by Bill Monson


The latest Field Poll shows California Governor Gray Davis has a job approval rating of 22 percent. That's the lowest in the 56 years Field has measured political opinion. It's two points lower than President Nixon's after Watergate! The same poll says 58 percent of Californians want Davis recalled. That's a rise of seven points from a month ago. What has he done wrong? Well, not really much of anything. There's no corruption, criminal activity or moral turpitude involved. He did not cause the power crisis of 2000-2001 though he's being blamed for his handling of it. He actually inherited California's energy policies from his predecessor Pete Wilson, a Republican who now heads Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign. Those policies, which did away with state regulation, were framed with the help of lobbyists and left the state vulnerable to manipulators like Enron.

Nor was Davis responsible for the implosion of the state's high-tech industry or the souring of the national economy. But suddenly, California had a $35.2-BILLION deficit; and the Legislature could not agree on a budget--and Davis was blamed for it all.

State Republicans had already sensed his vulnerability. When Davis's job approval ratings started to slide, G.O.P. Congressman Darrell Issa saw a chance to gain the Governor's office and used his own money to start a recall campaign. As it gained momentum, other opportunistic Republicans went into attack mode.

Gray's problem is that he has no real defense. If he says truthfully, "It's not my fault," he comes off as a whining wimp--yet he could not push the Legislature into action because the G.O.P. minority there was blocking attempts to pass a budget and Davis has too few political allies in his own party. Basically, Davis is a mediocre leader and has few defenders. He has no strong ties to Democratic state leadership. His charisma ranks below a kumquat. Next to him, Al Gore seems animated. The public perception of his character is as gray as his first name.

Most people don't even know his real first name is Joe. That's right--Joseph Graham Davis. Gray is really an adopted name for the New York City native who lives in West Hollywood when he's not in Sacramento. Davis was elected to a State Assembly seat from Beverly Hills in 1982 after serving as Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown's chief of staff. After two terms, he was elected State Controller for two terms, then Lieutenant Governor (though the Governor was a Republican.) In 1998, Davis cleverly let Democratic rivals beat up each other in the primary and easily won the nomination for Governor. In the fall, he beat conservative Republican Dan Lundgren with 58 percent of the vote.

He managed to be re-elected in 2002 by spending his own campaign funds in the Republican primary to help defeat his most dangerous state rival, then was elected over the conservative winner in the fall. But election manipulation can't help him now. He needs public support he currently does not have; and his G.O.P. enemies are blaming him for everything wrong in the state except the weather. What's ironic is that he's blamed most for tripling the state automobile registration fee--and Gray Davis was the main one responsible for cutting it by two-thirds during the rosy days of his first term. Now he's lambasted for restoring it to the levels it held during his Republican predecessors!

Well, don't count Davis out yet. He may not be a leader, but he's sly--and his G.O.P. enemies are already squabbling. What's more, their front-runner--media darling Arnold S.-- voted against Proposition 187; his father was a Nazi; and the first big statement from his vaunted financial advisor Warren Buffet was that California's real estate taxes need to be higher! One week into his campaign, the Terminator is already on the defensive. If Gray Davis can establish him in the public's eye as Pete Wilson's puppet, Arnold will be vulnerable to the other Republicans who forced out Darrell Issa--who started this whole shebang.

And Gray Davis may just survive.