Politics & Policy

Don’t Bet Against Davis Yet

It�s still a fight.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — Davis is still in play

In most states, the party chairman is a volunteer. The job changes hands every year or two, with little continuity. The person has a real life elsewhere. Often, a party state chair is, at best, a talking head. What about the chairman of the California Democratic party? Art Torres is full time, paid, continuous, and very much in control. When Torres talks, people listen.

Appearances can be deceiving: Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is a lightweight. Two years ago, he spoke before a group of African Americans and used the infamous N-word. He caught himself and apologized. He said he had never used that pejorative before. Bustamante also wants you to believe that he hopes the recall will lose. In four weeks, you are supposed to believe, he does not really want to be elected governor. Sure.

And where is Bustamante? Shaking down Native Americans. Indian casinos want more slots. They don’t want state tax collectors to skim quarters. The tribes have spent more than $100 million in the last decade here on politics (ballot measures and candidates). Here’s the scam: California law limits a contribution to a candidate for governor to $21,200. The law also allows a candidate to transfer (presumably old) money from a preexisting committee. So the Indian givers are writing checks to Bustamante’s old committee. Faster than you can say “modem,” the bucks move to Bustamante for Governor.

Such money laundering is customary in the underworld. The Justice Department usually intervene. But this is politics. The unfair Fair Political Practices Commission disapproves, in slow prose. A Republican state senator sues for injunctive relief. Too clever by half: Bustamante now will spend Indian money fighting Ward Connerly’s Prop 54. Of course, the ads will feature Bustamante (and thus still help his campaign for governor, without the legal complications). In that way, he will turn out nonwhites against 54. This will have the effect I have long predicted — to mobilize nonwhites against the recall.

You’d think that party hack Art Torres would spin, reflexively, for Bustamante; he hasn’t. Last week, Torres said Bustamante’s fundraising is creating a “bad impression” and, you would think, Torres said, “He would not be so clever about it.” In his bilingual ways, Torres is saying something.

Note that Democrats have an active “No on Recall” campaign. For example, their television ads feature Dianne Feinstein opposing the recall. In contrast, Republicans take the actual recall for granted. Party officials scan organizational charts mapping out the new Schwarzenegger administration, matching white Republican golfers with patronage slots on state commissions. Meanwhile Torres telegraphs that Democrats have not given up on Gray Davis.

As for Davis, he has reversed himself on a defining issue. On Friday, he signed legislation (that he vetoed last October during his campaign against Bill Simon) to provide drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. (On radio talk shows, the term used is the politically incorrect “illegal aliens.” The Davis tax-funded state press office alerted only “ethnic” media to the signing ceremony, held at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Lincoln Heights, a Hispanic part of East Los Angeles. (White reporters showed up anyway.)

Schwarzenegger boldly says that as governor he would try to repeal the new law. This contradicts his view that other controversial matters are settled law. Besides, Arnold, unlike Republican opponent Tom McClintock, does not oppose state-subsidized college tuition for illegal immigrants. Is Schwarzenegger hedging? Arnold’s campaign announced beforehand that Schwarzenegger was bumped as grand marshal in Sunday’s Mexican American Independence Day parade. What about the Portuguese-language vote? Playboy Entertainment says it may rerelease its 1983 entertainment video, Carnival in Rio featuring the actor dancing with topless samba dancers. No wonder Arnold can attract crossover Democrats.

Will Latino Democrats cross over? Bustamante is the real thing. Schwarzenegger may do the heavy lifting, but, in the end, it’s “hasta la vista, baby.” No wonder Schwarzenegger seeks a base that includes major conservative support.

And how does Tom McClintock indirectly help Arnold? Quite simply, McClintock rarely holds news conferences. The second-largest media market cries for attention. And if McClintock confronted Schwarzenegger in Los Angeles, he would be the big story. And does Schwarzenegger indirectly help McClintock? Quite simply, he contradicts himself, regularly. But McClintock does not exploit the flip-flops.

Arnold Steinberg is a California-based political strategist.


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