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Commentary | ON THE RECALL Peter H. King

And One Day Pigs Will Fly

August 27, 2003|Peter H. King | Peter H. King's twice-weekly column will run through the recall election.

Oh, what a paradise California would be -- if it weren't for Gov. Gray Davis.

If it weren't for Davis, L.A.'s freeways would run uncluttered and wide-open every commute. Silicon Valley would be booming still, filled with free-spending techies in those cute company logo shirts.

If it weren't for Davis, there would be no raisin glut in the San Joaquin Valley. Lumberjacks would tread lightly through the redwoods, whistling kindly greetings to the spotted owls and tree-sitters. Crime would be down. The surf, and the Nasdaq, would be up, always up.

Remember how wonderful everything was just four years and eight months ago? There might have been an occasional earthquake or riot. And maybe some public schools couldn't afford textbooks. OK, California had a few challenges, some opportunities. Still, before Davis, the state was a bustling utopia. Listen to members of the pack running to replace Davis as governor. They'll tell you.

If it weren't for Davis, there would have been no energy crisis. The utilities and energy companies would have dotted the landscape with shiny new plants -- all powered by the wind, sun and native grasses, of course. And they would have built these plants even though, in the new world of semi-deregulated electricity, there happened to be little financial incentive to do so. They're good guys, the energy firms. Just check out their ads. Or talk to their defense lawyers.

If it weren't for Davis, businesses would be lined up at Laughlin, Nev., waiting to take advantage of California's Mississippi-level taxes and Manhattan-style luxury. Everybody would have plenty of money to spend on the good things. A fine, lightly taxed vehicle. A new house in Sundown Orchards.

Better still, the hard-working people who clean those lightly taxed vehicles at the carwash, who cut the suburban lawns -- they'd all carry the appropriate documents, speak several languages fluently and never need any state assistance.

Now it might be said, if one happened to be in a contrarian frame of mind, that much of what ails California stems not from anything Davis has done but from the slumping economy. As Palo Alto economist Stephen Levy notes: "Governors and legislators cannot control economic cycles. Pete Wilson was not responsible for the aerospace recession of the early '90s and Gray Davis is not responsible for today's tech recession."

In that vein, it also might be pointed out that workers' comp abuses and illegal immigration are issues that pop up predictably on the political radar whenever the economy goes south -- just as public fretting about sprawl always increases during flush times and water policy makes headlines only in a drought. Maybe workers avoid injury in a boom. Perhaps illegal immigrants cross the border only in a recession, when there is little work to be had.

It might be said that the mess in Sacramento -- and it truly is a mess -- predates the governorship of Gray Davis. The last quarter of a century, from Prop. 13 forward, has been a tragicomedy of fed-up voters stripping away power from state and local governments alike. Through one blunt-edged initiative after another, they have battered down the so-called decision makers, restricting how funds can be raised and distributed.

And so it has come to pass that when Sacramento officials carve the pie, they in truth have only a couple of pieces to divide -- and it can get really ugly really fast. Of course, if Gray Davis is terminated, that will change.

Take Davis out of the picture and Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento would get along so well that budgets would pass like clockwork. Taxes would be cut, but never programs. Benefits would be raised, but never taxes.

With Davis gone, lobbyists at once would realize the folly of government by special interest. They'd devote their days to repairing poor children's bicycles and rescuing beached whales. It'd be just like the good old days we've heard so much about. You bet.

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