Let's cut to the chase.
Gov. Gray Davis is history. There is no compelling
reason to keep him as governor, and no plausible
Democratic strategy to forestall the inevitable. No one
deserves this fate more than Davis who - time for a
lesson here - in refusing to take a stand on anything to
avoid political fallout, has earned the most political
fallout one could receive.
Even California conservatives, an understandably
pessimistic group, aren't worried about whether Davis
will be recalled. That's considered a done deal. The
question is who will replace him. Most people expect
Arnold Schwarzenegger to win handily, unless he makes
some misstep as he morphs from actor to politician.
The big question I'm asked, as somewhat of a purist
when it comes to limiting government, is who I will vote
for. We don't endorse, but here's my thinking on how to
evaluate the candidates.
Let's start with a process of elimination.
Despite the 135 candidates, the race will quickly
come down to a choice between no more than five
candidates: actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lt. Gov. Cruz
Bustamante, state Sen. Tom McClintock, businessman Bill
Simon and perhaps even former baseball commissioner
Bustamante is a liberal, beholden to labor unions,
Latino activists, Indian tribes and trial lawyers. Until
he threw his name into the recall mix, Bustamante hadn't
shown any distinguishing leadership qualities. A
Bustamante administration would be, in effect, the
continuation of the Davis administration, although the
current lieutenant governor might push even harder to
No way to Cruz.
Simon is a policy wonk, and a likeable guy on a
personal level. He holds mainstream conservative views
on social issues, although he is by no means divisive in
the way he discusses them. He has thought carefully
about many policy issues, including infrastructure,
budget issues, education, local control and so forth.
His views lean in the libertarian/conservative
direction, which makes me sympathetic toward him.
But his campaigns - including the primary against
Dick Riordan and the general election against Gray Davis
- would make interesting case studies in how not to
practice the art of politics. He refused to spend a lot
of his own money in the primary until late in the game.
He basically won because of two bizarre occurrences:
Gov. Davis spent money bashing Simon's opponent,
Riordan, whom the governor viewed as a more formidable
adversary. And Riordan forgot he was running in a GOP
primary, and decided to unleash venom against the
party's conservatives. Conservatives dominate the
primary and got their revenge in a landslide.
In the general election, we waited and waited and
Simon did nothing. He didn't go negative until late in
the game - a foolish move, given Davis' skill at puke
politics. Then there were the untrue allegations that
Davis illegally took a campaign check in the state
Capitol. Oops, that wasn't the state Capitol after all,
but a private office.
What a disaster. Simon lost by five points, but he
should have won. Anyone else would have won. Simon
should not be in this race. He had his chance. He blew
it, big time. I would not vote for him, period.
Ueberroth's big shtick is that centrist,
let's-get-along, let's restore civility garbage that was
big in the early 1990s. But the problem in Sacramento
isn't that people haven't gotten along, but that they
have gotten along too well. The Democrats, who control
every statewide office and hold a lock on the
Legislature, have been spending money, regulating,
acting without any serious checks and balances. On a
personal level, Davis and legislators hated each other,
but there has been no battle of ideas in Sacramento. We
need a governor who will confront the Legislature and
lead, not someone who wants to be legislators'
No way on Ueberroth.
What's left is a choice between my heart and my head.
My heart says Schwarzenegger. Here's a guy who can win.
Here's a guy who can shake things up and excite a new
breed of Republicans and cut across party lines. He's
smart, savvy, has a quintessentially American story to
tell. And he is the best chance to rid the state of
Davis. Based on an editorial board meeting with him, I
have no doubts he would be up to the leadership
But then my head butts in. Schwarzenegger is a
relatively unknown commodity when it comes to politics,
although we know he supported Prop. 187, wants to stop
the state's drain of businesses to other states, and is
pretty liberal on the social stuff, including the
conservative hot-buttons of abortion and gay rights.
Until he details a more specific plan for treating an
unruly government the way his Terminator 3 character
treated the Terminatrix, it's hard to pull the lever for
State Sen. Tom McClintock, who despite his unabashed
conservatism was the only Republican who came close to
winning a statewide election in his November race for
controller, is the real thing: A hard-nosed fiscal
conservative who understands budgets and has the
toughness to shame the Legislature into fixing the mess
it has made.
If the Legislature balks, McClintock will propose a
variety of initiatives to circumvent it. He would use
the bully pulpit to go directly to voters and make his
case for the right solutions. No gimmicks, just the hard
But McClintock probably doesn't have the money to run
the kind of race needed to top Schwarzenegger and
Bustamante, and if he pulls too many Republican votes
Bustamante will win. It's a tough choice, and probably
too early to decide. But this is a refreshing discussion
to have, given that not too long ago it looked like
Californians were stuck with 3 1/2 more years of Gray
Davis as governor.