The Gray Davis makeover

Dear Governor,

The ballot results aren’t in yet, as Bites pens these words on Election Day, but unless there is divine intervention or the Republicans get even more overt in rigging another Florida-style electoral victory, then you, Governor Gray Davis, should now be celebrating your re-election.

It’s a unique moment for you and the state, considering you are probably the most unpopular governor in the state’s history actually to win a second term, thanks to the GOP nominating a complete idiot and to an electorate unwilling to support anybody who doesn’t have a “D” or “R” next to his or her name.

So, Bites would like to take this chance to offer some advice in hopes that you’ll realize you don’t have to go down in history as the most boring, corrupt and unprincipled man ever to occupy the office.

At this point, your political career simply is going to end in four years, probably as unremarkably as it began. But there is another option, if you can re-invent yourself into the anti-Gray in five key ways:

Restore democracy—Without another election on the horizon, you can stop fund-raising, openly concede the error of your excessive ways in Oprah-like fashion and become a champion of election reform. You could plausibly blame the system itself for your own corruption and then change the system with things like public financing of campaigns, instant run-off elections, free airtime or even proportional representation. The more radical the better for such a pay-to-play poster boy.

Soften up on crime—To avoid being seen as soft on crime, you have had a hard-on-crime hard-on your whole term, to a truly scary degree. You intervene to deny paroles more than any governor before, and you kiss the bloated behinds of every cop group in the state, even those of self-interested prison guards and drug warriors. Sure, bad people should be punished, but stop being so damned vindictive in carrying it out, Gray. Soften your image. You should promote rather than hinder the study of alternatives to more police and longer sentences, as you did by repeatedly blocking a study of Three Strikes.

Be a dork—Face it, Gray, you’re a dork. You look like a dork, you talk like a dork, and it just falls flat when you try to act tough or be funny. But that’s OK; dorks are cool these days, no matter what your handlers tell you. You’re a smart guy skilled at politics, so focus on developing big ideas and getting them approved instead of worrying so much about your image and popularity. Just loosen up and be yourself, if you even know who that is anymore.

Attack poverty—First, read our article this week about ending poverty (“I, senator,” page 13). Then turn it into your own personal crusade. You’ve always had a knack for taking the credit for other people’s ideas, and this is one that really needs the full backing of your office if it’s going to catch fire. The state budget is a mess anyway, so you might as well use this moment to shake things up fundamentally—with wealth taxes and living wages and by focusing government on only those roles that help the masses. You’ve helped make this the fifth-largest economy in the world. Now, let’s see if you can transfer those resources into a higher standard of living for the non-wealthy among us.

Expand the dialogue—C’mon, you’ve gotta be as tired of talking about the same old issues (education, crime, the economy) as we are of hearing about them. Bring innovators into your administration and let them do their thing without micromanaging them. Name Peter Miguel Camejo your new labor secretary. Create the Governor’s Task Force on Ending the Drug War, chaired by John Vasconcellos; and the Commission on Democracy Restoration, headed by Jim Knox. Stop reflecting the pundits and pollsters and create the agenda. Tell people what they should hear, not what they want to hear.

You have nothing to lose but a bad reputation, Gray. Change your stripes, and at least you won’t go down in history as the epitome of the problem. At best, you’ll do some good and maybe even revive your own chances of salvaging a political future, one that changes the direction of our troubled country. Carpe diem.

Sincerely, Capital Bites