A man for all reasons

Posted: Jan 28, 2002 12:00 AM
Stylistically, two men could not be more different than Gov. Gray Davis and former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan, the front-runner in the GOP primary for governor. Riordan wants to charm everyone; Davis wants to intimidate everyone. Davis sticks to his script; Riordan should stick to his script. Riordan talks about "empowering" people; Davis empowers himself. Riordan is gooey; Davis is brittle. But the two men share some traits that should make primary voters consider Riordan's primary rivals, Secretary of State Bill Jones and businessman Bill Simon. Both Davis and Riordan have what Riordan calls an "open mind." In their cases, that means a lack of principle on issues that serious people, no matter what their position, find non-negotiable. They lack respect for issues, treating them as mere vehicles to office. They respect only themselves. And money. In Davis, you see it in his unrelenting drive to raise $1 million a month for his re-election effort with a single-mindedness that led his Grayness to procrastinate on California energy policy. Then there's his famed remark to The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board that the Legislature's job is "to implement my vision." Riordan isn't single-minded, that's for sure. Instead, he seems to stray from his positions on a whim. For example, after Tuesday's GOP gubernatorial debate, when reporters asked Riordan about his stated opposition to gay marriage, Riordan said, "I'm willing to talk about that, but I'm not in favor of it now." Now? Does he plan on changing his position after the GOP primary? Some considered Riordan's opposition to gay marriage a flip-flop, in that Riordan had come out against Proposition 22, the measure outlawing gay marriage, which voters approved in 2000. But spokesman Matt Szabo explained that Riordan opposed Proposition 22 because he thought it was "divisive," as gay marriage wasn't legal anyway. So it's divisive when Californians vote against gay marriage, but not when Riordan opposes it? This week, Riordan told a Silicon Valley group he would keep an open mind about imposing a temporary ban on the death penalty, pending a study of it. He also told the San Jose Mercury News that he didn't remember telling the Los Angeles Business Journal he personally opposed the death penalty in 1987. Spokeswoman Margita Thompson said Riordan probably misspoke, and always has opposed the death penalty. Or it could be that Riordan has no core conviction on a matter of life or death? Riordan was a signer of the ballot argument against Proposition 45, a March ballot measure to allow state legislators to serve four more years. Yet at a press conference announcing his opposition to the measure, Riordan said he was "open" to extending legislators' terms a few years. There is certainly nothing untoward in expressing that belief. But you don't say that the outcome of Proposition 45 -- extending terms -- is acceptable when people are relying on you to lead the fight against it. Unless you think that you're more important than the issue. Lew Uhler, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee and a Simon supporter, appeared with Riordan at that anti-45 press conference. He said Riordan's remark "took me aback a little bit." Uhler then referred to The Chronicle's story about Riordan telling a liberal group, "I don't know who Southeast Asians are" and that he needed to be "educated." (No lie.) Uhler noted, when Riordan says things like that, "You just want to hit your forehead with your hand." Or how about the Riordan homage to Bill Clinton as "the greatest leader in the free world?" Don't forget Riordan's years of donating barrels of dough to Democrats, including Gray Davis. Team Riordan explains that such donations helped Riordan work with Davis and others. Translation: Money is the grease of his brand of politics. (The same goes for Davis, but only if he's the recipient.) Riordan continually boasts that he wants to hire "the best and the brightest." But as Jones pointed out during the debate, it's the governor who makes the decisions. And it's the candidate -- not the best and the brightest -- who does the stumping.