LONG BEACH — Giving a glimpse at the hostile tone the state’s next gubernatorial contest likely will take, Secretary of State Bill Jones attacked Democratic Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday for his handling of California’s energy crisis.
Jones, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2002, expects to face Davis in next year’s general election.
Davis, who is expected to seek re-election, has not formally announced his candidacy but has already raised more than $26 million. Jones has not had to report his campaign contributions yet but it is widely believed he will have only a fraction of that sum.
“During all my years in public service, I have never seen anyone shirk as many tough decisions or seek to blame as many people for his own shortcomings as I’ve seen from Gray Davis in the last two years,” the secretary of state said at a Long Beach Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“His inattention to duty, inaction and lack of leadership has unnecessarily caused much of the economic turmoil our state faces today.”
Davis press secretary Steve Maviglio said Thursday the governor will be “putting more power online in the next two weeks than in the previous 12 years.”
He pointed to Davis’ 23 executive orders to speed the building of power plants and the 25 percent reduction in energy use in state-run buildings.
“The facts speak for themselves,” Maviglio said. “The governor licensed the first power plant in 12 years within four months of taking office, in April 1999.
While federal regulators were still holding hearings, the governor last summer signed legislation and executive orders.”
Davis has cited the energy deregulation plan signed into law by his Republican predecessor, former Gov. Pete Wilson, as the start of California’s energy woes and has accused power suppliers of manipulating prices.
He also has attacked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates wholesale energy transactions, and President Bush for not stepping in to help the state.
Regulators recently agreed to cap electricity prices throughout the West; Bush has opposed price controls in energy markets.
Jones laid the blame for the state’s energy crisis on Davis, who he said failed to heed early warning signs of the problem last summer and has devoted more attention to building his campaign coffers than solving the state’s problems.
“Rather than practicing political gamesmanship, Gray Davis should have paid more attention to the state’s pressing policy issues and avoided his multibillion dollar energy mistakes,” Jones said.
Although Davis took office during a time of prosperity, the state now faces a weakening economy and “antibusiness climate,” Jones said.
Stealing a page from the book of California’s favorite son, former President Reagan, he asked voters if they are better off than they were four years ago.
A survey published Thursday by the Los Angeles Times showed that a majority of Californians agree with Davis that energy companies have manipulated the electricity market to boost their profits.
Nearly half of those polled also gave Davis low marks for his handling of the crisis. Still, he received nearly four times as much support as Bush.
More than 60 percent of respondents deemed the energy crisis the state’s top problem and more than half believe there hasn’t been enough progress to resolve it.
The Times interviewed 1,541 residents over four days beginning Saturday. The paper said the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Jones made no reference in his speech to his Republican opponents by name, but noted that he’s the only GOP candidate to have won statewide elections twice.
Outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a moderate Republican who has endorsed Democrats in the past, is contemplating a run for the office, and businessman William E. Simon Jr. recently announced his candidacy.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Jones criticized Riordan for having crossed party lines in partisan races with both endorsements and donations.
Jones also trumpeted his own experience as a longtime lawmaker and faithful Republican and noted that Simon hasn’t held statewide office.