Garry South, Gray Davis's principal political adviser, is usually cocky and unflappable -- serenely and satirically mocking Republicans from a position of strategic superiority. But the wheels on the Gray Davis re-election bus are beginning to wobble, and South sounds scared.
With Bill Simon ahead in several polls and Davis widely disliked, South is frantically spitting out slander about Simon to reporters. Nothing is off-limits to the Lee Atwater of the California Democratic Party, not Simon's deceased father, not his business or bank account, not even his posture. South says that he has been studying Simon's supposedly stiff mannerisms -- this from the campaign manager to the most mortician-like politician in America.
Now come reports in the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times about South's foul-mouthed attack on an official at COPS, a California police and sheriffs organization which has defected from Davis to Simon. The group endorsed the Republican candidate last week.
"What is this horse s---?!" South wrote to COPS political director Kelley Moran several months ago after he learned that the 7,000-member group was planning to switch its endorsement from Davis to Simon. "[COPS executive director] Monty Holden declaring war through COPS on the governor of California -- who only appointed him to POST [a state police commission] -- and pimping for Simon, using your name and [COPS' legal advocate Bill] Hemby's name in the process?"
"Has Holden lost his mind?" South continued. "If this reflects his sentiments, he needs to lose his job!"
South's remarks express perfectly the modus operandi of the Davis administration: Support Davis and he will use state government to your advantage; oppose him and say goodbye to your perks and position.
Holden's appointment to POST "is up in July," reports the Times. South denies that he threatened COPS and Holden's state appointment, but now calls the group a "basically insignificant, if not laughable organization," reports the Chronicle.
Why then did he bother to freak out about Davis losing the group's endorsement? Because it is the second largest police group in the state, and South knows that Democratic governors in California are particularly vulnerable on law-and-order issues. Accordingly, Davis brags in campaign ads about his support for the death penalty. This former chief of staff to Jerry Brown wants us all to understand that he is no left-wing wimp on crime.
But South's dismissive comments about COPS expose all of this as political posturing. Police officers statewide should remember when they go to the voting booth that Davis's campaign manager considers one of their main groups "laughable."
One of the reasons COPS endorsed Simon over Davis is that the group recognized the fraudulence of Davis's tough-on-crime rhetoric. Crime has risen in the state for two years in a row, and Davis's budgetary ineptitude will make it harder for police departments to fight it.
COPS noted that 80% of California police officers vote Republican and "don't appreciate how the police unions always seem to endorse the Democrats." COPS sees no return on such support for Davis. As the Times reported, "Kelly Moran, on COPS' board of directors, said the group had bailed on Davis because of a general want of leadership, massive budget problems affecting local public safety issues, and a rising crime rate." The group also sees an advantage for it in a Republican governor working with a Republican president. "If we go with Simon in the general [election], there's a very good chance the board will get the chance to meet the president," says a COPS memo.
South is supposed to put out political fires like this one. Instead, he is fanning them.
George Neumayr is a frequent contributor to The American Prowler and the California Political Review.