Gray Davis's $24 billion deficit is rapidly moving toward $28 billion, says California state Controller Kathleen Connell. But Davis appears unconcerned. During the state's budgetary impasse -- which now exceeds two months and will stand as one of the longest stalemates in California history -- Davis has been raising millions for his campaign and smearing Bill Simon on the airwaves.
In one of his blizzard of attack ads, he actually takes credit for strengthening the "fifth-largest economy in the world." Had Davis gone on vacation to Hawaii for the duration of his first term, he would have done less damage to California's economy. Most businesses stay in California not because of Gray Davis, but in spite of him.
Davis is avoiding the budget dispute, lest voter discontent about it rub off on him. Some observers think he wants the dispute to last beyond the election. But Connell -- one of the many Democrats disillusioned with Davis -- is putting pressure on him to solve it. She is telling reporters that he "absolutely" must resolve the dispute, otherwise it will damage the state's credit rating with Wall Street agencies. "There would be a series of rippling financial problems if the Legislature does not get a state budget passed," she says.
That warning is not likely to impress Davis. Taking out dumb loans to contain self-inflicted problems is one of his specialties. But what may get Davis's attention is that the budgetary deadlock threatens one of his favorite state expenditures: financing abortion.
Davis's friends at Planned Parenthood are worried that the budget dispute may suspend "medical services" for women. Connell says that she has no authorization under state law to pay for Medi-Cal abortions after September 1. A flak for Davis says that his administration "is examining the situation and looking for ways to ensure that California women can continue to receive the medical services that they need."
Why is a state awash in debt paying for abortions? That question is never asked. Whether taxpayers should pay for abortion is apparently no longer even a "debatable" issue in California politics.
Davis can get away with it, because the socially liberal press in the state have succeeded in silencing the Republican party on social issues. Believe it or not, Davis, one of the most crass pols in California political history, now enjoys higher "ethical" ratings than his opponent, according to a new poll. This shocked even liberal Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, who reported that the Public Policy Institute of California found that voters, by 43% to 28%, believe Davis would "do a better job of maintaining high ethical standards in government" than Simon. "This is the same governor, after all, who has set the all-time state record for raking in special interest money," writes Skelton.
Davis's attack ads, which cast Simon as a corporate scoundrel, are clearly working at some level. But not so well that he can run away with the race. According to the same polling outfit that Skelton cites, Simon is only trailing Davis by 11% -- not a huge margin given nonstop negativity toward Simon from the press, Davis's estimated ten-times-larger advertising budget than Simon, and pervasive Republican defeatism.
Davis is still disliked intensely, not just by Republicans, but by the sorts of liberals he used to work with back in the days he served as Jerry Brown's chief of staff. Leon Panetta has said that Davis should knock off the attack ads and discuss the issues. Peter Camejo, the Green Party's candidate who may drain off 5% of the Davis vote, calls Davis "personally corrupt." He has told the press he would rather share a cup of coffee with Simon than Davis. "Everywhere I go I'm struck by how much Davis has alienated Democrats and progressives," he has said.
Perhaps the budgetary mess will revive such anti-Davis sentiment. It certainly punctures Davis's claim that he is "running" one of the largest economies in the world.
Davis frequently asks, If Simon can't run a business, then how can he run the fifth-largest economy in the world? Simon ought to turn the question on Davis in a television ad of his own, saying something like: Davis has created a $28 billion deficit in four years. Imagine how large it will be after eight.
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