A funny thing happened to Gov. Gray Davis' effort to paint GOP rival Bill Simon as an extremist nut bag.
Davis opened his mouth.
This is what he told the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board last week.
Davis said of the energy crisis: "This is like a war. This is worse than being in Vietnam. This is a full-out war against me."
And: "I kept the lights on. And this sounds a little presumptuous, but I think I should get a round of applause. I don't get squat."
Asked if he panicked when he agreed to pricey long-term electricity contracts, which he is now trying to break, Davis answered, "If I didn't panic, you wouldn't be able to put out your paper. I saved this friggin' paper. I kept the lights on in this state. Do you understand that? I kept the lights on."
"Worse than Vietnam?" "A full-out war against me?" Did somebody steal Capt. Queeg's strawberries?
If you were put out by blackouts or higher electricity bills, forget your problems. The energy crisis was not about you. It was all about Davis' political career.
He's the Megalomania Governor. From the moment he won office in 1998, Davis worked on two things: re-election and fund raising for re-election. He was so devoted to himself that he stocked his war chest at the rate of $1 million a month. He kept squeezing special interests as California's electricity problems grew from a blip on the radar to a full-blown crisis.
When Davis finally dealt with the problem, he mostly concentrated on getting California voters to blame someone else -- George W. Bush, who assumed office some seven months after the first rolling blackouts of the Davis administration. (Davis coyly said that Bush was not the cause of the crisis, but only Bush could end the crisis by implementing federal price caps.)
Asked about the "worse than Vietnam" statement, Davis press secretary Steven Maviglio responded: "The governor's office was in a bunker at the time. We were getting shot at by congressional committees, courts, consumer groups, the left, the right, the generators, the utilities. There were no allies in this fight."
Then again, Davis might have had more allies if he had spent less time blaming the problem on Washington, courts, regulators and power companies ... everyone but himself.
And now that the juice is steady (at least for now), forget those dead weights. It's, "I kept the lights on in this state." And, "I saved this friggin' paper."
I'll give Davis credit for this: When he finally dealt with the problem, Davis mitigated what could have been a devastating blow to California, and perhaps the national economy.
On the other hand, if Davis had put as much forethought into energy as he did into fund raising, tapping billions of taxpayer dollars for energy would not have been necessary.
Worst of all, Davis sees himself as the victim. "You're probably looking at the last governor of California who is not a billionaire," he lamented. Boo friggin' hoo. Oh, the injustice of Davis being forced to attend all those dinners and breakfasts and golf tournaments so that he could squeeze more dollars out of fat cats.
Maviglio explained that Davis was exasperated by the editorial board's questions. But the "worse than Vietnam" line preceded any questions. Ditto the Davis call for applause.
The fact is, Davis has a history of saying what he thinks but what he shouldn't say before editorial boards. Who can forget the 1999 San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting at which Davis made the Napoleonic pronouncement that the job of legislators is "to implement my vision"?
And the Union-Tribune's questions weren't that tough. "If he's going to blow his stack over a couple questions from the Union-Tribune editorial board, " GOP operative Mark Bogetich asked, "what's he going to do on the campaign trail?"
The answer: Davis is going to try to smear Simon as a right-wing nut. Just for fun, Simon might try this for a campaign slogan: "Not insane."