The Current Crisis

Davis Passes South

It says everything about a candidate when his mean streak becomes more pronounced that that of his foul-mouthed political hit man.

By 7.16.02

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After Gray Davis reduced the California car license fee two years ago, he spent millions of taxpayer dollars to inform taxpayers by mail of the reduction. He wanted them to know that he personally cut their taxes.

Now Davis plans to raise the car license fee. So will he send out notices this year informing Californians that he personally raised their taxes? No, says California Republican state senator Ross Johnson, the author of a failed measure to force Davis to make that admission. "Now that the governor is looking to raise the tax, he's so quiet he makes a cat burglar sound like a brass band," Johnson told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Car-owning Californians have another reason to see Davis as a weasel: He has loudly promised to sign the first global warming auto emissions bill in the U.S. -- an election-year bone tossed to the environmentalists who are debating whether to endorse him. It is a bogus bill for a bogus problem. (The bill issues a vague command to a state commission to come up with new emissions standards by 2005 in order to curb "global warming.")

Even as Davis does a backflip off the environmentalist slippery slope, he weakly predicts that this bill won't lead to higher auto prices or a restriction of consumer choice. But come on, how could it not? Correcting the world's temperature can't be that cheap or easy.

Given that Davis plans to impose a $4 billion tax on Californians this year -- this, because he turned an $8 billion surplus into a $24 billion deficit -- one might think he would try to avoid taxes as a campaign subject. Not so. This last weekend he couldn't resist taking cheap shots at Bill Simon for not releasing his tax returns to the press.

"I think we know why Mr. Simon is unwilling to release his tax returns. He probably used those offshore tax shelters," Davis said to reporters, trying to exploit the recent Wall Street Journal news that Simon and other members of Simon's family may have used offshore tax shelters eyed by the Internal Revenue Service. "It's a very simple question -- did Mr. Simon use offshore tax shelters to avoid paying taxes?" Davis continued. "I think we all suspect the answer is yes."

Never mind that Simon apparently pays far more in taxes than Gray Davis does. Simon has said that he pays over a millions dollars in state and federal taxes each year. How much does Davis pay? Simon should get the exact figure. He could then remind Californians each time Davis tries to demagogue this issue that he is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars more in taxes than their tax-hiking governor pays.

Like his old boss Jerry Brown, Davis still sees class warfare as a winning political strategy. Hence his foul-mouthed campaign manager Garry South has been mocking Simon as a clumsy "rich kid." When South isn't knitting church vestments -- one of his after-work hobbies, according to the press -- he busies himself with slander about Simon. With no principles to present and no record to boast, Davis is letting this second-rate Lee Atwater conduct a campaign of substanceless attacks. And it won't let up anytime soon, especially now that the media have their post-Enron businessmen-are-evil story line all worked out.

But does class warfare still appeal to average voters? Californians may tire quickly of it. They would rather join the rich than condemn them. Overtaxed themselves, they may even sympathize with Simon if the offshore tax shelters story is true.

In any event, Simon hasn't wasted $24 billion of their money. Davis has. His is a record of colossal mismanagement at taxpayers' expense. Corruption is not reserved to big business. It exists in big government too. Had Davis not been a career bureaucrat, he could no doubt have enjoyed a lucrative career as an executive at Enron.

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