Gumby needs a foil

Posted: Sep 02, 2002 12:00 AM
Those of you who aren't happy with the depressing prospect of Gray Davis winning a second term as governor, take heart. You can make Davis unhappy in turn -- by saddling the Oval Office-ogling governor with a Republican lieutenant governor. When Gumby leaves the state to squeeze contributors in New York or Palm Beach, his Republican understudy would serve in his place -- preferably as a scold who could remind the public of the business to which Davis is not attending. Ah, sweet revenge. The best part is that the GOP nominee for the job, state Sen. Bruce McPherson, is the type of Republican -- he's a Santa Cruz native son who favors abortion rights and works well with enviros -- whom a lot of Democrats could fall for. He's also a good Republican who voted against the Senate budget bill because, despite a $24 billion shortfall, it included new programs and barely cut spending. McPherson understands that, without more cuts, the shortfall will linger for years. Californians have elected gadfly lieutenant governors before. Repub Mike Curb tormented Dem Gov. Jerry Brown; when Brown was out of state, stumping for the White House, Curb would appoint judges and issue contrary proclamations. Gray Davis was less of an obstructionist when he served as lieutenant to Gov. Pete Wilson. But Davis did look overly eager and ambitious when he offered a $50,000 reward for information about the murder of Bill Cosby's 27-year-old son, Ennis, while Wilson was out of the country. After the Cosby family balked at the reward, Wilson rescinded it. McPherson's Sacramento office is lined with photos of fellow legislators and family members who helped shape California: A great uncle served in the Assembly; his great-grandfather published the Santa Cruz Sentinel. McPherson is dressed stylishly in shades of brown, with a small silver pin on his jacket that serves as a reminder of his 27-year-old son, Hunter, shot to death during a botched Potrero Hill robbery last year. When insiders hear McPherson's name, they often smile and say, ""Oh yeah, I like him.'' McPherson said he wouldn't be a Mike Curb but that when he saw pressing problems not being addressed, he would "step up and make a statement, and this would go whether it's Bill Simon -- and I don't honestly think that's going to happen -- or Gray Davis.'' Does McPherson have a shot? Yes. McPherson noted the incumbent, Democrat Cruz Bustamante, "is not highly respected by members of his own party.'' That's an understatement. The biggest piece of news Cruz Bustamante made this year was when he sent a gushing letter touting Bill Simon as one of the state's most valued business leaders. OK, so the letter went out before a jury found one of Simon's companies guilty of fraud. Bustamante's coffers speak volumes. While incumbent Dems Bill Lockyer (attorney general) and Phil Angelides (treasurer) had more than $6 mil each in the bank last month, Bustamante had a third of that stashed away. McPherson had $800,000, but he believes he can win even if he's outspent by more than 2 to 1. After saying that he didn't think Simon would win, McPherson corrected himself and emphasized that he wouldn't count Simon out. Yes, the fat lady hasn't sung. Still, if Simon tanks, he could hurt the GOP's down-ticket candidates. If he hurts them badly enough, there may be no Republican in statewide office. California would become a squabbling one-party state. If McPherson isn't the party's strongest hope of getting one Republican into statewide office, he's close. As pollster Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California noted, McPherson's government experience means that he's "road-tested'' -- ahem, unlike Simon -- and his positions reflect those of the moderate and independent voters whom Republicans need to win the big seats. In fact, it's a true shame that McPherson is the nominee for lieutenant governor, not governor. But at least he can provide voters with one vote they can feel good about -- and not just because it will drive Gray Davis nuts.