Tuesday, October 29, 2002
California Governor's Race: I've been disillusioned by the gubernatorial race here in California. I don't like Gray Davis' pay-to-play fundraising style. The way he mishandled the energy crisis. His collusion with the Democrat-controlled legislature to paper over a $23 billion budget deficit.
But Republican candidate Bill Simon hasn't done himself any favors either. His accusation (later proven false) that Davis had illegally accepted campaign contributions in his government office was a major gaffe. Davis has also made a lot of hay out of Simon's business record, including a recently overturned fraud judgement against him and a federal bailout of a Simon-run S&L.
There's little debate that if the GOP had nominated just about anyone other than Simon, then Davis would certainly be on his way out come Nov. 5.
Here in Southern California, the two major papers have predictably endorsed the candidate that hews most closely to their ideological line. The Los Angeles Times urges a vote for Davis, while glossing over many of his problems. The San Diego Union-Tribune, resigned itself to the fact that, in their view, Simon is simply the lesser of two evils.
Of the two editorials, I think the Union-Tribune's is the more honest and accurate -- pointing out in detail the flaws of both candidates.
But all of this really hasn't helped me decide for whom to cast my ballot. Until the past few days I'd considered voting for some third-party candidate who has absolutely no chance to register my distaste for both of the candidates. But some recent articles have caused me to reassess that decision.
Come Nov. 5, I'll be canceling out my father's vote with a vote for Simon.
What changed my mind? Three articles that have been published in recent days.
The first was written by The Sacramento Bee's Daniel Weintraub.
Whatever you might think of his ideology, Simon, despite a comfortable upbringing and a life of privilege, seems more grounded than Davis, who has spent his entire adult life in politics and government.
On the campaign bus, Simon spent hours in conversation with reporters, alternating with ease between the personal and the political. He either enjoyed the experience or was very good at faking it.
Simon doesn't take himself too seriously. Delivering the same stump speech four times during the day, he playfully altered a few words to see if reporters were still listening. He was a good sport -- submitting himself to an impromptu and potentially embarrassing quiz on which of five farm products were fruits: cucumbers, peppers, squash, tomatoes and corn. (Answer: all five.) He smiles easily, jokes with reporters and aides and shares genuine stories about people in his life. When he asks how your kids are doing, he seems to sincerely want to know.
And family isn't Simon's only connection to the world. For many years he has spent a considerable amount of time, and money, helping the poor through two charitable foundations he helps run. Simon has donated his business skills to help charity managers. But he also has learned from hands-on experience with several charities exactly how hard it is to turn around the life of a runaway youth or a pregnant teen.
This sort of piece could've helped Simon out many weeks ago as he was being battered by negative ads by Davis. His gaffe-prone campaign aside, Simon looks more human.
On the other hand, Davis' actions when the cameras are off show him to be little more than a caricature of a power-hungry, conniving politician.
In today's Wall Street Journal, columnist John Fund recounts a recent incident between a UCLA professor, some of his students and the incumbent governor.
All Ely Dahan wanted was a brief conversation with California's Gov. Gray Davis of California about an exciting article by a Nobel Prize winner that had just appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Dahan, a UCLA business professor, thought the article had valuable insights into California's electricity problems. What he got instead was a highly agitated governor ignoring the policy points, cursing the Journal as "f---ing a--h---s," and declaring: "They don't see the world realistically." End of conversation.
The article in question can be found here. I found it to be thought-provoking. Reading the article, Davis really has little to be angry about. His name appears nowhere within the text of the article and it is not by any stretch of the imagination an attack piece.
But, according to witnesses to the incident and people who followed up on it later, the best that can be said of Davis is that he simply isn't a nice person.
Mr. Dahan's encounter with Mr. Davis came on Friday, Oct. 18, after the governor had finished a taping of CNN's "Moneyline," hosted by Lou Dobbs. Prof. Dahan approached the governor along with several students. Mr. Dahan wanted to discuss an article he had just read in the Oct. 16 Wall Street Journal by Vernon Smith, a George Mason University professor who the week before had been one of two winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The article, "Power to the People," explained how California could take advantage of the fact that the cost of producing electricity can vary along with its pricing. California's energy crisis was born because of a state rule imposing on utilities an "obligation to serve" all customers "could not be met at times of severe stress because the unresponsive demand exceeded energy supply, and the shortfall was met by rolling blackouts." California utilities lost some $14 billion trying to avoid those blackouts. A small fraction of that would have solved the problem if utilities had been allowed to "sell less to consumers by offering a discount if they consumed less."
Mr. Dahan doesn't recall the specific words Mr. Davis used to trash the Journal, but he agrees "the cursing wasn't helpful." "I was disappointed that he didn't want to engage me on what a very smart Nobel Prize winner had written," he told me. "Perhaps the governor was still upset over what Enron had done to mess with California's market."
Jonathan Young, a junior at UCLA who was present for the governor's comments, said he was surprised at the vehemence with which the governor reacted to Prof. Dahan's question. A self-described "leftist," Mr. Young says other students who were present were also taken aback by the governor's obscenities. A CNN staffer says students told her they couldn't believe this was the same man who had minutes before calmly answered questions on television.
Ben Shapiro, a UCLA student and columnist with Creators Syndicate, said that when he called the governor's office for comment, spokesman Gabriel Sanchez told him: "I'd be very careful not to use unverified info. That could be slanderous. You weren't there, I wasn't there, you didn't hear it." Mr. Shapiro says "the implicit threat to sue was obvious." My own conversation with Roger Salazar, the governor's campaign press secretary, was much more cordial. "I don't remember the governor using that language," he told me. "He said something about the Journal wanting him to give the energy companies a 400% increase in rates, and that was a crock."
When faced with a choice between two less-than-desirable politicians, I'll vote for the one that appears to be a better person.