By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Campaigns have their wacky moments. Bill Simon has more than his share, including some new gaffes on energy. But Governor Gray Davis, seasoned pro that he is, has them too, especially as he edges closer to a full embrace of L.A. Assemblywoman Fran Pavley‘s seemingly stalled bill to fight global warming by cutting vehicle-tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Even Green candidate Peter Camejo is getting in on the follies, with insistence that Democrats worried about his potential spoiler role in a close Davis-Simon race can eliminate the problem by swiftly enacting “instant runoff” voting.
So there again was Bill Simon last week at the Capitol Park Hyatt Regency, talking about a complex yet central topic, energy policy, which has proved to be a discombobulating one for the self-styled “candidate of ideas.” This time he had some help on hand, Congressman Doug Ose (R-Sacramento), who heads a House subcommittee on energy, and former Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese, who turned out to have nothing to say. Simon had hoped to have another knowledgeable legislator, state Senator Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), there to help him as well, but the senator had to cancel at the last minute.
Perhaps seeking to blunt the damage of recent revelations of widespread market manipulation by electric-power companies, Simon called for an investigation into several questionable acts by the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the state’s power grid. It is now controlled by Davis appointees. Ose, who wants to run against U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer in 2004, handled most of the argument urging an investigation, though it was unclear whom he wanted to carry it out.
After Simon endured some questions about whether Simon‘s professed energy solutions are really all that different from what Davis is now doing, the Weekly asked the Republican nominee just how responsible he thought the ISO was for causing the energy crisis. He wouldn’t say. But after several questions, he did allow as how the ISO may have been as responsible as Enron for jacking up energy prices, and that only an investigation would tell us for sure. Which makes him probably the only major politician to equate the two. It‘s like saying the Secret Service may have been just as responsible as the shooter(s) in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
And what about energy deregulation, which he championed before the primary but doesn’t want to talk about now? He still doesn‘t want to talk about it. Pressed repeatedly, Simon finally said that deregulation “is a distraction.” When asked if it was a “distraction” when he championed it in his Republican primary campaign, he was near speechless. Of course, the question is not only not a distraction, it is central to what sort of energy policy he really has.
The recent CBS News revelation that a dozen energy traders admit to manipulating the California market, causing blackouts in the process, is a long-range windfall for Davis. And with the Oracle computer-software scandal seemingly petering out, at least as it relates to the direct involvement of Davis, the governor can return to other big problems. Seeking to fan the embers, the Simon campaign kept demanding that Davis give back not just the $25,000 he had already returned, but an additional $20,000. Trouble is, there is no additional $20,000 to return.
Davis is also fortunate that affirmative-action foe Ward Connerly’s ballyhooed initiative to eliminate racial identity from state records failed to qualify for the ballot. Identity-politics advocates on the left would have insisted that Davis and Democrats take on the campaign against the Connerly initiative as a crusade, distracting from more popular issues that Davis would prefer to talk about. As for Connerly, his failure to even get this measure on the ballot, much less replicate the electoral triumph of his anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209, threatens to relegate him to the right-wing yakker status of a David Horowitz.
But it‘s not all flawless professionalism and fortunate bounces for Davis. As the Enron revelations strengthen Davis’ hand for the fall, he moves gingerly to lend support to Assemblywoman Pavley‘s bill, which would control tailpipe emissions that help cause global warming, a move already made by a number of Western European nations. Twice in recent weeks, environmentalists have considered bringing up the bill, but have not done so. It has passed the Assembly and the Senate, but must return to the Assembly for votes on amendments that actually make it more moderate. Ironically, the bill had more votes (42, one more than needed) in its unamended form. But the automobile lobby unleashed a furious campaign against it, and new Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson of L.A. lost control of the situation.
L.A. Assemblyman Rod Wright, who voted for the bill in January, has backed off his support. Two other L.A. Assembly members, Tony Cardenas and Sally Havice, who didn’t vote in January, remain on the fence. And a Bay Area assemblyman with a General Motors plant in his district, who voted yes in January, is now trying to push a compromise bill. In this version, the mechanism for cutting greenhouse-gas emissions would not be determined by the Air Resources Board. Instead, the board would recommend an approach, which would then have to go back to the Legislature all over again. Which is contrary to the way emissions policy usually works, and which the Davis administration doesn‘t like for the bad precedent.