Gray Davis usually presents himself as a hands-on administrator, dialed into the details of state government. But as the Oracle scandal unfolds, Davis is trying hard to distance himself from the workings of his own government. The governor who boasts of his micromanaging competency now asks Californians to believe that he is not running their government. Evidently he was the last person in his office to know that he approved an overpriced, unnecessary software deal with a reliable corporate donor to the Democratic Party.
Davis, of course, is making a great show of his anger over this deal, as if the use of state government to feather his re-election campaign is a novel departure for his administration. The truth is that Davis has largely turned his first term into a re-election racket.
To take just one recent example, the Los Angeles Times reported in April that Davis “received an additional $251,000 from California’s prison guards union earlier this month, only weeks after the governor granted the officers a pay hike of as much as $1 billion and fulfilled their wish by proposing to close five private prisons.”
Arun Baheti, the director of e-government expediently fired last week, was simply following the logic of Davis’ first term. He is only guilty of doing clumsily — he took a $25,000 Oracle donation to Davis’s re-election at a Sacramento restaurant — what Davis does more covertly.
Davis has long kept his fundraising schedule private, lest Californians realize that the bulk of his time as their governor is turned over to shaking down individuals and companies benefited by state government.
Davis is letting hapless underlings like Elias Cortez, the suspended director of the state Department of Information Technology, twist in the wind for the modus operandi of his administration. Cortez was reduced to tears earlier this week before the California legislature as he described the high-handed manner with which Davis suspended him from his duties. A Davis subordinate let Cortez know of the governor’s decision — based on an anonymous report that document shredding had occurred at the Department of Information Technology — as a doctor was conducting heart tests on Cortez.
Cortez says he was “out of the loop” on the deal — an alibi Davis should surely appreciate. But why defend an underling when it is so much easier to dump him? Davis, playing the media like a fiddle, announced loudly that he had sent California Highway Patrol officers to the Department of Information Technology headquarters because of the anonymous tip about document shredding.
This is typical Davis: create a big mess through corruption or cluelessness, then ride in as the savior to clean it up.
But notice that Davis, even as he cans or suspends minor aides, retains the ones important to his re-election. Why, for example, hasn’t he fired Susan Kennedy, his deputy chief of staff? She is the one who pressed so hard for the bogus deal, all the while rejecting the advice of non-political state employees. Cynthia Curry, an attorney at the Department of General Services, said that Kennedy, a close Davis adviser, praised her agency after the deal was railroaded through over the objections of civil servants. “She said we were a can-do agency,” Curry said.
Why was a top Davis aide so focused on a matter beyond her expertise? Do the political advisers of a governor customarily concern themselves with the software needs of state government?
The California legislature is expected to question Kennedy soon. Davis, meanwhile, is eager to change the subject, and with the disclosure of the Enron memos suggesting manipulation of the California market, his wish may come true. That story has already driven the Oracle scandal off the front page of the Los Angeles Times.
Whether Davis is discussing long-term energy contracts or Oracle contracts, the buck never stops with him. Unless it is green.
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