Columnists considers crow

Posted: Sep 16, 2002 12:00 AM
Yes, on these very pages on Aug. 2, after a Los Angeles jury found that the GOP gubernatorial candidate's family investment firm had committed fraud, I wrote that Bill Simon was a "lousy candidate" who should get out of the race. And yes, a judge overturned that verdict on Sept. 12. Simon has been exonerated. Simon has said all along that the jury verdict was "crazy" and "fundamentally flawed," and that it would be overturned. He was right. You have to admire a man -- but only if he's right -- who listens to his inner voice and sticks to his guns. Now, Simon's campaign can enjoy what he called "a new beginning" on Thursday. It needs a new beginning. The fact remains, however, that Simon should have settled the fraud case beforehand. You see, serious candidates don't risk putting a complicated business dispute before a jury in the middle of a campaign -- especially when it may hold the fate of the California Republican Party's future. I wrote on Aug. 2 that I was well aware that the jury verdict could be mistaken. These things happen, as Team Simon pointed out. That's why candidates who are committed to winning don't risk a bad verdict that eats up six vital weeks of a key race. Now, after his courthouse victory, Simon is left with a dubious message: To borrow from Richard Nixon, a judge certified that Simon is not a crook. Of course, there are people who will support Simon no matter what he does or doesn't do. They look at Gray Davis and see a governor who hit up the California Teachers Association for $1 million as the CTA legislation was pending. They see a governor who slipped the correctional officers a 24 percent pay increase -- just as their union happened to donate $251,000 to Davis re-election coffers. They see a governor who helped an energy shortage turn into a full-blown energy crisis -- without letting it crimp his frantic $1 million-a-month fund-raising clip. Simon's loyal boosters don't understand why Simon should be held to high standards, while Davis isn't. Here's a clue: In 2000, Californians chose Al Gore over George W. Bush by 53-42 percent. In 1996, California voters preferred Bill Clinton to Bob Dole, 51 to 38 percent; in 1992, they went for Clinton over Bush pere, 46 to 33 percent. Simon's anti-abortion positions and the state's leftward bent mean that he has to knock the socks off centrist voters in order to be elected. Simon can only do that if he comes across as less grabby than Davis (that's not a hard one) but also as a better executive. Smarter. More effective. Simon also has to show he's committed in order to get big donors to write big checks, which Davis campaign guru Garry South noted Thursday, hasn't been happening much lately. Those big checks won't appear until Simon shows he's willing to commit his own resources to achieve victory. (Simon campaign consultant Ed Rollins told me Thursday that Simon had committed to putting "additional millions" into the race. Why wait another day?) Simon also has to start taking real positions. Just weeks ago, Simon was on the radio saying he'd probably support the state school bonds measure. Probably? That's not a professional answer. Simon made a good start Thursday when he challenged Davis to four debates -- "one for each year you've failed the California people." Nice tactic, but four debates will only help Simon if he gives specific answers to policy queries. Meanwhile, Team Davis isn't biting. South explained that Davis will agree to two debates. One is scheduled for noon on a Monday. Expect the other on a Spanish-language TV station. Davis won't do more, South said, because he has a job to do. But what job? Fund raising?