This is the end, my beautiful friend, this is the end. The moment has come for Governor Gray Davis to ride that snake — seven miles long, old and his skin cold — and head for the lake. The Blue Bus is gassed up nearby, anxiously idling, and geared up to transport the Guv next Wednesday morning into the vast political oblivion that he so richly deserves.

The recall election ends this week with a dose of drama: Schwarzenegger surging, Bustamante sinking in a tar pit of improprieties and Gray Davis’ always-thin chances for saving himself fading to funereal black. Time to hang the crepe.

After scurrying and squeaking around the state this past week unsuccessfully demanding a Hail Mary last-gasp debate with Arnold, Davis and his election team are now trying to turn this final week into a referendum on the challenger. A neat trick — because this referendum is on Governor Davis, remember?

Democratic panic — and pressure — has nevertheless reaped a few benefits. A whispering campaign led in great part by pro-Davis Hollywood liberals that Arianna Huffington and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo could wind up “spoiling” Bustamante led to both candidates effectively withdrawing from the election. Huffington pulled out formally, and Camejo nearly when he said he “will not condemn those voters who feel forced to vote for a Democrat like Cruz Bustamante.”

Forced by what, Peter? Ignorance, superstition and fear? Fear that somehow you can spoil a candidate as rotten as Cruz? That blatantly violating the same campaign-financing provision he voted for to suck in millions from gambling casinos, then laundering those funds from one campaign to another, and then using another loophole to run his governor’s campaign disguised as a No on 54 campaign, and then scoffing at a court order to return the illegal funds by claiming he already spent them on TV ads yet to run just might turn off a few Democratic voters here and there?

No. Let’s be clear. Left-of-center voters “feel forced” to vote for Bustamante because once again — like every friggin’ Election Day — we find ourselves planted knee-deep in the stench of the two-potty system.

On the one side, Republicans corral their voters warning of godless socialism should the Democrats win. And on the other side, if you wish to call it that, Democrats, liberals and soggy “progressives” are brought obediently baying back into the fold by tall tales of imminent Republican coups, hijackings and reproductions of the Third Reich.


Lord, how I am bored stiff by all this. Woe to the next person who forwards me an e-mail from some East Coast Democrat front group like breathlessly warning us Californians of the hell we face with Arnold in power. MoveOn, showing its true partisan colors, is distributing posters that read — can you believe it? — “I love Gray Davis.” Having just paid a $508 car-registration fee this week after paying my kid’s hiked tuition last month at a school that just had to cut two-thirds of its class schedule, and remembering how the governor blithely played dialing-for-dollars as the energy crisis mounted and the lights went out, I’m hardly in the mood for pro-Davis lectures from simpering liberals.

Yes, a Schwarzenegger governorship — now the most likely outcome of Tuesday’s voting — would come fraught with dangers for certain Democratic constituency groups. The professional labor leaders who have stooped to calling Davis the greatest governor in a century and the mainstream enviros who live off lucrative direct-mail campaigns, the whole nonprofit set that sip and dine at Gray Davis’ table and flit around on his campaign jet, are bound to lose some access. (Though I am 100 percent sure that organized labor will also make an eventual accommodation with Governor Arnold. They did it with Riordan, they’ll do it again.)

But as for people really at the bottom, they run few risks. They are just as shut out from the system under Davis as they will be under Arnold. The tens of thousands who languish in the state’s bloated prison gulag will not miss Gray. Welfare mothers forced into demeaning workfare while their kids get prepped for that same system will suffer little change. Women’s choice and gay rights will remain the same under Arnold. (His environmental program is actually to the left of Davis’.)

The financial backers of Schwarzenegger’s campaign and his Bushie economic program are country clubbers, developers, insurance CEOs and industrialists — the same sort who contributed the bulk of Gray Davis’ record-breaking $78 million re-election war chest. Schwarzenegger will govern in the interests of big business. Just as Davis has.

Arnold, no doubt, will tilt more to the right than Davis (except on criminal-justice issues, where the current governor has Torquemada on his left flank). But it’s also possible that Arnold — just to maintain political viability — will make a run up the radical center, surprising both Democrats and some of the dopier Republicans. After all, when this election is over, anyone occupying the statehouse will have to do something concrete to solve our economic and budget crisis, lest they risk being washed away in another wave of popular anger in 2006.

Only two California governors in recent history have been able to carry out major tax increases: Reagan and Wilson. Schwarzenegger could very likely be the third. In a state Legislature chock-a-block with Neanderthal Republicans and liberal Democrats, only a GOP governor can peel off the handful of moderate Republican votes necessary to pass a rational budget with the required two-thirds majority.

Schwarzenegger could very well wind up being a bitterly disappointing cutout for the old Pete Wilson team. On the other hand, remember, it’s Arnold who hired them, not vice versa. It would have been much more satisfying if this recall election — which sparked the greatest wave of voter enthusiasm in modern state history — had ended offering us better choices. It hasn’t. But the world is not coming to an end next Tuesday, only the Davis administration. And that alone is worth the price of admission.

I was saddened to see the candidate whom the Weekly endorsed and my friend — Arianna — withdraw, thereby narrowing even further our ballot choices. Peter Camejo’s slow surrender to Bustamante — making his campaign only a symbolic showcase rather than a real option — has also been discouraging for many on the left.

In the end, however, it’s probably better that Huffington and Camejo both pulled back, taking the bogus spoiler issue off the table. This way, when Gray Davis loses next week, he and his supporters will have no one left to blame except Gray Davis.

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