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
Both the Gray Davis and Bill Simon campaigns vented steam last week at dogged reporters, and in characteristic ways: Team Davis with tough-guy bluster and the Simon crew with frat-boy officiousness. Davis chief strategist Garry South lectured the Capitol press corps in a public speech, then embarrassingly dressed down the San Jose Mercury News for its constant pounding on the Oracle software scandal. More amusingly, a Simon flack briefly attempted to ban me from the campaign after my latest efforts to pry answers out of his blandly evasive candidate.
Amid the huffing and puffing, it became clear that the Oracle debacle is now coming to a close. It also became clear why it would be virtually impossible to pin the rip-off on Davis, even if he had actually masterminded the entire deal.
As predicted here weeks ago, the Oracle scandal spared Davis and exposed a confusing welter of deceptive sales practices, arguably incompetent or self-interested bureaucrats, and pushy state legislators in league with the database-software giant. No one has actually laid a glove on Davis, though his poll numbers have slipped because of the scrutiny placed on the business-as-usual Capitol fund-raising practices, which he has refined to a science. His precautions in the Governor‘s Office make it virtually impossible ever to answer these two basic questions on any topic: What did the governor know, and when did he know it?
You see, even if he were fully informed of problems with the Oracle deal, which he and his people deny (and there is ample evidence of the software sellers’ hiding information from state officials), and pushed the deal through anyway, there would be practically no evidence of it. Why? Because there are no memos written to the governor of California. Anything he reads is written to ”File.“ If a memo is addressed to Davis, it is returned to its sender. This has been going on for years, by the way, but comes as news to the Simon campaign. There is no paper trail on anything. And the governor doesn‘t use e-mail.
This may be merely a prudent practice on Davis’ part. He‘s a busy man and reads a lot of things, after all, and he doesn’t like long documents, and doesn‘t want to be held responsible for what he didn’t read on Page 17. But it is also a very neat way to insulate himself. If Richard Nixon had been that smooth, Watergate would never have happened.
Needless to say, the Republicans are fuming and flailing over their inability to strike a knockout blow on Oracle. Davis is more unpopular in the wake of a wave of press focus on his fund-raising, and the little-examined Simon is tantalizingly close in recent polls. But if Simon can‘t stand up to scrutiny or if, for example, he can’t answer searching questions without getting tied up in knots or looking ignorant or hypocritical -- a familiar pattern to Weekly readers of the last few months -- he‘s unlikely to win no matter how unpopular Davis is.
South is deeply frustrated that Simon is getting, as he puts it, a ”free ride“ from most of the press while ”they sit around at their computers and write about the governor’s fund-raising.“ He said as much to most of the state‘s political press corps, assembled last week at a Sacramento Press Club luncheon. ”We know less about Simon than any other major candidate in our lifetimes,“ South declared to the state press corps. ”He has flipped you off, and you take it. He is a mystery man who tries to evade policy questions and won’t tell you anything about the money that fuels his campaign.“ (Simon‘s late drive in the primary was self-funded.) Simon, South complained, refuses to release his tax returns and hides behind very general state financial-disclosure forms that actually reveal very little about the nature of his wealth.
All of this concern about Simon’s lack of candor suggested an obvious question from the Weekly. ”Garry, continuing on your theme of openness and accountability, you are the most influential person with Governor Davis. Who are your business clients?“
I felt a distinct chill directly to my left, where Davis‘ assistant press secretary, Amber Pasricha, sat. South tensed and went into bob-and-weave mode. To his professional credit, he is better at it than Simon. But he was not forthcoming. ”I do have some, yes,“ he admitted. (Which was a surprise, as the word was he would only work for Davis this year.) Who might they be? ”Well, I’m a private citizen.“ Mr. Simon, of course, says the same stuff.
”Look, if I was running for governor, I think that would be a different thing, don‘t you?“ South said.
But you are extraordinarily influential with not just a candidate, but the actual governor, I said.
”I’ve done nothing during my time Gray has been governor, I‘ve never made a dime off the state, have had no state contracts, and my conscience is clear.“
But the clients are private, not public. You don’t think you have a standard of public accountability here?”Ah, no. I‘ll tell you who my clients are when every Republican consultant does the same.“