Dopey recallers vs. Demo sneaks

Let the histrionics begin! Both sides will grandstand and lie, revealing who they truly are.

Illustration By B.Z.

I am continually bemused by what the mainstream media observe firsthand during political wars but often “clean up” when reporting the news for public consumption. This media behavior was on display in recent days as journalists covered the dopes trying to recall Gray Davis and the equally buffoonish goons trying to keep Davis in office.

Everything, and I mean everything, that happens in the campaigns from this moment forward will be, at bottom, simply an effort to influence public-opinion polls as Davis hurtles toward the first recall vote against a governor in the United States since the 1920s.

What I observed at a press conference held by Rescue California, the group that appears likely to force the recall vote, largely was excised from news reports. But these unsanitized tidbits speak volumes about the two camps currently waging the battle to influence the polls.

The first telling moment came immediately after a July 14 news conference, held on the sun-drenched west steps of the Capitol, when Ted Costa of People’s Advocate and Dave Gilliard of Rescue California were questioned by a Latina television reporter from a Spanish-language station. “Excuse me,” she said politely, waving toward a microphone. “Who’s giving interviews to the Spanish-language media?”

This question is routine at most California press conferences, but it perked up my interest. Polls indicate Latinos are a major Democratic group in favor of recalling Davis. Although the media have been pretty quiet about it, Latinos potentially are the Democrats’ worst nightmare.

Latinos could go to the polls to oust Davis, or they could do what they did last November, when Latino Democrats—disgusted by Davis—boycotted the gubernatorial election in droves and nearly threw it to Republican Bill Simon.

So, I wondered: Who had the Republicans recruited to speak to Latinos at this well-attended Capitol press conference, just as the story was hitting big in the national news? Would it be somebody big, like the hip new vice-chairman of the California Republican Party, Mario Rodriguez?

Gilliard returned a blank look to the polite Latina reporter. Clearly, it hadn’t even crossed anyone’s mind to have a Spanish speaker on hand.

This is just the sort of gaffe that tells you exactly how the California Republican Party still thinks. It’s still as white as snow. It’s still as out of it as a comatose patient in an intensive-care ward.

“Uh, our Spanish-speaking representative is Bob Pacheco—Assemblyman Bob Pacheco,” Gilliard said. “You can call him at his office.”

At least Gilliard looked uncomfortable as he made this statement. That’s what passes for social progress with California Republicans.

I told this story to Pat Caddell, former pollster for Jimmy Carter, and a national Democratic TV commentator who probably was the first public figure to openly push the idea of recalling Davis last November. “California Republicans are the dumbest people I have ever met,” Caddell harrumphed.

Not that the California Democrats are a bargain. The Democrats also showed a side they should not have unveiled.

Bob Mulholland, spokesman for the California Democrats, did a great job of stealing the show after the press conference. The media quickly gathered close as the clownish Mulholland made loud comments about the supposedly bad people—like two convicted felons—the Democrats say were paid to gather some recall-petition signatures.

It’s curious why the Democrats are making a big issue of this. Throughout the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled twice—and very clearly—that the backgrounds of the gatherers of petition signatures are not important. The court says that as long as signatures on petitions are verified as being from registered voters, the courts cannot interfere with the will of those voters. Such petitions are ruled good. But for now, the Democrats are getting great media spin from their attacks on the petition-gatherers.

So, whom did Mulholland loudly attack for gathering recall signatures?

The homeless.

“Voters should know the kind of people bused in to do the circulating!” Mulholland cried conspiratorially. “The Republicans don’t want judicial review of the types of people they had circulating petitions! The homeless! And convicted felons!”

Does the Democratic Party condone the idea that these types of jobs, which require no previous experience, should not be offered to the homeless? Perhaps the homeless are not even worthy of the right to vote?

I called Steve Smith, the well-to-the-left laborista whom Davis appointed as California’s top labor bureaucrat in order to placate state labor unions.

