A Bridge Too Far-fetched

Gray Davis wants to be your governor for four more years. Why should you let him? First, he was in Vietnam, and second, none of California's bridges has been blown up since Sept. 11.

That pretty much describes Davis' campaign platform, which he outlined in his usual bland fashion during a Feb. 5 speech to the 25th annual California Police Chiefs Association Conference at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Most Democrats running for statewide office tend to avoid reputedly conservative Orange County, but Davis—always a strong ally of California's law-enforcement community—faced no enemies in the glitzy ballroom.

During his 20-minute address, Davis said nothing about the state's ongoing energy crisis, economic recession or education disaster, but he did take credit for making California the "safest state" in the union.

"I believe no state has done more to provide for the safety of its citizens than we have done in the state of California," Davis said. "We test the water and food supplies 100 to 150 times per day and have 100 to 125 security officers at every nuclear plant in the state. We have lots and lots of resources to protect our airports and bridges."

Davis then cataloged the public-safety programs he'd pushed as governor: more funding for Community Oriented Policing, an anti-methamphetamine task force in the Central Valley and passage of tough anti-gun laws.

"Many people know I was in Vietnam," he added, apropos of nothing. Davis seemed especially proud of his creation of the state's new anti-terrorism information center, which allows warnings posted by one police department in the state to be read by all other law-enforcement agencies up and down the coast—in "real time," Davis boasted.

"If a person is arrested in San Jose [with] diagrams of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the police chiefs in Marin and San Francisco [counties] should know about it," Davis explained.

It was hardly a surprise that Davis mentioned the Golden Gate Bridge. Two months ago, he made international headlines by announcing that the state's five largest bridges were targets of a "specific and credible" terrorist threat. As it turned out, however, the FBI's warning hadn't mentioned any specific bridge by name, much less any specific state—only that there was some indication that terrorists might blow up a bridge somewhere in the "western United States." Yet, during his speech to the police chiefs, Davis defended his decision and said, "If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing again."

Davis paused, as if expecting thunderous applause. He didn't get any. So he trudged on, claiming that several days after the FBI contradicted his announcement, he discovered that the bureau had received yet more threats to bridges in California. "Five days later, [federal Homeland Security Czar] Tom Ridge called and said they had a new threat to a bridge which was very specific as to which bridge and what time [the attack would occur]," Davis said. "I won't tell you which [bridge] it was, but I think my previous [announcement] was borne out by the call I got from Tom Ridge."

Given that Davis wouldn't say what bridge he was talking about and that no bridges have been blown up in California, his extended treatise on bridge safety seemed to bore the police chiefs, who failed repeatedly to respond to obvious applause lines.

Davis, ever the political opportunist, changed all that by exploiting tragedy, wrapping up his speech by paying tribute to the victims of Sept. 11, despite the fact that, as governor, Davis did precisely nothing to prevent or respond to what happened. But he did "have the honor of meeting" relatives of the passengers of Flight 93, whose plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania in an attempt to take over their plane's hijacker's, Davis recalled, rather than let it "be turned into a flying missile" that would kill more innocent Americans.

"We should remember that four of the flights that were hijacked on Sept. 11 were going to California," Davis pointed out. "We lost 108 Californians that day. . . . Flight 93 was one of freedom's finest hours. . . . We should be proud of everyone on Flight 93, especially those from northern California. God bless their souls, and God bless all of you."

With that, hundreds of retired police chiefs applauded heartily—perhaps as delighted as Davis himself that the governor's speech was finally over.


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