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Davis - Oracle of Denial - May 8, 2002

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

It's got it all. Document shredding, a payment handed over in a bar, secret side deals, scapegoats taking the heat, a big-bucks contract with no independent bidding, a conflicted consultant, some disregarded warnings, potential criminality, and a chief executive who claims he didn't have a clue.

The $25,000 to the Davis campaign, given five days after a questionable $95 million contract with Oracle was finalized, has more pizzazz than your run-of-the-mill campaign finance violation.

The circumstances have placed Gray Davis on defense at a time when he would like to be on offense. They also have exposed his Achilles' heal ­ the mixing of fund raising with the business of governing.

The Democrats in Sacramento want to avoid the appearance of a cover-up, so hearings have begun.

Now it appears as though the governor is trying to defend charges of corruption by using a shield of incompetence. He says he never knew anything and is just as mad as the rest of us.

To buy that, one would have to believe that Davis couldn't control the actions of a whole lot of people. After all, the Oracle deal was endorsed by both the finance and general services directors and approved by the Cabinet secretary. A governor's office memo pushed the deal through by saying Oracle's fiscal year was about to expire. Apparently, the only one who wasn't cognizant of what was occurring was the governor himself.

But this is the same political character who throughout his career has been engrossed in the act of gathering money from those who have a keen interest in executive branch policy decisions. And if there's one area that Davis micro-manages, it's fund raising.

Facts have been reported that also suggest that criminal acts may have occurred. In a turn of events that could make Janet Reno blush, the criminality is going to be investigated by the state attorney general, Bill Lockyer. Lockyer is an elected official from the same political party as the governor. But this is not his only conflict. It just so happens that Lockyer received two times the amount of money from Oracle as his boss.

Lockyer refuses to recuse himself and allow an impartial investigation of potential crimes to proceed. This is damaging to both the legal and the political process. If he continues with his intransigent disdain for integrity, it will be up to John Ashcroft or Dennis Hastert to assert jurisdiction.

Of course, political strategists are retooling in the light of the Oracle mess. A word is being tossed around that the Davis camp would probably like to see obliterated from its rival's lexicon: Contract. The pesky little controversy involving long-term energy contracts signed by the governor is back on his campaign doorstep.

The Oracle matter distracts from two of Davis' primary strategies ­ to characterize opponent Bill Simon as an extremist and to evoke class-envy sentiments that have proven successful in many campaigns.

Scandals such as this tend to alienate potential voters from the political process. Simon has the opportunity to use the prevailing cynicism about politicians to accentuate the fact that he is not one.

In the memo from the governor's office that triggered the Oracle deal, Cabinet Secretary Susan Kennedy was given a "short window of opportunity."

Simon now has a similar window. The question is will he take advantage of it.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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