Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
I see that George Deukmejian has endorsed Steve Poizner. Were you surprised?
Perplexed in Porterville

Dear Perplexed,
More than surprised, I was dumbfounded.

Poizner, a geek who made his bones in the Silicon Valley, is not Armenian and he’s not from Long Beach, so I don’t know how he got on the Duke’s radar, which at the best of times is pretty earthbound.

A nice guy, of course – I’m talking about Deukmejian here — despite his “Iron Duke” and “Mr. Death Penalty” sobriquets, a lover of ice cream and as honest as the day is long. But Deukmejian hasn’t been a player in California politics since he left office nearly 20 years ago, and one wonders how valuable his endorsement really is. It would be like me hugging Jerry Brown (now, there’s an image). As speakers, Willie Brown and I used to threaten Republicans that unless they towed the line, we’d go down into their districts and campaign for them. Usually worked, too.

In fact, even when Deukmejian was in office, he wasn’t a player, he was more a caretaker than a governor, a rigid and doctrinaire politician who played the politics of crime and fear like a violin. Of course, at the time, we didn’t fully realize that his governorship laid the foundation for the biggest prison-system expansion in human history, a fact that ultimately convulsed the state and continues to roil it to this day on so many levels. He also had the good sense to leave office just as a major recession was taking hold, leaving it to Pete Wilson to try and clean up the mess.

But Deukmejian was predictable and steady and boring and delivered on promises, even goofy ones, and unlike the three governors who have succeeded him, you knew exactly where he stood. You knew that, because he never moved.  

His budget negotiations were classics of the art, because they weren’t negotiations at all. The governor proposed a budget, the Democrats added to it during negotiations to protect funds for the poor, jobless and disabled, and the governor vetoed everything they added to get it back to what he originally proposed. Kind of like Capt. Reynaud at Rick’s Café in Casablanca – “It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.”

Which brings us back to endorsements. Does Deukmejian’s blessing – or the blessing of any politician up to an including the president — mean much in a modern campaign for governor, which is dominated by carpet-bomb TV commercials and stratospheric negatives and $40 million price tags?

The answer is no.  And the fact that Poizner announced it so loudly says more about him and his campaign than it does about Deukmejian.
Time to tune out politics and get back to Casablanca.

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