Illustration by Bob AulThe howls you heard saturday morning while driving through Buena Park? That was the sound of 50 Democratic activists meeting at a nearby AFL-CIO hall days after staggering Republican victories over Governor Gray Davis and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.
The meeting began, as California Democratic summits do, with complaints about conservative control of the media, stale coffee (with instant creamer), fond talk of Adlai Stevenson and infighting. One woman worried that union domination made it hard for the party to reach new voters. Veteran union/Democrat official Ray Cordova–a heavy, broad shoulder fellow with a thick neck and a no-nonsense stare–stood like a character in the Godfather and quipped that criticism of unions might lead him and his brothers and sisters to "form our own labor party." Abruptly ending the exchange, he sat.
If Cordova cherishes his tough-guy image, on this day, he was a punk compared to the meeting's guest of honor: longtime state Democratic Party hit man Bob Mulholland. The decorated Vietnam vet is so feared that even ruthless Republican strategists fear to say on the record what they think of him. A balding, fit giant, Mulholland is the guy you want on your side in a street fight. And nothing upsets him more than the "lying," "conning" GOP.
"You would think, based on the Republican campaign, that California was the only state with a deficit and not 47 others," said Mulholland. "A guy named Jeb Bush–two weeks before his last election–claimed in the Orlando Sentinel that Florida had no deficit. After the election, he said, 'Oops, we have a $2 billion deficit.' By March, it was a $4 billion deficit. Do you know who Jeb's budget director was? Schwarzenegger just hired her. She was a moron in Florida. She'll be a moron in California."
Audience members nodded and chuckled. Someone clapped. Mulholland kept swinging. "Unemployment and job loss are the worst they've ever been in Texas, a state run completely by Republicans," he said. "And what was George W. Bush's gift to Texas when he left for the White House? A $10 billion deficit. Now he's brought us a record deficit in Washington. Don't you just love these guys?"
But when it came to dissecting his party's pathetic recall-election returns, Mulholland did something he doesn't do well: he danced. After noting the recall passed by "only" 350,000 votes, he blamed the Davis defeat on minority confusion about the two ballot questions, the media, anti-incumbent sentiment, Bush's poor national economy and the "amazing" failure of women voters to reject Schwarzenegger after the groping stories.
"This race should have been a lot closer," he concluded without mentioning a single mistake on the part of Democrats.
During a question-and-answer period, we pressed Mulholland on Democratic failures. "We should have attacked," he said. "I wasn't the governor, and I know Gray Davis wanted to work with people from all sides. But I believe in the P.T. Barnum strategy: if you want to draw a crowd, start a fight. I love fights. [Once the recall movement began] we should have made it a permanent campaign."
Will there be a honeymoon for Governor-elect Schwarzenegger?
"He's used unwilling women for his sexual enjoyment," Mulholland said. "He's cheated on his taxes. He didn't bother to vote until recently so that he could act as if he cares about politics. This is a guy who has admitted that he has lied his whole life to advance his career. I'll make a prediction: there'll be more [groped] women coming ahead. He's a Bob Packwood in waiting."
Such lines may momentarily delight pouting liberals but are unlikely to reignite a sputtering Democrat Party. Still, Mulholland isn't pausing for reflection. He's ready for the upcoming brawl with the celebrity body builder-turned-governor and his "Pete Wilson Republican advisers."
"Bring on those bastards," he said. "We as Democrats need to stand up for what we believe."