Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dao of Strategic Decision-Making

Making political decisions at the level of a state official is always difficult.

The following story was sent by an associate.

ACORN puts Jerry Brown in a political pickle

Monday, November 16, 2009

Attorney General Jerry Brown, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year, faces political blowback no matter how he rules on the undercover videotaping by conservative filmmakers at offices of the community group ACORN in Southern California.

Brown is investigating the filmmakers, who posed as a prostitute and a pimp, for possible violations of state privacy laws. He is also investigating the group for what is shown in the video: an employee of ACORN apparently advising the filmmakers how to smuggle Mexican girls across the border to work as prostitutes.

After the tapes were released, House Republicans used a series of similar videos to pass a resolution to cut all federal funding for ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. The group sued the federal government Friday to restore funding, claiming Congress punitively targeted an individual organization.

Political quicksand

Brown, the state's top law enforcement official, is stepping into that political quicksand in California.

If he charges the filmmakers, he'll be accused of hypocrisy because he chose not to bring charges against his own spokesman, who has admitted secretly recording journalists. If he doesn't bring charges against the filmmakers, he faces criticism from grassroots liberals and supporters of ACORN, which Republicans have also accused of voter fraud.

Brown's spokesman Scott Gerber admitted recording six interviews with five journalists, including a reporter for The Chronicle, without their consent. Officials in Brown's office said they had told him not to record the conversations without the reporters' consent, as required by state law.

Gerber resigned last week, and the attorney general's office said it had completed its investigation.

But the attorney general faces political problems in addition to legal questions surrounding the secret recordings by the filmmakers and his spokesman.

Last week, his Republican rivals for governor, as well as consumer advocates and newspaper editorial boards, blasted him for not ordering an independent investigation of Gerber's recordings.

"Jerry Brown has to know that without an independent probe, there will be a cloud over his office - and his pending run for governor," editorialized the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Troubling signs

While analysts say the story may seem minor to Brown's gubernatorial candidacy - with the June primary months away and without a Democratic rival - it raises troubling signs for Brown's exploratory campaign.

"It's giving a lot of Democrats reason to worry that he's not ready for prime time," said Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio, a top aide to former Gov. Gray Davis and other politicians.

The secret taping scandal should have been a one-day story, Maviglio said. Now, Republicans are tying it to his investigation of the ACORN filmmakers, raising questions about Brown's trust.

"Apparently, California's attorney general thinks that he and his cohorts can sidestep the very laws that they are using as justification for their investigations of ACORN filmmakers James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles," blogged California Republican Party chair Ron Nehring.

An online ad produced by the state GOP asked: "Really, Jerry? An unbiased investigation of yourself? What do you have to hide? We just can't trust you on this one."

Attempting to show Brown's bias in his investigation of ACORN, conservatives circulated audio clips of Dan Lagstein, ACORN's lead San Diego organizer, speaking at a Democratic Club meeting in El Cajon last month.

"The attorney general is a political animal as well," Lagstein said. "Every bit of communication we've had with (Brown's office) has suggested that fault will be found with the people that did the video and not with ACORN."

Lagstein, in an interview with The Chronicle, declined to discuss details of his contact with Brown's office but said he believes ACORN has done nothing illegal.

Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the ACORN probe has not been prejudged.

"There is absolutely no truth to the assertion that this office has come to any conclusions in the ACORN matter, in a preliminary way or at all," she said.

'Wake-up call'

Maviglio said Brown's handling of the two cases "should be a wake-up call that he can't continue to run his campaign out of his basement."

Because Brown has not officially declared his candidacy, he is working with a skeletal staff. "When you let things like that linger in this age of the Internet, they fester," Maviglio added.

Tony Quinn, a press official in the attorney general's office three decades ago who is an editor with the nonpartisan California Target Book, which tracks statewide races, said Brown's actions in the cases "are raising some serious questions about how he's running the office."

E-mail Joe Garofoli at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


Jerry Brown is currently involved in an unique double-edged situation where he can get hit by either side of the political spectrum. The lack of relevant data prevents us from properly assessing this situation.

However, we can play armchair quarterback and surmise what are Mr. Brown's strategic possibilities.

One of our associates suggested the following:

"I would authorize an independent probe so that the Republicans can't use the issue against him. I would say that my friendship with Scott Gerber and the fact that he resigned should have been enough to satisfy anyone upset with the secret taping, but if an independent probe is necessary, I will authorize it.
I would also delegate the investigation of the filmmakers to an independent panel, committee, etc. so that I won't be the one recommending whether charges will be filed. I would just follow the recommendation of the panel. ... Mr. Jerry should show the public that he is not playing favorites, create a side deal with Mr. Gerber and that continue with the investigation of the filmmakers. ... Have the Republicans go after the independent panel instead of you. Be prepared to go negative if the Republicans go negative first in the governor's race. ... "

In summary, the best solution usually begins with the understanding of one's goal and the current circumstances regarding to the grand situation. The next step is defining the general priorities and the approach.

Mr. Brown understands that the significance of reaching the 2010 California governor's November election politically unblemished is.

His current priorities is to confront and resolve this issue with the least amount of political damage.

Following is the possible approach that could be utilized:

  • Display an unquestionable image of non-partiality to the public by creating an investigative panel
  • Use the panel as a composite of a moving target and a pseudo stalking horse to misdirect the opposition.
  • Create a contingency strategy to go negative against the opposition.
At this level of game playing, perception is reality.


Some food for thought
"The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That's the time to listen to every fear you can imagine. When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead." Gen. George S. Patton

"The ruling quality of leaders adaptive capacity, is what allows true leaders to make the nimble decisions that bring success. Adaptive capacity is also what allows some people to transcend the setbacks and losses that come with age and to reinvent themselves again and again." Warren G. Bennis

"A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities, and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties." Harry S. Truman

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