Rock bottom

Posted: Oct 15, 2002 12:00 AM
Hmmmm. Bill Simon's gubernatorial campaign and his consultant Sal Russo gave almost $500,000 to the dubious California Organization of Police and Sheriffs (COPS) and its lobbyist, Kelly Moran. In exchange, COPS helped Simon to shoot a bullet into the campaign's heart. Makes you wonder what COPS would have done for $1 million. Maybe infected Simon with a disease? Lucky Gray Davis. He's as unpopular as any modern governor because he's venal and imperious. Rather than reward Davis' lack of integrity, California voters hunger for an alternative. Enter Simon, who last week essentially accused Davis of breaking the law in 1998 by accepting a $10,000 check from COPS on state property. Team Simon had to eat those words when it turned out that a COPS photo of Davis accepting a check from a former COPS official was taken at a private home. So much for Simon's integrity. As a former prosecutor, Simon should have checked that the COPS photo was legit. He didn't. Then, when the story imploded, Simon tried to play it cute, saying, "At the end of the day, it was really a matter between COPS and the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission)." Simon didn't quite apologize. Instead, he said Thursday, "I express regret" to Davis or anyone else adversely affected by the charge. Yuk. At a Los Angeles press conference, Ed Rollins, the Simon strategist, took responsibility for the gaffe. But ultimately, responsibility lies with Simon for creating a campaign environment where it was disloyal to question the COPS story. Worse, Simon's repeated disgraces beg the question: If Simon can't run a tight campaign, how can he negotiate his way through the Democratic legislature when it comes time to hammer out a state budget? It can't help that he doesn't seem to understand that he got rolled. (He wouldn't blame COPS at Thursday's press conference.) Insiders who underwrite campaigns are disgusted -- except for those GOP loyalists who so despise Davis that they'll forgive every Simon mistake. But what about the rest of California's voters? It's like choosing between being gnawed to death by hungry insects or hungry rodents. Angry voters might blame the system -- but they picked the nominees. (True, Davis raised so much money that no serious Democrat opposed him; Republicans have no such excuse.) Or voters can vote for a third-party candidate. Davis says that Simon has so disgraced himself that he should bow out of the race. That would certainly make Simon trendy. First, Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., had his name taken off the ballot past the legal deadline. On Thursday, GOP candidate Mike Taylor dropped his challenge to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., saying he hoped someone would jump in as a write-in. Why shouldn't Simon do the same -- with a write-in candidate to fill in? Bob Stern, executive director of the Center for Governmental Studies, says Simon should stay in to help Republicans in down-ticket races. "The biggest impact is on everyone else -- as opposed to Simon. He was going to lose anyway. " Stern suggested that Simon donate another $5 million to his campaign as "penance." The money should go to run ads that say: "Vote for the rest of the ticket. You may not like me, but we have some really good people running, who have no money." For once, Bill Simon wouldn't sound like a phony.