What Governor?

Debra J. Saunders

8/27/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
The blunders regularly made by the GOP's woeful gubernatorial hopeful Bill Simon have been so monumental, so breathtaking, that it's been near impossible for my brethren in ink to keep their eyes off him. As an act of raw discipline, therefore, I resolve today to turn my steely gaze away from the demolition-derby candidate and focus on Gov. Gray Davis, whose lack of leadership affects Californians where they live. There's no adult in charge in Sacramento these days. Today is Day 56 of the new fiscal year -- Day 56 without a state budget. But since a late budget hasn't hit Davis in his poll numbers and since it hasn't hampered his $1-million-per-month fund-raising clip, it's not a priority. As of this column's deadline, Davis hadn't even convened a Big Five meeting -- with governor and Demo and GOP leaders of the Assembly and Senate -- to hash out budget differences. It's odd. Davis is focused on one goal -- re-election -- so he can spend another four years not governing. Davis' relations with fellow Democrats are so frayed that Senate GOP leader Jim Brulte confided that while it's his job to be the biggest thorn in Davis' side, he thinks he takes second place to Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, a Democrat. Gumby -- as Sacto wags call him -- hasn't earned the grudging respect of lawmakers from the other party that his predecessor, Pete Wilson, enjoyed. What's to respect? A politician so craven that he refused to sign a bill regulating the diet drug ephedra -- a product of Davis mega-donor Metabolife -- yet then wrote to the federal regulators chastising them for not having acted against ephedra sooner, in a letter sent the day after the feds opened their probe. Wouldn't you want to wash your hand after he shook it? When a budget does pass, it will be a bad joke. You see, while campaign money is golden to Davis, taxpayer dollars are not particularly valued. Davis inherited a state budget with a surplus. Four years later, the state budget is 37 percent fatter. There's a $24 billion shortfall. And because Davis didn't act quickly when state revenue began shrinking -- just as he was slow to address California's energy crisis -- legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill predicts there will still be a $10 billion shortfall in the budget passed by the Senate, now languishing in the Assembly. The only people with cause to like Davis are correctional officers -- who got a 34 percent pay hike -- after which their union conveniently donated $251,000 to Davis coffers. A state auditor found that Davis' largesse will cost taxpayers $518 million annually. Maybe voters have grown so cynical that they think all lawmakers treat their office like an auction block. That's not true, but it could be. Yes, one Sacramento lobbyist admitted to me, there has always been better access for clients who give money to Sacramento lawmakers. But Davis escalated the stakes, said the lobbyist: "With this governor, it has been extreme. You have to pay to play." No lie. Readers may recall the San Francisco Chronicle story about the Davis fund-raiser who told UC-Berkeley students they could meet the governor for "a mere $100." Voters in the world's fifth largest economy face a bitter choice in November: Bill Simon, the worst gubernatorial candidate in recent memory, versus Gray Davis, the most rapacious governor in recent memory. If voters choose to re-elect Davis, they will have rewarded his grabby ways. Worse, they will have sent a message to the next governor that he or she can use the office not for what it can do, but for what can be squeezed from it -- and still get away with it.