Trail Follies 

Sometimes it's just hard believing what the candidates say

Wednesday, Jun 5 2002

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.

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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.

Davis, who expressed misgivings to the Weekly in March, is allowing his staff to help on the bill, but balked at coming out in support of it. Former Assemblyman Phil Isenberg, now a leader of the automobile-lobby campaign against the global-warming bill, helped block a public endorsement from the governor. Isenberg still wields considerable power, and the governor would like his help getting the state budget passed. Isenberg used to be chairman of the Assembly budget committee and knows the process inside and out, and he is a very influential lobbyist who can help Davis make deals with various interest groups.

Proponents of the global-warming bill have until August to regroup and push it through. Most recently, Davis has urged the passage of the bill, saying he would do everything possible to get it to his desk. But he won’t say whether he will sign the bill if it gets there! Say what, Governor?

Who knows what our calculating governor will do? The global-warming bill carries some risks for him, but also some benefits. Its passage would require Detroit to retool its production lines, a not-inconsiderable expense that could offend much of the business community, and the unions, which have complained that the measure will cost jobs. But the bill is a priority to environmentalists, whom Davis has cultivated throughout his career.

It‘s like the old game where you walk closer and closer to the wall, moving halfway there each time. Do you ever reach it? Or do you finally get so close that the degree of difference matters only in your own mind?

Now that the Bush administration has finally acknowledged that global warming is not only real, but will cause major damage to the U.S., the environmentalist hand should be strengthened, though of course the Bush “plan” is to do nothing about it. But the admission removes a fig leaf that auto-industry lobbyists have hidden behind, that more study is needed to know if the greenhouse effect is real.

Still, environmentalists have been playing a dangerously inside game in their drive to enact AB 1058. The fight to win passage should be well known to anyone who follows politics even slightly. It’s not.

Green candidate Pete Camejo, for one, was not up to speed on the Pavley bill. On another matter, the Secretary of State‘s Office, which oversees California elections, says Camejo is being exceedingly glib in saying the Dems can just call an emergency legislative session and pass instant-runoff voting if they don’t want Davis‘ election spoiled this fall. Moving to I.R. would require hundreds of changes in election laws, and probably a state constitutional amendment. Hardly the stuff of a quick special session.

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