Bill Jones: the un-Davis

Debra J. Saunders

2/13/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
Think of all the things you don't like about Gov. Gray Davis, and you'll find the opposite qualities in his GOP challenger, Secretary of State Bill Jones. Do you think that Davis has spent too much time raising $1 million a month to ensure his re-election? No one could ever accuse Jones of spending too much time raising money. After eight years as secretary of state -- he has been the only statewide Republican officeholder since July 2000 -- Jones has only about $1 million in the bank. That'll buy about a week's worth of television ads. If Davis devotes too much time to following polls, Jones devotes too much time to refuting them. (Some polls show him running behind former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan and businessman Bill Simon in the GOP gubernatorial primary election.) Indeed, Jones is about the only politician I know who you wish were more political. Not that Jones is a perfect package. His strength is also a weakness. Witness Jones' infamous endorsement switch in the 2000 presidential election from Gov. George W. Bush to Sen. John McCain. Said Bob Stern of the Los Angeles based Center for Governmental Studies, "It didn't help McCain at all, but it sure hurt Jones." As payback for Jones' desertion, the White House apparently goosed Riordan - - who has funneled $1 million over the years into Democratic campaign coffers -- into the governor's race. Also, Jones always has been something of a loner. Which makes you wonder how well he would work with the legislature. The good news is: Anyone would do better than Davis, who had sour relations with Democratic leaders even before he announced that the legislature's job was "to implement my vision." Jones gets good reviews for his performance as secretary of state. Stern -- a good-government type -- said of Jones, "I like him. I think he's done a good job as secretary of state. He has really pushed electronic filing of both campaign statements and lobbying statements." Jones' personality fits the profile of every successful gubernatorial candidate since Jerry Brown. Like Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian, Jones is button-down. Like those governors, Jones doesn't have his own millions to bankroll his race. Indeed, Davis won the 1998 primary -- then the general election -- because he portrayed himself as the underfunded underdog against two richies who wanted to buy the election. Also, like Davis, Wilson and the Duke, Jones won a statewide race before running for governor. Jones also wrote the three-strikes initiative, which voters approved by a 3-to-1 margin in 1994. Jones doesn't have the baggage of his big-money GOP primary opponents. In a general election, Riordan would have to explain why he gave money to Davis' campaigns. Simon would have to explain why he neglected to vote in the last two California primaries. With his 20 years in state government and background as a Fresno rancher, Jones knows state issues. Many observers declared Jones the winner of the first two primary debates. GOP political consultant Chris Bowman noted that, "If (Jones) goes toe to toe in a debate with Davis, Davis will be in trouble." As Jones said during an editorial board meeting with The San Francisco Chronicle, if the governor's race is about Dick Riordan, and not Gray Davis, Davis wins. If the governor's race is about Gray Davis -- with his near-criminal failure to stave off the state's energy crisis -- Davis loses.