The Case for Governor Tom McClintock

Why progressives should vote for the most conservative candidate in the race to replace Gray Davis

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Each election season in California, the biggest weapon in the Democratic arsenal is a negative punch: "Vote for us. At least, we're not those women-hating, gun-loving, environment-spoiling, homophobic nuts from the other party." Bustamante is still learning to handle this weapon; Davis has mastered it. But voters should for once resist the gimmick, temporarily set aside the urge to solve every social concern that isn't life-or-death—and admit that the most critical problem facing California is the government's unprecedented financial disasters.

If any of the candidates is a likely target for the usual Democratic fear-campaign strategy, it's McClintock. He's pro-gun, anti-choice, anti-gay rights and a proponent of environmental regulatory rollbacks. He hates union power, campaign-finance reform, judges who protect the rights of suspects and illegal immigration. He craves tort reform for big business and more nuclear power plants. If he won, Sacramento would be less involved in local affairs. He favors school vouchers and wants to make sure everyone utters the words "under God" when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He authored California's lethal-injection law for death-penalty convicts. He is Barry Goldwater, circa 1964.

Nevertheless, like Goldwater—who proved to be quite the statesman in his later years, going so far as to abandon his party's absurd anti-gay politics—there is not only hope for McClintock, but also a use. The New York native and UCLA graduate, whose working-class family moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1965 to find jobs, has two characteristics Californians urgently need in a leader: unyielding honesty and independence.

You should know that McClintock is the only politician in California with enough integrity to do all of the following without reservation or fear of retribution from his own party's less principled bosses:

1. He blasted the backroom deal that forced a multibillion-dollar ratepayer bailout of the state's Republican-dominated private utility monopolies.

2. He publicly chastised the disgraceful ethics of Chuck Quackenbush—at a time when the Republican insurance commissioner was still backed by Republican leaders.

3. He launched the fight against the regressive car-registration tax that hits the poor and working class hardest.

4. He has displayed 15 years of almost vicious political independence in attacking massive tax hikes and corporate giveaways no matter who proposed them—whether Republican governors Wilson and George Deukemejian or Democrat Davis. Consider his showdown with Wilson just after the governor's 1991 tax hike of $7.4 billion. McClintock objected, and the then-governor backed the defiant McClintock into a corner and angrily called him "fucking irrelevant." McClintock, however, refused to be intimidated.

"I place principle over party," McClintock recently told Orange County Register reporter Martin Wiskol. "The party is only as good as its devotion to their principles."

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It's no surprise that such a man scares members of his own party—and no wonder many Republican heavyweights want McClintock to quit the race in favor of Schwarzenegger, who sometimes claims he's pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, pro-choice, pro-environment and sympathetic to illegal immigrants. Schwarzenegger is a man in whom Republican leaders see themselves: his failure to remember the 1970s gangbangs and illegal drug use he once bragged about reveal a budding slickster on par with Bill Clinton, who likewise believed he could talk himself out of any indiscretion. And if it's true that you can know a man by the company he keeps, then what are we to make of a celebrity body builder who surrounds himself with Pete Wilson and his team of establishment Republican advisers who are likely already plotting new corporate subsidies?

Now you know why Republican leaders—who claim to share all of McClintock's policy positions—so quickly beat the drums for the more liberal Schwarzenegger: like the Democrats, they can't stand a man of conviction in their ranks. Perhaps believing his comment would harm McClintock rather that prove his bona fides, a miffed Republican insider said this to a reporter: "[McClintock's] very bright, but the number of people [in the GOP leadership] who do not like him is very high."

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When I tell friends I support McClintock, they invariably run down his catalog of conservative social stands. I tell them I'm not worried, that when McClintock says his "focus has always been on fiscal policy" and that social issues are "ancillary," we have good reason to believe him. To date, he has been a man of his word.

And then there's my own realpolitik: the Democrats firmly control both the state Assembly and Senate. A governor can only sign a bill into law after it has been approved by the legislature, a legislature that is, in this case, as Democratic as a meeting of the ACLU.

An upset McClintock victory on Oct. 7 could give us the following scenario: Democrats in the state Legislature won't get most of their Volvo spending programs and special-interest payouts. The Republican governor won't be able to enact any of his 1950s-era social initiatives. And because of McClintock's hard-wired stinginess, the rest of us—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Greens and Libertarians—can finally see some financial sanity returned to Sacramento.

RSCOTTMOXLEY@OCWEEKLY.COM.

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