Even after weeks of bad press and attack ads, Bill Simon is polling better than Gray Davis, according to Survey USA. The polling group says Simon leads Davis 47 percent to 45 percent. The Oakland Tribune also reports that "a recent poll by ABC7 Eyewitness News (a Bay Area station) shows Simon polling at 47 percent, compared with Davis at 45 percent."
So an incumbent governor with an enormous campaign treasury finds himself in a competitive race with a political rookie. But is this the story? No, most journalists are far more interested in itemizing Simon screw-ups. Davis's major scandals and mismanagement get less ink than Simon's minor missteps.
Local media in Los Angeles pounced on the news this week that the William E. Simon & Sons firm must pay damages in a fraud suit. One news station simultaneously reported that Simon had done business with a convicted marijuana smuggler, P. Edward Hindelang. Sounds pretty bad. Except when you find out that this is the guy at the center of the fraud suit. The Simon family, which had invested heavily in his pay phone company, fired him after learning about his past from a Wall Street Journal story, reports the Los Angeles Times. When his company collapsed, he sued the Simon family firm for fraud (and they sued him for not disclosing his past to them).
Naturally, this story is making front-page news. It is a gift to lefty journalists eager to place Simon in the company of Kenneth Lay. Davis's campaign manager Garry South, who loves to play puppetmaster to lazy liberal reporters, is encouraging the media to throw Simon into the anti-business riptide.
Will it occur to the media that Gray Davis is as irresponsible as the businessmen he's attacking? They have squandered millions; he has squandered billions. Were state government a business like Adelphia, it would be Davis taken away in cuffs. His campaign funds grew to over $50 million while the state deficit grew to $24 billion.
This isn't just incompetence; it is corruption. Davis has been throwing state money around wildly in return for campaign contributions. In a story covered with much less zeal than Simon's tax returns, a state auditor recently reported that Davis's decision to raise the pay of prison guards by 37% will eventually cost Californians over a half a billion a year. The prison guards union, California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., is one of Davis's largest contributors. After he gave the guards a disproportionate pay raise (most state employees will not see their pay increase by 37% over the next five years, but then most state employees don't throw golf fundraisers for Davis), their union gave $251,000 to Davis in March.
California State Auditor Elaine Howle told the press that the Davis administration offered no budgetary explanation for the salary hike. "Our $518 million figure represents the costs of just eight of the provisions of the contract. There are numerous other provisions you can't even quantify and during the audit the Davis administration offered no concrete numbers or reasonable estimates of offsetting savings," Howle said to the San Francisco Chronicle.
California's mammoth deficit, like Enron's bankruptcy, is a consequence of corruption, not just good-faith mistakes. Davis has viewed the public's money as his own, raising state spending 36% to satisfy this or that political need of the moment. He even used tax dollars to polish his image during the energy crisis, retaining two Democratic party PR operatives, Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, until their lucrative consulting fees were discovered on the state payroll.
If Davis's attack ads against Simon aren't working -- and his poor poll numbers suggest they are not -- there is a good reason for it: Californians are considering the source.