and gun-toting Tea Baggers? It's possible, but it doesn't appear likely.

First, Obama's national approval ratings have rebounded since August and are about what they were prior to last November when Democrats swept the election. According to Pollster.com, Obama's average favorability rating on the eve of last year's election was 56.5 percent, and earlier this week, it was 54.7 percent — a difference of just 1.8 percent. Second, nationwide support for Obama's handling of health-care reform has also has shot up and is now about even with the opposition to it, according to Public Policy Polling. And third, state Republicans have a major problem — their candidates are weak.

Take Meg Whitman. During the GOP's three-day state convention last weekend, the former eBay CEO was unable to shake off questions about her dismal voting record, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And Fiorina, the ex-Hewlett Packard CEO, has the same problem of not voting during much of her adult life. As for Poizner, the charisma-challenged insurance commissioner, he hardly strikes fear in the hearts of Democrats. And while the third GOP gubernatorial hopeful, Tom Campbell, is a moderate who might have a shot in the general election, he's probably not conservative enough for the right-wing base, and will have trouble making it out of the primary.

Governor Guts State Parks

Arnold Schwarzenegger decided last week that it made more political sense to gut state parks than close them, realizing that shuttering more than 100 parks threatened to destroy his legacy as a green governor. Schwarzenegger slashed $14.2 million from the state parks budget by closing some campgrounds and facilities on weekdays, eliminating unfilled positions, and cutting maintenance, including bathroom cleaning, according to the Chronicle. In other words, the parks are about to get whole lot dirtier after years of budget cuts left them with $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance costs. Plus, the new cuts mean there may not be enough people to actually operate the parks. "He's functionally closing parks but trying not to face the heat of closing parks," state Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael told the Chron.

Air Board Approves Carbon Tax

The California Air Resources Board took the historic step of levying new state fees on companies that produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. The carbon tax will raise about $63 million next year for monitoring and regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the Chron. The fees likely will be passed onto consumers. As a result, the tax means that California will put a cost on the potentially devastating effects of burning natural gas and coal, while encouraging consumers to use less energy.

The board's decision followed a new UN report that said climate change is occuring much faster than previously thought. The report predicts global temperatures will jump by at least 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the Washington Post. The prediction, which would mean a six-foot rise in sea levels by 2100, is a best-case scenario.

Perata and Pot

Ex-State Senator Don Perata, who is running for mayor of Oakland, surprisingly endorsed a pot legalization measure that supporters hope to put on next year's statewide ballot. The Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative is sponsored by the founder of Oaksterdam University, a marijuana education facility in Oakland's Uptown district, and would let adults possess up to one ounce of pot while allowing the state to finally begin taxing cannabis proceeds. And though Perata failed to show up for the initiative's kickoff event last Friday, his endorsement was a shrewd political move because the legalization measure likely will be popular with progressive Oakland voters.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Berkeley City Council unanimously rejected an appeal filed by neighbors of the wildly popular Sunday Brunch at the Thai Temple. The decision clears the way for visitors to enjoy Pad Thai and mango sticky rice in the company of at least 200 of their fellow diners every Sunday. ... About 6,000 protesters descended on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza last week to demonstrate against the regents' plan to raise student fees by 32 percent over the next year. ... California Community Colleges, already staggered by a massive budget deficit, will receive $90 million less than expected from Obama's stimulus package because of a quirk in how the funds are allocated. ... The Alameda Chamber of Commerce decided to officially oppose a ballot initiative that would pave the way for a massive housing development on the former Naval Air Station. .... Oakland Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente told the Chronicle that he will vote to roll back parking meter hours. De La Fuente was absent from last week's council meeting when his colleagues fell one vote shy in their attempt to change meter hours back to 6 p.m. ... A federal appeals court may overturn Alameda County's gun ban on public property.

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