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Wednesday, October 09, 2002


UPDATE: The blood pours out of the stump of Simon's leg.

Investigation of the photograph has verified that Davis did not accept the contribution in a government office, and hence stayed within the law. The backlash against Bill Simon is growing (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub described how a flustered Simon screwed himself at the press conference following his debate with Davis:
Simon made the biggest blunder of his problem-plagued campaign. A former federal prosecutor, he accused the incumbent governor of committing a crime. Having never even seen the photo, he lied about possessing the evidence. And he exposed his incredibly bad judgment in trusting a phony law enforcement group and a campaign staff that hadn't done its homework. Anybody looking for evidence that Simon has the experience or temperament to manage the nation's biggest state in tough times certainly wouldn't find it in this chain of events.


Instead of just shooting himself in the foot, Simon blows his entire leg off.

All the papers around California are filled with Bill Simon's latest fiasco: An accusation that Gray Davis broke the law by accepting a $10,000 contribution inside the Lt. Governor's office. Except that the photographic "proof" seems to be crumbling into dust.

Timm Herdt, who is state bureau chief of The Star newspaper (my hometown paper), nailed it when he likened this to a failed reprise of "The Sting". He specifically compared it to the political ploy which propelled Tony Strickland into the State Assembly in 1998.

Let me take this occassion to bask in a little nostalgia for what was, in my opinion, one of the great political coups of all time. Back in 1998 a wealthy businessman named Rich Sybert decided to run for an open Assembly seat in Thousand Oaks, after failing to win two previous bids for Congress. The district leans strongly Republican, and Sybert collared the endorsements of the departing Assemblyman and much of the local Republican establishment (except Tom McClintock). Sybert did have some primary opposition, including a Port Hueneme city council woman and an administrative aide to McClintock named Tony Strickland, but Sybert was widely expected to far outspend them all (which he did) and coast to an easy victory (which he probably would have).

But Strickland's campaign noticed some of its large signs being torn down, and assigned a campaign volunteer to stake out remaining signs in hopes of spotting the vandals. Imagine his astonishment when he observed Rich Sybert personally sneaking around in the wee hours of the morning and ripping off Strickland's signs! Imagine the joy in the Strickland camp as they watched the videotape which the campaign staffer had taken of the vandalism!

Now comes the brilliant part. Tony Strickland held a press conference to accuse Sybert of destroying his signs, but didn't mention the videotape. Sybert indignantly denied the accusation, saying that Strickland must really be desperate to make up something like that. The Los Angeles Times quoted Sybert as further embellishing his story:

"Oh, please!" Sybert had said when informed Wednesday that Strickland had filed a complaint with the district attorney. "I've got better things to do. I'm in bed at three in the morning. I checked with my wife," he added, "and she's pretty sure the guy next to her Monday night was me."
Strickland patiently waited a day while Sybert tied the noose around his own neck and pre-positioned the rope on the gallows. Then the Strickland campaign began distributing copies of the tape to the Los Angeles television stations and other news media.

I have one of those tapes. It's an amazing thing to watch a grown man systematically commit political suicide.

Of course it was all over after that. Sybert had to admit he'd lied, but insisted that neither the lying nor the vandalism should be considered a reflection on his character. Tony Strickland was instantly converted from a young, inexperienced, little-known, long-shot candidate into the frontrunner, while all the other candidates faded into obscurity. Sybert kept spending money and refused to concede the race, and his big-name endorsers stumbled all over themselves trying to excuse and rationalize Sybert's "mistake", but in the end he got only 7% of the vote.

Following the election a Los Angeles Times article titled Sybert a Study in Ambition Unfulfilled quoted Sybert as whinging: "I don't think I was prepared for the brutality of the political process. When I look back over the last six years, it's been nothing but heartache for me and my family."

Bill Simon was hoping to inflict a bit of that same heartache on Gray Davis by "pulling a Strickland". But Davis is a hell of a lot cleverer and vastly more experienced than Sybert. Remember, campaigning and fundraising is Davis' area of expertise. It was wishful thinking to expect to be able to catch Davis in a comparable screw-up.

It was even more hopeless to expect Simon to competently execute such a political maneuver. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Tony Strickland. Tony Strickland is a friend of mine. And Bill Simon is no Tony Strickland.

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