Gray Davis entered office as a loud environmentalist, promising a green agenda for the Golden State. But has he fulfilled this promise? Not according to many California environmentalists. The Sierra Club — disappointed in his record after endorsing him in 1998 — still hasn’t decided whether or not to endorse his re-election.
Environmentalist Cynthia Elkins of the Environmental Protection Information Center told the Los Angeles Times that Davis’s pursuit of contributions from companies like Pacific Lumber Co. has stunted his environmentalism. “Because these industries have contributed so heavily to his war chest, he feels indebted to these industries,” she said. The coin-operated governor, as Davis is now called, received more bad press this week for yet another apparent quid pro quo: Three months after timber companies gave him over $100,000, he opposed a $22-million timber tax.
The legislative analyst to the California Assembly, as well as several Democrats, had recently proposed the tax “as a way to help close the state’s $23.6-billion budget deficit,” the Times reports. But Davis, suddenly concerned about the fiscal stability of timber companies, “successfully opposed it during budget talks.” The Times described this position as the “latest in a series of steps Davis has taken as governor that have helped bring the timber industry, long allied with Republican candidates, into the fold of the Democratic incumbent.”
The timber industry evidently sized Davis up as an “environmentalist” with versatile convictions. Since 1999, according to the Times, timber companies have given him about $450,000.
Cold cash has a way of unclogging Davis’s ears. Now his officials sound almost sensible about the dangers of excessive taxation on the struggling lumber industry. “Apparently this is an industry that operates on fairly small profit margins,” Department of Finance spokesman Sandy Harrison said to the Times. “Imposing this [tax] would increase the cost of what already is a costly process, and there is a concern that it could put small timberland owners out of business.”
To the dismay of environmentalists, Davis officials are also resisting a move to designate the coho salmon an endangered species, reports the Times. Robert Hight, director of the California State Department of Fish and Game, told the paper that Davis is pursuing a compromise plan to recover the salmon without listing it a threatened species — “because it’s the right thing to do for the fish.”
Environmentalists unsatisfied with this approach “voiced opposition” during a June conference call with Hight, but he “cut off the conference call and left the room,” reports the Times.
Forced by promiscuous fundraising to serve many masters, Davis isn’t succeeding in pleasing any of them. Keeping the environmentalists in his corner should be the least of his worries. But it isn’t. Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, blasted Davis in the Times: “When a special interest is giving substantial campaign contributions, and the governor is not keeping his campaign commitments — which on forestry issues, he is not — you’ve got a very serious problem.”
Such comments explain the frustration of Democratic officials who are finding it difficult to get even liberals excited about Gray Davis’s re-election. As one Democratic consultant put it to the San Francisco Chronicle, the “real problem is that Davis has turned off even fellow Democrats, who should be his natural base.”
Davis can’t seem to find his footing in a campaign that the liberal establishment assumed was a cake walk. His campaign officials claim that he is leading in the polls, but by how much? They can’t say. A Davis deputy press secretary said vaguely to Los Angeles radio talk show host Larry Elder this week that it is a “single-digit lead,” then said the only poll that counts is “on election day” — a cliché popular with operatives whose candidates are polling badly.
Bill Simon is making matters worse for Davis by co-opting issues that he should own. In recent days, for example, Davis has had to explain away the expansion of offshore oil drilling in Californian waters after Simon promised to ban the drilling. “Davis is in a world of trouble with voters,” say liberal columnists Philip Matier and Andrew Ross.
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