Monty Holden, head of the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, has been cashiered from his position on a supposedly nonpartisan California state police commission. This is Governor Gray Davis's crass payback for Holden's endorsement of Bill Simon.
Davis equates state government with his personal interests, so he sees nothing wrong with dumping a qualified appointee who happens to prefer the Republican in the race. Garry South, Gray Davis's campaign manager, had tried to stop COPS's endorsement of Simon by hurling foul-mouthed threats at Holden's colleagues. "Has Holden lost his mind?" South wrote to COPS earlier this year after he learned that Holden was thinking of endorsing Simon. "If this reflects his sentiments, he needs to lose his job!"
After this memo appeared in the press, South denied that he was threatening Holden's position on the state commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Now it's clear he was. South thought that he could frighten Holden and COPS away from a Simon endorsement. But his thuggish tactics backfired on him, making the Davis crowd look more unsavory than ever.
This perception is hardly reserved to Republicans. Many Democrats don't trust Davis either, which explains why they openly admit that his administration is troubling even as he languishes in the polls.
California Assemblyman Dean Florez, a Democrat, told the press that he recently lost his chairmanship of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee because he asked honest questions about Davis's role in the Oracle scandal. The Davis administration and their surrogates in the California Assembly did not appreciate Florez's scrutiny of a $25,000 donation from Oracle to Davis after the governor granted the company a $95 million no-bid contract.
"My overall impression is it seems like the speaker's office and others aren't interested in aggressive oversight, especially in an election year," said Florez. He said that some fellow Democrats want to "stop the aggressive coverage and get back to where audit reports come out and are ignored."
Florez's willingness to spill the beans about this bogus administration is matched by Kathleen Connell, the state's Democratic controller. She has made it abundantly clear that she considers Davis a bad governor -- she railed against Davis last year for panicking during the electricity crisis -- and uses her powers to subvert his plans. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters reports that last week Connell sent out checks to counties to cover welfare checks even though Davis had intended to withhold the payments in an effort "to ramp up pressure on the Legislature to act on the budget."
Democratic Assemblyman John Dutra, for his part, dismisses Davis's current budget proposal as "obviously totally inadequate."
Meanwhile, Davis faces the problem that any attempt to unite Democrats around his campaign could simultaneously divide him from Californians. He knows that he must throw a few bones to ideological Democrats upset with him, yet he doesn't want to look like a left-wing buffoon.
His zigzagging from corrupt centrism to straightforward liberalism could end up creating more problems than it solves. He is, for example, on the verge of signing a piece of liberal landmark legislation that could inflame auto-loving Californians. AB 1493 "would make California the first state to regulate auto emissions of greenhouse gases to combat global warming," reports the Los Angeles Times. The bill has been bitterly opposed by the auto industry, which predicts that the law will lead to higher taxes and limit the types of vehicles Californians can drive.
Why is Davis toying with this dubious legislation? One reason is that environmentalists don't like him and he desperately needs their votes. They see him as a sell-out to the corporate crowd. One environmental lobbyist told me that environmentalist anger with Davis "is quite high," because his administration has been on sale to big business for the last four years. Some officials sympathetic to Davis at the Sierra Club, according to this source, were afraid to hold a recent vote on whether or not to endorse Davis because they thought most members would vote against endorsing him.
Politics without principle is a juggling act Davis can't quite master. With too many people to fool and too many interests to reconcile, he is losing his compass. Monty Holden's decision to endorse Simon over Davis is beginning to look like a good career move.