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Senate aides ignore leader, don't help Migden 

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008

Yet another sign that state Senator Carole Migden's re-election campaign resembles a ship wrecked by a train: Several Democratic legislative aides in the Capitol apparently didn't want to spend their free time campaigning for the embattled incumbent from San Francisco.

As the Capitol Weekly reported last week, when state Senate leader Don Perata held a meeting to recruit staffers as volunteers for Migden's primary battle and the June recall vote against Republican Senator Jeff Denham, he expected a bigger turnout. That's right, a few of the invitees didn't bother showing up.

People don't usually turn Perata down. They steal his car at gunpoint, yes; they feed stories to the FBI about his business dealings, sure; but those who work in the Senate rarely say no to him. So Perata sent out letters to his colleagues, telling them to send their staffers to his damn meeting. "This is not an optional activity," he wrote, according to news accounts.

Perata may have crossed several lines here: using government resources for political purposes, inappropriately leaning on state employees, and thinking the Migden campaign is salvageable.

Denham's campaign has made a huge stink about Perata's order, which it alleges is illegal. "No one can recall a legislative leader actually putting in writing to his colleagues that political work is expected," said Denham consultant Kevin Spillane.

It's actually common practice for legislative aides from both parties to take time off during election season to assist campaigns in contested races. What's still unclear is why so many Democratic aides apparently balked at the Senate president's demand. Were they unwilling to help recall a Republican rival, or were they unwilling to get involved in cannibalistic primary race pitting Democrat against Democrat?

Tom Higgins, campaign manager for Migden opponent Assemblyman Mark Leno, suggests it's the latter. He says the incident has exposed a rift between Senate leadership and the rank and file. Party leaders have identified resuscitating the Migden campaign as one of their top two priorities, while regular staffers would rather take a pass: "I know Migden is not exactly a motivational force to get people to come out on her behalf, and you couple that with the polling, and they're having trouble recruiting people to the cause," he says.

A spokesman for Perata didn't return phone calls, and a campaign aide to Migden only offered a quick "No comment."

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Benjamin Wachs


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