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Simon Squirms

Bill Simon has a problem dealing with serious questions. The Republican gubernatorial candidate has gotten much better with a script, vastly improved from his robotic delivery of last fall. But when asked to delve beneath the surface of that script, he has big problems. At a disastrous March press conference in Sacramento, he repeatedly dodged questions on abortion and energy deregulation. After that, he declined to talk to reporters for four weeks. Last Friday, the superrich investor delivered what was billed as his vision for California’s energy future. As visions go, it was fairly vague, its half-dozen goals sounding just like, well, Davis‘. Simon delivered these bromides at the ”energy summit“ of the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, held, as fate would have it, at the world headquarters of Oracle Corp. After his speech, I had a few questions.

L.A. WEEKLY: Mr. Simon, you’ve been banging for weeks on the Oracle software deal, with the state as Exhibit A of political corruption in California. And incidentally [holding Simon‘s speech text before him, with the change circled], you call it the Oracle scandal in your text here but changed it in your delivery to the ”Davis technology scandal.“ Here we are at Oracle headquarters. What would you like to say about Oracle’s part in what you call a corrupt act?

BILL SIMON: Well, I don‘t want to rush to judgment here. Oracle is a very fine company. We need to investigate fully before making any determination.

So you have nothing to say about Oracle’s part in the Oracle scandal?

Not at this time.

You‘ve certainly made a judgment about Governor Davis in this affair, sir. As you point out, Oracle got a no-bid, sole-source contract, something they lobbied long and hard to get. They delivered the contribution to the governor when they got the contract, which is what you keep criticizing. Are you saying that the one who takes the money is guilty, but the one who gives the money to get the result is not guilty?

I wouldn’t want to put it that way. We need to investi-

gate fully.

So then you withdraw your criticism of Davis pending this full investigation?

No.

Do you have anything critical to say about Oracle‘s role in the Oracle scandal?

No.Thank you. I have a question about the energy policy you unveiled here today. In looking at your six principal points here, they seem identical to those of Governor Davis. Do you have any substantive disagreement with Davis on energy?

Why, yes, I do. I think we need to renegotiate the long-term power contracts.

Mr. Simon, as you know, the power contracts are being renegotiated. What other differences do you have on energy policy?

Well, I have a different approach on how to renegotiate.

Yes, sir, we’ve gone over that before, but the state is renegotiating contracts. What other differences do you have?

We need to get the state out of the business of buying electricity.

But isn‘t the state already moving to do just that? That’s why they bailed out the utilities, sir, so they would be made whole enough to again purchase power.

Well, he created the Power Authority.

But, Mr. Simon, the Power Authority doesn‘t have the authority to buy electric power. That authority is with the Department of Water Resources. Mr. Simon, I have a question about something that’s not in your speech here. A couple months ago I attended one of your speeches where you said that ”an unfettered free market“ is the key to a successful energy strategy for California. Do you still believe that?

Well, I want to concentrate on the short term right now. Renegotiating the long-term contracts, developing new supply, new options.

Mr. Simon, have you dropped your long-standing support of energy deregulation?

That‘s a long-term question. I want to talk about the short term.

Well, let’s talk about the long term. Let‘s say you become governor of California and you serve eight years. That’s long term, isn‘t it?

Yes.

Will you be pushing your belief in energy deregulation and unfettered free markets?

I want to focus on renegotiating the contracts.At this point, we both began laughing, as it was obvious he had no intention of acknowledging his underlying views or discussing them in any way. Of course, as Simon waits for a full investigation on Oracle’s role in the Oracle scandal, more than enough damaging information has already emerged about the company. E-mail messages reveal that Oracle officials deliberately withheld information from state officials that would have caused greater questioning about the purported benefits of the deal.