TCS Daily

Gray Davis' Texas-Sized Lies

By Hugh Hewitt - July 11, 2001 12:00 AM

California's unGovernor Gray Davis has been lying. Is lying. And will continue to lie.

There is no penalty attached to his habit. It has proven to be a conduct with a measurable payoff in his standing in opinion polls. Politicians tend to repeat behaviors that favor their re-election, which means that Davis can be expected to launch a daily assault on Texas. These attacks have not helped California. They won't help California. But they do help Davis, and that is the North Star by which the future path of the California energy crisis is charted.

Cornered by his accumulated inactions as blackouts rolled across the state this spring, Davis brought two of Al Gore's most trusted hatchet men onto the taxpayer payroll. Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane joined Team Davis and the supine chief executive began to sputter.

California, Davis said, is "at war with greedy power generators from Texas." He warned that "cowboys" would "steal you blind." "What's going on here," he lectured, "pure and simple, is unconscionable price-gouging by the big energy producers -- most of them, incidentally, located in Texas." As recently as Monday, July 9, Davis' spokesman pulled the same rhetorical trick: "Anywhere they wear cowboy hats, they probably have handkerchiefs across their face because they are robbing us blind."

It's not true. It's not even very good phrase-making. But it's been working.

On the same day of the most recent bash-Texas event, however, the political context ought to have begun to change. Under pressure from a variety of plaintiffs, the California Department of Water Resources released 1,770 pages of facts on the power purchases conducted by the state this year. "The documents raise questions about some of the common assumptions that have arisen around the electricity crisis," reported the San Jose Mercury News. "For instance, almost 40 percent of the state's purchases have come from government-run power generators in California, but not Texas; some of the biggest suppliers are from the Northwest."

"For all the criticism leveled at Duke, Reliant and other big corporations," added the Sacramento Bee's account of the data, "government-owned entities were among the most aggressive at charging high prices."

Even the Los Angeles Times -- basically the Davis press room -- had to admit that "among those setting and collecting some of the highest average prices per megawatt-hour were a Canadian public utility, a subsidiary of San Diego Gas & Electric's parent company, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power." Public power bureaucrats in Canada and Los Angeles combined to put the big squeeze on Sacramento: "Their average prices ranged from $498 a megawatt-hour charged by Powerex, the trading arm of British Columbia's BC Hydro, to $292 an hour by the [Los Angeles] DWP."

Perhaps Davis can't tell the difference between a Mountie and a Texas cowboy, but the combined talent of all of California's newspapers ought to have been able to spot the mountebank in the Governor's office. Davis counted on the fact that the "journalists" on the West Coast are much more respectful of power in Democrat hands than their colleagues on the East Coast. The big lie about the Texas bad guys made for good copy. That, Davis figured, would be his firebreak from tough questions.

Keep in mind that Davis had this data all along. He coolly and repeatedly lied. He needed to obscure his miserable tenure and his failed policy of the fetal curl in the face of rising wholesale prices in early 2000.

Still, the gamble he has undertaken is breathtaking. This is not some calculated obfuscation that can be re-interpreted and contextualized into insignificance. No, Davis repeatedly and forcefully fingered Texas, and by extension the friend of the Texas companies, President Bush. California's Falstaffian Attorney General Bill Lockyer took his cue from the unGovernor and told America that a Texas power executive deserved a small cell with an amorous inmate named Spike -- a sense of humor matched only by his sense of ethics. Davis led the entire Democratic Party off into combat with "greedy power generators from Texas," even as he knew that it was all a lie.

Not since a certain President pounded the lectern and asserted his innocence of charges of infidelity with an intern have we been treated to such a calculated lie.

But Davis is not Clinton when it comes to stonewalling. The damning data has come out before, not after, the election challenge. Davis ought to be finished -- every bit the liar that Gary Condit has turned out to be.

Whether the real data has significance, however, depends upon the press corps discussed above, and therein is the reason that Davis may yet get off the mat. There are a lot of editorials out there praising the unGovernor. There are columnists who took the bait and bit hard. There are a lot of reporters whose politics will simply not allow them to write the truth about Texas and the President who was its Governor.

And there are thousands of Californians who have deposited more than $30 million into Davis' re-election coffers, many of them from the business community now threatened by the power chaos brought on by Davis' resolute indifference to the issue throughout 2000. Davis may be a liar, but he's their liar.

This is my first "Letter from California" for TechCentralStation, and I am sorry it has to be so blunt. Politics has never mattered very much out here, not in the way it has in places where the outdoors are not so welcoming. The electorate can usually be counted on to vote for the candidate with the greater entertainment value, and posturing matters a great deal more than policies. The innovators who have driven the remarkable economic engine that is California have projected their common sense onto as mediocre a group of electeds as one can imagine, and now stand slightly awestruck at the mess these Sacramento socialists have made of what was not all that difficult a problem a year ago.

The prosperity was assumed, much like the sunshine. But that prosperity has always occurred in spite of, and not because of Sacramento. Now at a crucial time when the state needs some calm, reasoned responses to a business climate pummeled by an energy shock and threatened by demagogues armed with grand jury subpoenas, it gets instead a parade of lies.

Davis faces a stiff re-election campaign challenge if either Richard Riordan or William E. Simon Jr. wins the primary dance, and perhaps even if underdog Bill Jones gets the GOP nod. The first two have the money, and all three have the one thing that Davis can never reclaim: credibility. The only question will be if a majority of Californians care about such things. This is, after all, the home to an industry that allowed Alec Baldwin to play Jimmy Doolittle.

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