Orange County Anguish

Searching for Someone, Anyone, Who Loves Governor Gray Davis

I can't stop myself before I bait again—"So you're against things like putting social security money in the stock market?" I predict what his answer will be. Bingo: "No, I'm not against that at all. In fact I'm for that."

There are still plenty of intelligent arguments to recall Gray Davis, plenty of intelligent people who argue for them. Many, advocates are quick to point out, are Democrats. I talk to one of them, a liberal political appointee enraged with Davis for cutting her agency, which lures and keeps business in the state, by 65 percent. Turns out she wasn't the only person I interviewed who was offended by that particular decision. "I would have cut it 100 percent," a libertarian activist tells me at breakfast two mornings later when I tell him about the Trade and Commerce Agency's fate. And yet on one thing they agree: They both hate Gray Davis the man.

illustration: Tony Millionaire

She says: "He doesn't create relationships. He isolates himself."

He says: "I just think of the people who you meet who when you shake their hand, it's cold and wet and limp. . . . He's just not an attractive man in any way."

It was a message I heard a dozenfold. The running gag in the California media has become chasing around trying to find someone who will profess to loving him. Yet Gray Davis's extreme unpleasantness clearly wasn't an overriding political fact when he first won his seat in a landslide in 1998, or when he won it back 10 months ago. People don't think much about whether they "love" the political candidates they're satisfied with enough to vote for; that is a question for when satisfaction fades. Two million individual Californians didn't sign petitions to fire Gray Davis because their favorite bureaucracy got cut or their small business is on the rocks. There is that narcissism abroad, of course. There is also the generalized dread, that old familiar California apocalypticism: California is once again about to fall into the sea. All of this contributes.

But there are also the two dominant grievances, the ones that surface again and again. Californians fear the immigrants. And they loathe the car tax.

Orange county constituents who want to see Representative Dana Rohrabacher, the famous surfing congressman of Huntington Beach, have to first be led by a security guard through the massive beachwear shop over which his office sits to a rear parking lot, thither to snake through an alley past a dumpster and a pile of bakery trays and a utility main to an outdoor elevator (the stairs are blocked by a heavy gate), thence to curl to the end of a spiraling corridor past a men's room that reads Employees Only. It seems symbolic. Rohrabacher is one of Congress's most government-baiting members, and he thinks you should hate the government, too. Why should he make his constituents feel welcome?

When I finally reach his office for my appointment Tuesday afternoon, I find he's been double-booked, which is fine: His staff arranges for me to meet him on the porch of his nearby home a few hours later. So I drive around. I flip on KFI, Southern California's "More Stimulating Talk Radio." Later this week in Sacramento, a recall campaign organizer will tell me that, since political parties are so organizationally weak these days, talk radio hosts are the modern-day equivalent of ward bosses. He courts them as one of the most important parts of any political campaign he runs. Here is how these particular ward bosses—KFI's notorious "John and Ken," John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou—are mobilizing his flock. I turn on my tape recorder as soon as I hear the word "treason."

. . . that's what it's all about. When you heard it today, it all clicked; it's about allowing illegals to vote . . .

They're talking about Davis's decision to sign a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for drivers' licenses. The policy rationale is that since illegal immigrants are an economic necessity and a fact of life in California, and since you cannot survive in California without driving, Mexicans are driving so cautiously for fear of getting caught without a license that they constitute a safety hazard. The political rationale is winning the anti-recall votes of legal immigrants. John and Ken spy other motives.

All these overeducated wienies at the Los Angeles Times, when are you going to ask about illegal aliens voting in U.S. elections, in California elections, with these drivers' licenses they're going to have . . .

I pass a blonde woman in a black BMW convertible with the license plate LOVINLF.

. . . Davis knows this. . . . That's the real plan, that's what they talk about when they are in their dark rooms at night. . . .

Which explains, they have already noted, the goal of the Democrat running on the ballot to replace Davis:

Bustamante is going to be running as the first governor of the northernmost province of Mexico. That's really what he's doing here. . . .

Then KFI runs one of their recurring ads, I forget which, perhaps the one for Rolex watches, perhaps the one for their latest contest. "Tired of all the political monkey business? KFI peels back the car tax. Listen all through the month of August and find out how KFI can pay for your vehicle registration fee. If Gumby Davis won't, we will." The first time I hear them give the prize away the winner acts like he's won Powerball. People here treat taxes like a medieval torture.

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