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Simon Targets Davis' Energy Plan

The GOP candidate vows to provide more protection for consumers if elected. Incumbent cites his rival's Enron ties.

October 18, 2002|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Returning to an argument he has made throughout his gubernatorial campaign, Republican Bill Simon Jr. on Thursday charged Gov. Gray Davis with failing to respond quickly to the state's power crisis, and promised that if elected he would better protect consumers. The GOP candidate said that despite the state's struggle to keep the lights on during the summer of 2001, Davis still does not have a long-term plan to solve California's chronic power shortages.

"Maybe one round of blackouts isn't enough to compel Mr. Davis to put forward any proposal to end the energy crisis," Simon told a friendly audience of several hundred members of the San Diego Rotary Club at a downtown hotel. "By ignoring the early signs of power shortages, Davis left us vulnerable to manipulation," Simon added. "By taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Enron and other energy companies, he has tainted his decisions with the air of corruption."

In a telephone interview, Davis disputed Simon's contentions, saying that he has not taken any money from Enron in more than two years. The governor said he acted quickly when the power crunch hit by protecting consumers from a 400% price increase and getting the federal government to impose price caps, adding that he has worked to get new power plants on line.

"He has no basis to talk," the governor said, citing Simon's onetime participation on the board of Hanover Compressor, a Houston-based gas industry supplier that was later tied to Enron.

"He was a partner of Enron," Davis said. "When I was calling Enron to account for misleading us and overpricing electricity, he was saying, 'Let's give Enron a chance.' "

Simon spokesman Mark Miner said the GOP candidate never worked with Enron. "To say that he was affiliated with Enron is a complete lie," Miner said. "He should apologize."

Simon's jabs at Davis' performance during the energy crisis came as the governor's race heads into its final stretch. Despite having stumbled several times since the Republican primary, Simon said Thursday that he remains confident of victory.

"Even when you're the underdog, as Winston Churchill said, you must never, never, never give up," he told the Rotary Club. "That's why I believe that we're going to win in November, because I can feel the surge, I can feel the momentum." Speaking with reporters after his speech, Simon said Davis' decision Wednesday to replace all his negative television commercials with positive ads signals the governor's anxiety about motivating Democratic voters.

"To me, it's an indicator that he needs to go back to his base and shore up his support," the GOP candidate said. "It's an indicator that he needs to get his own numbers up."

Davis campaign officials, however, said that they have turned to upbeat ads because they are confident that Simon cannot make up the ground he needs to defeat the governor.

During his address, Simon told the audience that Davis panicked during the energy crisis "and basically turned it into a catastrophe." Now, he said, the state is locked into expensive long-term power contracts.

The Republican nominee said that if elected, he will work to get the state out of the power-buying business altogether.

Simon said he would consolidate the state agencies and regulations that govern power plants to encourage the construction of more plants. He said he supports incentives for power carriers to expand their transmission capacity. In addition, Simon said he would promote conservation and the use of alternative energy sources. The candidate read from a letter he received recently from an elderly woman who complained that her electric bills increased by 300% in one month.

"Something is dreadfully wrong and we need a fighter in our corner," she wrote. "I am here to tell you and that nice lady that I am in your corner," Simon said. "I will fight on behalf of honest solutions and fight to bring the price of electricity down so our people don't have to make a choice between paying their electricity bills and paying their mortgage."

Davis said he has made large strides in increasing the supply of electricity through the construction of six power plants. And by invoking emergency powers, Davis said, he has slashed the amount of time it takes to get emergency plants on line from a year to 21 days. Simon's "solution to the energy crisis is for more deregulation," Davis said. "He's totally tone-deaf. The only way we got a handle on this was by re-regulating."

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