SACRAMENTO — Tears flowed at the Cruz Bustamante election bash in Sacramento, but they weren’t being shed for Cruz. In one of the few displays of emotion at the Sheraton ballroom, a block from the Capitol, several faithful Democrats clustered around TV sets late in the evening and dabbed their eyes while watching Gray Davis make his concession speech half a state away. Earlier, at another monitor, a small crowd gave a whoop and a shout, and a dozen reporters rushed over to see if there had been a sudden shift in the numbers to put Bustamante back in the race. But no. These weren’t Bustamante people but Cub fans, cheering over a ninth-inning Sammy Sosa home run.
The real Cruz Bustamante crowd was much like the lieutenant governor himself: cheerful, steady, unsurprising. They knew walking in that their man would not be moving across the hall to the Governor’s Office, just as they knew that with the ouster of Davis in the unprecedented gubernatorial recall, Bustamante was about to become the top-ranked elected Democrat in the state. Defeat didn’t seem so bad.
Campaign consultant Richie Ross all but said as much an hour before the polls closed. Polling showed negative feelings increasing for all Democrats as the weeks of the short recall campaign went by, he said, but “in the morning, Cruz Bustamante goes to work as lieutenant governor.”
The crowd was smaller, but more enthusiastic, a block away at the Hyatt Regency, where Republican state Senator Tom McClintock greeted his followers with a quick and efficient speech about a job well done. In electing action-film star Arnold Schwarzenegger governor, McClintock said, Californians had adopted “the agenda that I announced.” Like Bustamante, he declared his defeat a victory and prepared to get up and go to work at the Capitol in the morning.
But, like Bustamante, McClintock must be wondering whether sticking to his guns rather than backing his party’s standard-bearer will mean the end of his political career. Supporter Bonnie Williams of Fair Oaks insisted that the new politically moderate governor will be wise enough to make the right-leaning McClintock part of his team. McClintock is “too brilliant” to be left behind, she said. But Los Angeles consultant Allan Hoffenblum said the legislator from Ventura County is a loner who could be in trouble in his coming re-election bid.
“People know that Tom McClintock has done nothing to help Republicans win the governor’s chair,” Hoffenblum said.
Back at the Bustamante party, the tears for Davis had dried by the time state Senator Martha Escutia prepared to introduce the lieutenant governor. As Assembly speaker, their man listened and worked for consensus rather than trying to “implement his vision” — a reference to a notorious Davis remark about the Legislature’s role. The statement, made in the first year of his term, still rankles some Democratic lawmakers.
State Senator Gloria Romero, too, seemed more than a little mad at the freshly defeated Davis and the people who supported him but not Bustamante. Instead of backing the lieutenant governor for the sake of the party, she said, they abandoned him.
“As Democrats, we should have had the courage early on to say it can’t just be about saving Gray,” Romero told the Weekly. “It should be about saving and advancing a Democratic agenda. The party structure is responsible for dropping that ball in favor of saving one person. I would not blame Cruz for the defeat of Gray. The people of California are defeating Gray Davis.”
Romero was less critical of the governor-elect. “We would be fools if we were to try to be obstructionists,” she said. “I believe that we will work together. I believe we have to get the message that Californians are sending.”
But Escutia had words of warning for the new governor. Bustamante, she said, “will step up the enforcement of sexual-battery laws” and “assure a job environment free of assault and harassment.”
Bustamante was more playful in his own approach to the new governor.
“Arnold, you’re very famous for making movies all over the world,” Bustamante joked, perhaps unaware that much of the world was at that moment riveted to TV sets as Schwarzenegger made his first speech as California’s governor-elect.
“I want you to feel free to continue doing that,” Bustamante continued. “Go where you like. Feel free to stay as long as you like. I’ll be here keeping an eye on things.”
The lieutenant governor, of course, takes over when the governor is out of state, and can sign bills, present budgets, declare emergencies. And California has a long tradition of two top elected officials from different parties, feuding and trying to outmaneuver one another.
But Bustamante said Tuesday he thought he would be able to work well with Schwarzenegger. The unspoken subtext, understood by everyone in the room, was that, like most Californians, he never really cared all that much for Gray Davis.