This has been a long, dreary election campaign for governor. Neither Democratic Gov. Gray Davis nor Republican nominee Bill Simon Jr. inspires much good feeling. Davis' obsessive pursuit of every last campaign dollar from special interests is unseemly, and the governor has been slow to grasp the lead on critical issues. But Simon's campaign has been one amateurish gaffe and disaster after another, and his proposed solutions to major state problems are shallow and naive. The choice is clear: Davis is the only candidate with the experience and knowledge of government needed to serve as the state's chief executive. The Times endorses Davis for reelection to a second term Nov. 5.
Davis is aloof. He agonizes over minor decisions most governors would leave to aides. He is robotic and largely humorless. He's often at war with the Legislature.
But, as Davis says, California has lots of glamorous and exciting characters. What the state needs in a governor is experience and the ability to guide the state to solid policy decisions. And Davis' positions on key issues such as the environment, work and family, and gun control are more in tune with a majority of Californians than are those of Simon.
Simon's constant campaign stumbles -- most notably, his hasty and erroneous claim that Davis broke the law by accepting a campaign check in his state office -- raise questions about the Republican candidate's ability to organize and run a complex state administration. The incident undermined the value of his experience as a federal prosecutor. And Simon's claim that he was a successful businessman was eroded by a stream of stories about reverses in family businesses.
That the Republicans are saddled with a Simon candidacy is a reflection of conservative dominance of the California Republican Party. Simon defeated the moderate Richard Riordan, former Los Angeles mayor, in part because Davis trashed Riordan with negative ads during the primary campaign, but also because some state party members undermined the more moderate Riordan.
On key state policy matters, Simon mechanically rattles off what appear to be memorized statements produced by a think tank. Simon claimed he had a plan to solve the state's $24-billion budget deficit problem this year, but it just didn't add up.
Simon complained that new-home sale prices included $30,000 in fees, largely caused by bureaucratic paperwork. In fact, the fees pay for streets, sewers, parks, schools and other facilities -- things local governments can't finance because Proposition 13 decimated their property tax bases.
The biggest beef most Californians have with Davis is over his handling of the electric power crisis of 2001. Davis should have acted sooner, but in the end he patched together an energy structure that kept the power flowing to California homes and businesses. In a second and final term, the governor should have far more time to devote to major state needs and should drop the perpetual fund-raising that so detracted from his first term. He needs to be a leader in finding solutions to problems such as the crisis in emergency and trauma health care, the state's continuing budget crisis, the ongoing struggle to keep California business on an even keel and the need for water, transportation, education and other facilities to cope with California's growth.
Unlike Simon, Davis does not need on-the-job training to be governor of the most populous state. California should be the beneficiary of a Davis focused not on fund-raising but on creating a legacy of leadership based on getting out ahead on California's significant challenges. The Times endorses Gray Davis for reelection.