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Recallapalooza: Davis Pleads for Sympathy

The California Guv hurts his cause by portraying himself as a victim. You have to be popular before voters are ready to feel sorry for you.
 
 
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Talk about recall circuses. The Big Tent went up Tuesday night at UCLA and Governor Gray Davis rolled out his anti-recall campaign by reminding us at least 10 times that he's coming out fighting -- fighting for me! For you! The people! For all of California! Our future! Against the right-wing!

And mostly to save his collapsing career.

Davis reminded us that he is the "education governor'" but none of the university's students were allowed in. The Ackerman ballroom can hold 2,000 people, but Davis' staff had partitioned off the front quadrant and limited the audience to only 250 handpicked guests. In the best traditions of the corrupt Mexican political party, the PRI, most of those attending were brightly T-shirted union members, herded in by their leaders to applaud the governor on cue. A cynical and sad manipulation of organized labor.

You can't blame Davis, though. With UC fees rising 35 percent and community college tariffs going up more than 50 percent, I doubt the Guv would have gotten much of a warm welcome from the student body. Or from the general public for that matter, considering that 60 percent or so of the electorate is leaning toward firing him.

Cheap theatrics aside, Davis did himself no good. Portraying himself as a victim, as he did, will win little support. First you have to be popular before voters are ready to feel sorry for you. Ask Bill Clinton.

Robotically gesturing with his hands -- as he surely rehearsed it all day in front of a mirror -- he branded the recall a "right-wing power grab," part of "an ongoing national effort to steal elections that Republicans cannot win."

Poppycock.

The recall, clunky as it is, tainted as its partisan origins might be, is nothing but an old-fashioned vote of confidence -- one that any electorate has the right to, and one that Davis is set to lose. The only election-stealing going on is the attempt by Democratic satellite groups to have the courts postpone an election that 75 percent or more of voters say they want.

Davis did make a few tepid attempts to explain away his glaring failures. Assuming that none of us has a memory beyond last week, he argued that he had merely inherited the deregulation scheme that put us all at the mercy of the energy providers. But Davis was the sitting lieutenant governor when deregulation was adopted in 1996 and there's no record of as much as a contrary hiccup coming from him at the time. Indeed, two years later when consumer-backed Prop. 9 aimed at reversing much of the deregulation fiasco, Gray Davis, allied with the utility monopolies, signed the ballot statement opposing the measure.

Once the power shortage hit in late 2000, Davis as governor was irresponsibly slow to respond, no doubt distracted by his voracious fund-raising. He threatened to seize the power grid, but that bold position soon melted into conciliation with the energy behemoths, at one point Davis employing the same spinmeisters that that were in the pay of Edison. Remember Lehane and Fabiani?

The result? Weighing down the state with over-priced long-term energy contracts, Davis thereby contributed maybe as much as $10 billion to the deficit black hole.

And on what other issue dear to Democrats has the governor provided leadership? According to Davis, he's the last thin line of defense against a Republican putsch. But the cold facts are that Davis, last year alone, vetoed more than 250 bills coming out of the Democratic legislature. Davis is the real Terminator, having nixed during his tenure:

  • A simple review of the inhuman and costly three-strikes law
  • The creation of a state office on homelessness that would cost a mere $500,000
  • Expansion of medical services for low-income Californians
  • A bill to establish a clean-needle distribution program
  • A bill to research use of industrial hemp
  • The driver's license bill for the undocumented that he now opportunistically supports
  • A racial-tracking bill aimed at curbing discrimination in business and unions

On criminal justice matters, Davis has actually been worse than Pete Wilson, allowing virtually no prisoner to be released on parole. The governor fought, unsuccessfully, the voter-approved Prop. 36 which substitutes treatment for jail for nonviolent offenders. He supported Prop. 21, making it easier to criminalize youthful petty offenders. And Davis has been a zealous enforcer of the death penalty.

His pandering to the reactionary prison guards' union surpasses that of his GOP predecessor. In the midst of the state's collapsing finances, the almighty guards are raking in a 7% salary increase this year, unprecedented raises in pensions, and Club Med-class work rules which have generated mind-boggling amounts of paid sick time for our legion of prison screws.

Meanwhile, the $5-billion-a-year Indian casino industry, recipient of sweetheart compacts signed by Gray, pays no gaming tax to the state. Even the Vegas casinos have to cough up 7% to Nevada.

During his UCLA speech Davis claimed that the $3 million spent to qualify the recall was a waste "that could be better spent on something else -- like education." Yet Davis responded to an ACLU lawsuit charging him with providing dilapidated public schools to the poor by squandering $18 million in taxpayer funds on $500-an-hour white-shoe lawyers who, in turn, have used depositions to browbeat and intimidate 12-year-old witnesses.

Then there was last week's golden moment. After Arnold's new economic guru Warren Buffett shockingly blurted out the unspeakable truth -- that Prop. 13 resides at the foundation of California's ills -- Gray Davis streaked to the microphones to offer an unmediated defense of the 25-year-old law that has left this state a basket case. Thanks, Gray.

And now I'm supposed to be biting my nails, freaked out that if Davis gets dumped we'll wind up with a Republican governor? Come on. As Jim Hightower likes to say, I may have been born at night, but not last night. A Republican Governor? We've already got one.

Marc Cooper writes for the LA Weekly.