GOP lays low in power crisis while Dems take heat

The Associated Pres
Saturday May 12, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Republicans from the state Legislature to the White House are standing back as California’s Democratic leaders, including Gov. Gray Davis, sweat out the power crisis. 

“The last thing anybody would want to do is step onto the Titanic when it is sinking,” said California GOP strategist Mike Madrid. 

Neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney has visited the nation’s largest state since taking office. State GOP lawmakers have voted against Davis’ energy proposals, but have yet to offer their own comprehensive power package. 

Even Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Jones, who has pledged to focus on energy in his campaign to unseat Davis next year, has not held a single public event since announcing his candidacy in March. 

“We intend to let (Davis) do as much as he can to unravel himself,” said Shawn Steel, chairman of the California Republican Party. 

At all levels, GOP officials seems to be adhering to Woodrow Wilson’s political advice: “Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.” 

In Washington, where Congress and the White House are controlled by Republicans, GOP lawmakers are expressing concern they could become the victims of a backlash by voters angry about rising electricity prices and sporadic blackouts. 

Some Republican lawmakers have begun urging the White House to address short-term energy concerns as well as longer-term problems when the president unveils his energy plan next week. 

But Chris Arterton, dean of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, said Republicans will do as little possible to help save California and Davis — a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. 

“If you can keep him dangling on the horns of that dilemma that he is on as long as possible, it weakens him,” Arterton said. 

The Republicans are not the only ones playing politics. For their part, the Democrats have pointed out at every turn that it was Republican Gov. Pete Wilson who signed into law the 1996 electricity deregulation plan that led in part to the current crisis. 

State GOP lawmakers have focused on attacking Democratic energy proposals rather than offering their own legislation. Assembly Republicans have held several news conferences accusing Davis of waiting too long to attack the power crisis. 

This week, all but one of the 44 Republican state legislators voted against a $13.4 billion bond measure to repay the state treasury for power buys. 

The measure passed, but not by the two-thirds majority it needed to go into effect immediately, leaving Davis and Democrats plucking from the budgets of other state programs to pay for power until at least August. 

After Davis signed the bond bill, Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox called it “a dangerous gamble for California — a gamble Republicans couldn’t support without a clear endgame.” 

Republicans have attacked Democratic energy proposals as “anti-capitalistic,” including a proposed tax on windfall profits and potential criminal charges against power generators for alleged price gouging. 

Garry South, Davis’ chief campaign adviser, calls the GOP’s hands-off approach “indefensible.” 

“This is not just some matter of political positioning. This is about the solvency and the economic future of the state of California,” South said. “To be playing games with this just to make cheap political points is a very dangerous game.” 

Davis lashed out this week at Republicans after signing the law authorizing the revenue bonds. 

“The people of California have every right to expect us to put aside this partisan affiliation and philosophy in solving this serious crisis. To date, the Republicans have miserably failed that test,” Davis said. 

Democrats also are quick to point out that President Clinton visited the state more than 60 times during his two terms, including 28 days after he first took office. 

“If the eight years of Clinton/Gore is any indication, President Gore would have established residence in California until the problems were solved,” said California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres.