COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | THOMAS ELIAS
Southern California Focus

Credibility becoming key factor in the run for governor

No one doubts that Gov. Gray Davis has a serious redibility problem as his run for re-election gradually heats up.

In the Oracle scandal alone, it's hard to believe he had no idea the huge software company was going to donate $25,000 to his campaign the very day his top aides signed a $100 million-plus sweetheart state contract with Oracle.

He's fired four major appointees but denies any prior knowledge of deal or donation.

Republican challenger Bill Simon hammers Davis relentlessly on this issue and others where the incumbent's words seem implausible -- for instance, his claim that campaign donations never, ever influence policy.

But Simon is like a glass-house resident throwing stones. He has major credibility problems of his own that must be resolved if he's to make anything like a respectable showing, let alone unseat Davis this fall. His dilemma: On several items, whatever he does will hurt him with some important group of voters.

The most serious Simon credibility question involves the Republican-backed 1994 Proposition 187, which passed with a 59 percent majority and aimed to deprive illegal immigrants of virtually all government services, from public schooling to welfare and even emergency medical care.

The result: Latinos began registering to vote in droves and no Republican candidate for major state office has won more than 28 percent of their vote since it passed.

A self-described "real conservative," Simon has said since the March primary that he always opposed 187 and now adds that in one of his rare visits to the polls, he voted against it. Never mind that he made no public statements in 1994 or that then-Gov. Pete Wilson built his successful re-election campaign that year around 187 and Simon supported him.

Simon says his opposition to 187 is and was not based on moral or public policy principles, but on his opinion that immigration should be "a federal issue."

In announcing his campaign's very first TV ads -- Spanish-language spots aimed at Latino voters -- Simon made a mantra of his opposition to 187 but not his reason for it. This implied the same cuts 187 sought would be OK with him if they were imposed by federal edict rather than state law.

He was reminded that when asked on an ultra-conservative radio show in February whether, if elected, he would revive Wilson's attempt to uphold 187 in the courts, he replied that "I'd be happy to have my legal experts look at it." Simon then responded by saying he had referred to "only one part" of 187, but would not specify which part.

Despite a later statement issued though his press secretary that he would "never be a party" to any attempt to revive 187, the transcript of the show leaves no doubt he meant 187 in its entirety.

Questioned about his talk-show statements in a later interview with the Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion, Simon said, "I told him ... If there's something that must be reviewed, we will do it."

In short, he told a conservative radio audience he would be "happy" to check out the possibility of reviving the Wilson appeal that Davis killed. But he told Latino newspaper readers he would only do so reluctantly, if it "must be reviewed." And now he says he'd never do it.

The differences in substance and tone appalled the host of the radio show. "When he talked on my show, it was 'Sure I'll look into an appeal,'" said Terry Anderson of KRLA-AM, Glendale. "Now, to the Latinos, it's 'If I must.' So it's clear he'll pander to us and he'll pander to them. But he's in trouble because he can never out-pander a Democrat." Anderson also said "it was very clear he was talking about the whole 187."

Simon not only put his credibility in question by saying different things to different audiences and getting caught in the act. His inconsistency also risks alienating both his conservative base and the Latino voters he so plainly covets. For sure, conservatives who oppose all illegal immigration don't like his most recent stance.

But this was not the first time Simon has appeared to contradict himself. On June 4, he told reporters "I'm not sure I blame Gov. Davis for the increase in crime." Less than two weeks later, he was suddenly sure, traveling the state to blame Davis. Will the real Simon please stand up?

In the March primary, Simon opposed Proposition 40, a successful bond issue including about $1 billion for urban parks. But in June, he proposed a new $1 billion urban park bond issue while campaigning in a Latino area. "He objected to two paragraphs in Prop. 40," an aide said.

All of which makes it hard for anyone closely to know where Simon really stands on several fronts. But if his stances solidify, he will lose some votes no matter what those stances are.

The bottom line: In a race where both candidates have credibility

problems, Simon's may turn out to be more serious because he's new to voters and may be making a first impression as a flip-flopping waffler.


Elias is author of "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It." His e-mail address is thomas.elias@sddt.com.

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