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Simon Stresses Republican Credentials

Politics: He ignores GOP opponents and focuses his criticism on Gov. Davis during a visit to conservative Bakersfield.


BAKERSFIELD — Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. swung through this conservative bulwark in the Central Valley on Tuesday, taking swipes at Democratic Gov. Gray Davis as he emphasized his Republican bona fides.

In a speech to about 50 members of Bakersfield Republican Women Federated at a local hotel, the investment banker said Davis should have anticipated the expected $12-billion state budget shortfall and prepared accordingly.

"Aren't you ready for the governor to stop blaming people and stop saying, 'It wasn't my fault,' and stop telling you, 'Surprise, surprise, we have yet another crisis,'?" he asked, as the audience loudly murmured its approval.

Simon, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Secretary of State Bill Jones are fighting to win Republican voters in the March 5 primary.

But on Tuesday, the former federal prosecutor ignored his Republican opponents and went after the governor, criticizing him on a number of fronts hours before Davis' State of the State address.

Davis spokesman Roger Salazar called Simon's critiques "par for the course for all of the Republican candidates."

"They seem to forget they have a primary to engage in," Salazar said. "If they're trying to use the governor as a punching bag to boost their poll numbers, Californians are going to see right through that."

With no political experience, Simon is little known even among Republicans. So he used his appearance to articulate his conservative credentials to voters in the most heavily Republican area in the state.

He frequently mentioned former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was his boss in the U.S. attorney's office in the 1980s and has endorsed him in the governor's race. And he promised to follow in the footsteps of former President Ronald Reagan, former Gov. George Deukmejian and President Bush.

Speaking casually and frequently drawing applause, Simon endorsed traditional Republican views of fiscal prudence and local control.

"Do you think bureaucrats up in Sacramento know better what's good for Bakersfield than all of you?" he asked.

"No," responded the audience.

Simon, whose father was secretary of the Treasury under President Richard Nixon, reiterated his promise to cut the capital gains tax from 9.3% for most Californians to 5%.

He also hammered at the state of California's schools, calling test scores abysmal and warning that poorly performing schools are creating a "moral dilemma of staggering proportions."

Simon said he would push schools to create business plans, add more charter schools and enforce stricter accountability standards, which he said have been flouted under Davis.

Simon also jabbed at the governor's handling of the energy crisis, saying the state will lose billions of dollars because of the long-term power contracts Davis negotiated.

"I think he should be looking for another job," he said.

In answers to questions from the audience Simon toed the party line, saying he supports tort reform, opposes bilingual education and is against giving amnesty to illegal immigrants.

"I don't believe we should reward illegal behavior," he said to loud applause.

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