The return of puke politics

Posted: Nov 11, 2003 12:00 AM

In August, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer told the Sacramento Bee that if the Gray Davis political machine waged a nasty campaign in the recall election -- as it did in its successful bid to bury Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan in the GOP primary in 2002 -- many Democrats would tell His Grayness, "We're tired of that puke politics."

Now, "puke politics" is back -- thanks to Lockyer. On Friday, the attorney general told Ronn Owens of KGO radio in San Francisco that he had "personal knowledge" Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger did "terrible things" to a woman during the filming of "Terminator 3" -- even though Lockyer said he didn't know the woman's name and wasn't sure if he could track her down.

Lockyer called for an independent investigation into Schwarzenegger's treatment of women, possibly by a district attorney's office, and suggested that investigators post an 800 telephone number to help alleged victims lodge complaints.

A baffled Owens quipped Monday: What would you call the number

"1-800-GROPING or something?"

Lockyer told Owens that he doesn't know if Schwarzenegger is guilty or not.

That makes Lockyer guilty of not understanding the gravity of his office. California's top law man isn't chief of the rumor police. He has a moral obligation not to spread gossip that -- by his own admission -- he hasn't even checked out.

A few facts are in order: During the election, the Los Angeles Times ran stories in which women accused Schwarzenegger of groping or humiliating them. There were no eye witnesses. Every allegation fell outside the statute of limitations. No criminal charges were filed. No civil lawsuits are pending. In the eyes of the law, there is no "there" there.

Lockyer spokesman Nathan Barankin explained that Lockyer wants an independent investigation because the rumors "are out there" and they'll haunt the new governor. It could absolve Schwarzenegger or give him the opportunity to send the message that sexual harassment is wrong.

Nice try -- but there are no grounds for government action. Rather than a story of wrongdoing, this is really a story of two men who have dug big public-relations holes for themselves and keep digging.

Lockyer has been feeling heat from the left since he announced he voted for Schwarzenegger, despite his reservations about the governor-elect's "frat-boy behavior." Then, Lockyer hurt himself again by defining that "frat-boy behavior" as ranging from "rowdy drunkenness to rape." His calls for an independent investigation might have made the bad press go elsewhere -- if Lockyer hadn't put his foot in his mouth again with his craven rumormongering.

Then, there's Schwarzenegger. In a bonehead moment during the campaign, Schwarzenegger told NBC's Tom Brokaw that he would look into the sexual harassment allegations after the election and "get into all of these specifics."

Let that be a lesson for the governor-elect: Think before you make big promises that tie up your staff in Gordian knots. To make it look as if Schwarzenegger actually meant what he said, his spokesman, Rob Stutzman, told reporters that Team Arnold would hire a private investigator.

My advice: Don't make this mistake. Schwarzenegger has already told the public, "I have done things that were not right, which I thought then was playful." Disclosing the dirty details as to which boorish episodes were true, and which were not, can only result in more old-sleaze stories. Yuk.

The voters have a sense for how long bad deeds should haunt a public man; they elected Schwarzenegger. The women in the L.A. Times' stories had a chance to file complaints; they passed.

Which means: Only Schwarzenegger can hurt Schwarzenegger. His first act as governor should be to announce that he's not going to respond to what amounts to gossip. The authorities can investigate if they actually have cause, but he has work to do.