A win or lose inauguration

Posted: Jan 08, 2003 12:00 AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Triumph was a word on no one's lips as Gray Davis was sworn in Monday as governor of the state of California for the second time. Everybody here knows how easily Davis could have lost, and how rough the coming years will be. Four years ago, Democrats were jubilant. They had won back the state's top spot after 16 years of GOP governors. This year, Sacto Dems are wary, instead. They see four more years of getting legislative scraps, but this time from the home team. GOP veterans of past budget wars gulped as they contemplated the rancor that the state's record $35 billion shortfall is likely to produce among interested parties. Republicans understand that Davis will try to blame any inaction on them -- as if Davis and the Dems are set to deliver a solid, on-time budget. Davis is the rare man who, as victor, is not smothered by the embraces of friends, old and new. In the fourth row of the inaugural seating, where you'd expect to see big city pols and major lobbyists, sat a casually dressed couple who had moved to California just two years ago. Pam tells me they're "friends. " Friends of friends, she and her husband answer cryptically when I ask if they are friends of Davis. They said they didn't give money to the Davis Inaugural Committee. "You don't have to be somebody to be somebody," Pam says, to explain how she and her husband rated A-list seats. You don't have to give money or have powerful connections? I briefly consider grabbing Pam by the arms and shaking her, as I ask: What have you done with the real Gray Davis? Except I know that this is the real Davis. Once again, Davis is blaming President Bush for the bad things that happened to California under his watch -- - first the energy crisis and now the $35 billion budget shortfall. In his inaugural address, Davis argued that California's red ink represents "a national problem." Davis then called "on Washington to act." Before Davis was sworn in, state Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, noted: "We have a national problem, yes. Would we have a problem even if we didn't have a state government that is hostile to enterprise, to business? Yes. "But would it be this severe? Absolutely not." Indeed, if California's shortfall were simply a function of "a national problem," Poochigian noted, California's shortfall would not be larger than the shortfalls for all other U.S. states combined. (California represents but 12 percent of the U.S. population.) So how is Davis going to work with wary Dems and suspicious Repubs to close a shortfall so big that, absent service cuts, it would take $1,000 from every man, woman and child in California to close it? Even Davis campaign guru Garry South couldn't say. "I just think that the combination of term limits, which we seemingly can't get rid of or even expand, a closed primary and redistricting as it was done in 2001 have rendered the Legislature dysfunctional." And: "I don't know. I wouldn't have any idea of what to tell him on how to get a budget out of the Legislature." The coming weeks will get nasty, with Team Davis publicly calling lawmakers dysfunctional and lawmakers privately calling Davis worse. The real problem, to paraphrase Pam: You don't have to be nobody to do nothing.