The unions want to keep Davis as governor because they own him. You may recall that in 2002 Davis handed grotesque raises and perks to the California prison guards, including nearly full retirement at age 50. It was just one free-spending Davis decision in 2002 that helped break the piggy bank. Soon afterward, the prison guards handed Davis a check for $251,000.

Smith is now campaign manager of Taxpayers Against the Governor’s Recall. Smith’s spokesman, Nick Velasquez, assured me they’d call back, but by deadline, they hadn’t. Was it because their “two felons” allegation was turning into an embarrassment, after the San Francisco Chronicle hit Davis with a story explaining that the two felons worked at Rescue California just a short time—and both were then promptly hired to gather signatures for the Davis side?

Mulholland’s gaffe reveals an ugly side of the Democrats. While the California Republicans are social Neanderthals, the California Democratic Party’s Achilles’ heel is its blatant willingness to shift position, make things up and then shift position again, in a Machiavellian dance of situational ethics. It’s the party of smarms and sneaks, and Democrats have lost their way under Chief Sneak Gray Davis.

The truth is that during this campaign, the Republicans and Democrats both will frenetically grandstand, grandly lie, go too far and, in the process, accidentally reveal their true natures. And that is why two crucial questions now present themselves: First, will the California media decide to tell the public the juicy and telling details that only the journalists and political insiders get to see on this campaign trail? Or, will the California media—as is often, but not always, true—wrongly sanitize what they report for public consumption? Second, will the public somehow pick its way through all this bull and form opinions that withstand the histrionics of the campaigns? Or, will one side or the other snooker the public?

So far, the public seems fairly resilient to some pretty heavy spin. The Los Angeles Times’ July 4 Times Poll showed some startling public attitudes—although Times editors chose not to print in the newspaper the most revealing questions from their poll.

The final question in the poll, for example, can be no comfort to Democrat strategists. Right now, big players like National Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former Al Gore strategist Chris Lehane are hotly accusing the California Republicans of trying to steal an election they lost, à la Florida. The Democrats are getting terrific media play over this accusation.

Lehane told a San Diego paper the recall is “a political circus maxima … analogous to what took place in Florida at the end of 2000.”

The unpublished question in the Times Poll asked voters which they believed more: “The Republicans are attempting to reverse the outcome of the gubernatorial election they lost last November,” or “The Republicans honestly believe that Gray Davis has mismanaged the state’s finances.”

Among registered voters, 53 percent said they believe the Republicans honestly think Davis mismanaged the finances, and 33 percent said Republicans want to reverse the election. That 20-point spread means the Democrats’ spin, despite fairly constant coverage, is falling flat. And incredibly, one-third of Democrats agreed Republicans are being honest.

Caddell pointed to another unpublished Times Poll finding: 60 percent of voters think it’s a sufficient enough reason to recall a governor if he or she does a poor job governing the state. “This is just explosive stuff,” said Caddell. “It tells me the Democrats don’t understand what they are facing, recall support is broad, and we may be heading toward a huge turnout.”

Darry Sragow, a respected Democratic strategist, said the unpublished final question from the Times Poll “is startling, fascinating” and tells him that the election-stealing argument “may very well get Democrats out to vote, but the argument does not an anti-recall campaign make.”

Sragow hopes the big-time strategists gathered around Davis emphasize a major policy debate about the budget instead. He strongly believes Republican budget-cutting ideas will turn off voters.

But Caddell says the Los Angeles Times, by leaving out key findings in its news story about its own poll and by focusing on an iffy finding that Davis might scrape by if no Democrats are on the ballot to replace him, has given the Davis crowd a false sense of security.

“Their poll essentially refutes their news story,” said Caddell. “The Times headline should have said the recall is viewed as a credible effort by voters, and there’s a massive 20-point advantage to those who think it’s credible over those who don’t. That’s staggering—it’s a groundswell. And the poll finding, also not published by the paper, that 70 percent are closely following the recall—that is huge compared to what Californians normally say to those questions. It means people are so pissed.”

The real message could be that sometimes, voters simply know what they know—and that no matter how much the media sanitizes information for public consumption, voters finally may be wise to the Chief Sneak.