The Current Crisis

Turn Out the Lights

Gray Davis's party is over.

By 3.19.02

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In Gray Davis's recent interview with the editorial board of San Diego Union Tribune, the nerdy braggart exploded defensively about California's energy crisis last year: "If I didn't panic, you wouldn't be able to put out your paper. I saved this friggin' paper. I kept the lights on in this state. Do you understand that? I kept the lights on."

Davis demands a "round of applause" for his sterling management skills. Those who say he bungled the crisis last year don't "know squat," he huffed, adding ludicrously, "This is like a war. This is worse than being in Vietnam. This is a full-out war against me."

"I saved this friggin' paper?" "Worse than being in Vietnam?" Add delusion to Davis's résumé of weirdness.

California's electricity crisis ended with no thanks to Davis. He simply prolonged it. In hock to the power-plant-stopping environmentalists and price-cap statists, Davis resisted common sense for months.

Californians can recall that Davis did not keep the "lights on," but turned them off. Remember the Davis-ordered "rolling blackouts"?

This should rank as one of the most insane public policies in the history of California government. Davis's random pulling of the plug resulted in car crashes and hospital emergencies as traffic lights and dialysis machines went dead. Newspapers showed pictures of children trapped in elevators.

This is what passed as "crisis management" for Gray Davis. He chose this draconian measure over the only rational incentive to conservation: abolishing price caps. Instead of letting consumers choose to pull the plug, Davis just pulled it for them.

And Californians punished him for his panic. In May of last year, as the crisis continued, Davis's approval ratings had dropped to 46% from 63% just five months earlier.

So Davis turned his attention to demagoguery and Madison Avenue tricks. He hired two smearing spinners, Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, to demonize the energy companies and shift blame from Davis to anyone else. Fabiani and Lehane were happy to join up with a pol even less popular than Al Gore, their former client, as Davis paid them $30,000 a month from California's vanishing public till until bad PR forced him to cut loose this PR team.

Lehane and Fabiani's work as state employees appeared to consist mostly of writing Op-Eds for Davis in out-of-state newspapers. Naturally, the New York Times and Washington Post, always ready to help a liberal politician get his spin out, obliged them. In the piece for the Washington Post under Davis' name, the governor made the Churchillian point that his state's self-made crisis was the new Republican president's "problem."

Davis is apparently doing his own PR these days. How else to explain his "I saved-this-friggin-paper" rantings? Like Gore, Davis is under the odd impression that swaggering is a substitute for charisma.

The interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune also revealed Davis's Clintonian streak. Davis has embraced the former president's reelection modus operandi: take credit for good things beyond your control, dodge responsibility for bad things within it.

Hence the California governor who vilified the free market at every turn last year claims authorship this year for its bounty: "We have created, net, 900,000 new jobs. We were up to close to a million before Sept. 11. No state in America has come anywhere close to that. When I took the oath of office, we were the seventh-largest economy on the planet. We passed Italy my first year, France my second year, and we will pass the U.K. in two years. We are the fifth-largest economy in the world. Only Germany, the U.K. and Japan and the United States are better than us."

Yes, California's economy is strong -- strong enough to transcend Davis's quasi-socialism. Last year Davis, on a hyperactive conservation kick, went out of his way to drive business out of the state with such outlandish measures as threatening to imprison businessmen who refused to turn off outdoor lighting after business hours.

Davis's expertise lies not in creating jobs, but in killing them. Yet he is certain that Californians will prefer his record as a bureaucrat to Bill Simon's record as a businessman.

"This state is not going to elect someone who has never held office, rarely voted and is out of step with the state on most major social issues, including women's right to choose, sensible gun control, energy deregulation...He is pro-voucher and pro-privatization," Davis said. "You need to bring something to the table. You need to pay your dues. You need to serve on some board or commission. Run for some office. Do something that shows your civic contribution before you ask people to vote for you."

That Simon is not a career politician won't scare Californians. Indeed, as they pay the state's mammoth electricity debts created by a career politician, they may very well take relief in voting for a candidate who isn't one.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.