Too clever for their own good

Debra J. Saunders

1/15/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
The prickly ears of California Gov. Gray Davis must have been burning Thursday night. The Greenlining Institute, an anti-redlining organization, had asked Davis to appear at its annual bash, but he turned them down -- probably about the time he realized Greenlining didn't mean fund raising. Instead, his rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan, was the keynote speaker for the institute's annual conference. That's right, the Republican Dick Riordan, who is locked in battle with Secretary of State Bill Jones and businessman Bill Simon for the privilege of running against Davis, showed up to address a group that wants bigger government and more taxes. More odd for a GOP primary hopeful, Riordan was sharing the head table with State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, the joyously profane supporter of higher taxes who snubbed Davis earlier in the week by not showing up for his State of the State address. Burton gleefully joked that he'd have to leave before the Riordan speech, or Davis will "be really mad." OK, maybe Riordan and Burton together weren't that odd. Riordan, after all, has donated money to Burton's Senate Majority fund. Why did the Greenliners invite Riordan? "The black and Latino communities gave Davis his mandate," answered Greenlining Policy Director Robert Gnaizda. "They feel he ignored them." Since Davis wouldn't come, the group asked Riordan. Why did Riordan show up? "Because they invited him," answered adviser Joel Fox. Besides, it has been the campaign mantra that Riordan is a nonpartisan problem-solver who can reach out to those who are not traditional GOP voters. Except he didn't connect with this crowd. The anti-Davis Burton told reporters he wouldn't vote for Riordan unless Riordan were running against Adolf Hitler. Unlike Riordan, Burton is a loyal partisan. Other attendees said they might vote for Riordan, but spent most of their time trashing Davis. Viola Gonzales, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum, said she might vote for Riordan, but, "Why would a woman of color want to vote for an old white man?" And, "I didn't feel he responded on point." One person who told me he definitely planned to vote for Riordan, Luis Arteaga of the Latino Issues Forum, said he would do so because he believed that Riordan would raise taxes -- "like (former President George H.W.) Bush." The rest of the Greenliners were batting their eyelashes at Riordan, pretending to be smitten, in an attempt to make Davis jealous and move His Grayness to the left. To his credit, Riordan told the group that he disagreed on calls to raise state taxes. He argued that lower taxes and less onerous regulation stimulate jobs and prosperity. He repeatedly referred to the need to "think outside the box," apparently unaware that this group is in a big box. For them, opposition to affirmative action programs is equated with racism. Riordan did win applause from the audience when he said every child had "a God-given right to a quality health-care life -- and I don't care whether they are legal or illegal." And he spoke their language when he repeatedly asserted that his campaign is about "empowerment." Before his speech, Riordan said: "The odds were they weren't going to vote for me. They told me that before I came." You could admire Riordan for showing up to try to charm the Greenliners, except both Riordan and the Greenliners probably have hurt their own causes. The Greenliners aren't going to push Davis to the left, not when visions of the White House are dancing in his head. Davis knows hard-core Dems will support him, so he has to court moderate voters. By letting Davis distance himself from Burton, noted Sean Walsh, adviser to GOP hopeful Simon, the Greenliners are "doing his work for him." Now Davis doesn't have to move at all. Worse, he added, "All Dick Riordan is doing by attending these events is solidifying Gray's moderate credentials. He is allowing Gray to get to the right of him, and that spells doom for a Republican candidate."