What the governor believes
Say you are Gray Davis.
Nice life, nice wife, governor of California. Well, maybe not such a nice life recently.
You’ve caught two colds in the past two months since Sharon turned the thermostat down to 55 degrees and you couldn’t find your old Army flight jacket. If you turn the thermostat back up, the press will find out and there will be hell to pay. Fortunately, this power crisis thing is complicated enough so that most media folks don’t quite get it. But having a big power bill at the state’s expense is something they can zero in on.
Speaking of zeros, they’re getting added to a lot of numbers floating around: the cost of power on the spot market, which you said the state would only have to buy for a couple of months until the utilities got their act together; the cost of the long-term power contracts which are a lot higher than you said they would be; the cost of power on the spot market to make up for the long-term contracts you said would kick in this year, but which aren’t; the cost of the little surcharge on consumers’ bills that you want to go to pay off the bonds the utilities want to float to make up for the money they lost betting on deregulation; the cost of the PG&E bankruptcy, which you sure didn’t expect; the cost of the state bonds to buy the transmission lines to make up for the rest of the money the utilities claim they lost on the deregulation deal they lobbied through in ’96. And, of course, the cost of the rate hike you said would never happen, but is still at a price way below what those nasty power company executives down in Texas are charging us for the power they are generating on the plants our utilities rushed to sell to them.
A lot of zeros. You hope they don’t zero you out.
Fortunately, you are a long way from zero in the polls. But they don’t look nearly as good as they did a month ago. This is worrisome, because you love polls. You especially love the polls of the last few years, which show your job approval at levels such that no one serious would run against you. Until the last few weeks, that is. Now private polls for the labor hacks and some nervous Nellie legislative Democrats show you down around 30 percent in “inclined to re-elect.”
Not good. But here’s the good news: Nobody serious is running against you.
Take the Republicans, you say. Please. OK, so everybody knows you’re not a comedian. You have a dry wit. So run against me if you don’t like it, you think.
The Democratic nomination is yours, right? Sure, Kathleen Connell is criticizing you for keeping the state’s power-buying secret. Big deal. So what if she’s the state controller? She just got her ass kicked running for mayor of L.A., for God’s sake. Besides, nobody you know can stand her. She makes you feel like Falstaff by comparison. You’ll have your political adviser Garry South deal with her.
There’s some talk about Phil Angelides. He’s rich and he’s fast on his feet and he knows how to talk like a Democrat, which you’ve always had a problem with. His proposals for a state public power authority and getting tough with the power companies that are feeding off the state’s general fund like vampires in a blood bank got a big rise out of what you experienced as a very subdued state party convention. But the treasurer’s a pro. He has a great shot next time around. He’s not going to run against a sitting governor in his own primary unless you absolutely tank. And that’s not going to happen. Right?
You hear something about Warren Beatty, too. Now he’s really, really rich. But he’s a nice guy who likes his life. You wanted him to be your main guy in Hollywood back when you were working your way up the ladder but you kept on losing his phone number so you never quite got around to asking. Sure, he fooled around with running for president. But the point is he didn’t run. And what does he know about water or agriculture? Besides, he’s probably not sure if his electricity bill comes from Edison or the L.A. Department of Water & Power.
No, the party will be fine, even though you don’t have many friends in it.
It’ll come down to the Republicans. The Greens? They may make some noise, but nobody takes them seriously, especially since Nader got his big four percent and screwed Gore out of the White House. Now with W, people know it really can get worse.
Though, upon reflection, maybe you should thank Nader, because Gore not being there gives you the ultimate excuse. Whack Bush. There’s the ticket.
Last year you looked to Bill Clinton to save the day. He never quite did it, though he was always so nice.
This year, if all your activity doesn’t ever add up to a solution and people catch on, you’ll just blame Bush. He’s perfect. He already got killed here last November and he’ll never rein in the power companies that are screwing the state. Why would he? They’re all his supporters. You look at the Forbes 500 list of the most valuable companies in America and the California dot-com empires are being replaced by the Texas energy companies. Bush is taking care of his own. Big time.
Then, come next year, you run against whichever lightweight the Republicans put up.
All this media talk about Arnold Schwarzenegger. The press is so gullible. Beatty is more likely to run than he is. You know that Arnold is getting ready to make Terminator 3 after the Hollywood strike situation gets taken care of. He’s finally happy with the script and he thinks he has the right director, that guy who did the World War II submarine movie that you and Sharon liked last year. Arnold will be off battling it out with an indestructible female terminator as the world topples into war with Skynet and its army of robotic destroyers. Or something like that. He sure ain’t going to be running around Bakersfield asking for votes.
Which leaves, what, Bill Simon Jr.? He’s another junior like W, a 50-year-old former rich kid whose daddy was Nixon’s secretary of the treasury. Sal Russo has some of the press conned into thinking he might run, even though the guy was off on a ski vacation when the Republicans had their state convention here. Nice gig for Sal. Nobody’s even talked to Simon. The guy obviously knows nothing except how to write out checks.
Then there’s Bill Jones. You’re sure it will be the secretary of state, Mr. Alias Smith and Jones. He is so dull. You’re glad you’re not like that. Sure, he has a little credibility, since he’s won twice statewide. A little. Some of the press buys his act that he’s really a nonpartisan good-government guy. But you know he’s got one of Pete Wilson’s former press secretaries on the state payroll and you remember well his days as the Republican leader in the Assembly.
And what does Jones have to say about the power crisis? He wants a workout instead of a bailout? What the hell does that mean? He won’t say. You know that you are loathe to take the tough steps to solve the power crisis. But you also know that the Republicans are nowhere. Deregulation was their idea! They pushed it through. Their fingerprints are all over it.
And what do they say now? Get government out of the way and let the market solve the crisis! They’re out of their minds. You couldn’t have done better if you’d called central casting.
No, you’re not going to be very popular for a while, but things are looking pretty good. There’s that pesky Harvey Rosenfield and his initiative, whenever he figures out what it is. But you’re flexible. You’re where you’ve wanted to be all your life.
You’re the governor. You’re here to stay. You’re sure of it.