Westly best choice for Democrats

With up to one-third of voters still undecided on the Democratic battle for governor in the final days of the primary campaign, it would be easy to conclude that there is little to separate the contenders, Steve Westly and Phil Angelides.

But California’s registered Democrats actually have a straightforward choice on Tuesday. Do they want a traditional partisan like Treasurer Phil Angelides, who proposes big tax increases and seems unable to see beyond divisive Sacramento politics? Or are they willing to make changes and move toward the center with Controller Steve Westly, a sensible moderate who has a better chance to win against Gov. Schwarzenegger in the November general election?

State voters have repeatedly sent loud-and-clear messages that they are tired of the unproductive political bashing that has for years passed for leadership in Sacramento. One of the reasons Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected was because he offered the promise of transcending traditional labels and bitter infighting.

For the Democrats to have a chance against Schwarzenegger, they’ll need a candidate who promises more than gridlock and finger-pointing.

Angelides, in addition to proposing at least $5 billion in tax increases that would reverse the prudent fiscal course set by Schwarzenegger, aired television ads attacking Westly for working with Schwarzenegger on issues in 2004. Clearly meant to appeal to Angelides’ hard-core Democratic base, the ads reveal an outdated mentality at odds with what most Californians value. State residents want their elected officials, no matter what party, to work together on the issues everyone cares about — schools, roads, public safety, the economy and health care.

We laud Westly for putting aside his differences with the governor to work for common solutions. That Angelides finds fault with that should tell voters something.

Westly also has a better feel for the standards our elected officials should adhere to. He decided to return up to $92,000 in campaign contributions from a San Diego attorney who once worked at Milberg Weiss, the embattled law firm whose top partners were recently indicted in a massive fraud case involving an alleged long pattern of kickbacks for plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits. Angelides’ first reaction to the news, meanwhile, was to say he had no plans to return more than $200,000 he had received from the same attorney and his former partners.

California is beginning to rebound from years of damaging fiscal policies and a culture of political warfare in Sacramento that led to a failure to address real problems. Phil Angelides offers a return to those days. Steve Westly’s common-sense approach, ability to work toward consensus and sensible fiscal outlook make him a solid choice for Democrats.

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