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Bill Simon, a Reagan Republican,
as California's Next Governor?
July 23, 2001

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to Newsmax.com

Bill Simon sat down for a one-on-one interview recently with NewsMax.com, prior to a speech he gave at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The interview was conducted by James L. Hirsen.

Bret Schundler stunned the political establishment when he defeated a more moderate opponent in the New Jersey Republican primary.

Some conservatives in California are hoping for a similar turn of events in the primary race for governor, and they're looking for Bill Simon to provide the element of surprise.

Bill Simon, son of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon Sr., served as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York under then U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.

Together with his father and younger brother, the trio founded the private investment firm of William E. Simon & Sons. Bill Simon is actively involved with numerous charities, including Catholic Charities of Los Angeles and Covenant House of California.

Scrutiny will always accompany one's announcement as a candidate for elected office, and so it is with Simon. He is receiving his fair share of examination and is handling it with agility.

His positions on issues are being analyzed and debated, and predictably he is drawing praise from some and outrage from others. Regardless of what one thinks of his political views, though, it is difficult to overlook the man's directness, intelligence, youthfulness and optimism.

This having been said, he has his work cut out for him. Republican king-makers are dazzled by the prospect of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan entering the race.

Riordan's name recognition and track record suggest that he would be a formidable contender against any Democrat challenger.

The Riordan Factor

Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger made it clear that he would not seek the California governorship, Republicans have been floating names of potential candidates to gauge their viability in a contest with Gov. Gray Davis.

As soon as Riordan's name hit the presses, polls came out reflecting the former L.A. mayor's strength as a candidate who could take on the beleaguered Davis.

It was reported that on a recent trip to the nation's capital, Riordan was encouraged to seek the governorship of California by top Bush aides.

He also received a petition, signed by a veritable Who's Who of conservative California House members, which included Dana Rohrabacher, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, Duncan Hunter and David Dreier, urging him to run. The Republican base in California is composed mainly of conservatives who consider themselves Reagan Republicans.

They have had their fill of Mike Huffington/Tom Campbell/Dan Lundgren-style campaigns. Yet as a Republican, Riordan's resumé entries are not without controversy.

Riordan gave a substantial donation -- more than $12000 -- in the last two years to Democrat Gray Davis.

Riordan has supported several noted Democrats over the years, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Senate Leader John Burton and his own mayoral predecessor, Tom Bradley.

He is pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control, anti-utility deregulation and anti-school voucher. His administration hired convicted Clinton aide Webb Hubbell and paid a large sum for what amounted to a minimal amount of work, according to L.A. Controller Rick Tuttle.

Many grassroots Republicans just simply will not accept a candidate with this type of background.

The third candidate in the political triad is California Secretary of State Bill Jones.

Known as an enthusiastic backer of the presidential candidacy of Sen. John McCain, Jones is increasingly the odd man out in the primary contest. Even though he is the state's highest-ranking Republican, Jones does not seem to be the answer to the conservative rallying cry and does not generate the kind of excitement that Riordan does.

Although Jones has stated publicly he intends to challenge Gray Davis in next year's election, his positions on issues do not seem to differ all that much from the governor's.

Not being as Democrat-friendly as Riordan and not being a Reagan Republican, Jones finds himself in a position that ambitious politicians fear most. He attracts little attention.

So some conservatives are aligning themselves with Bill Simon. Other conservatives find themselves unable to resist the Riordan packaging. Could it be that a compromise is in the making?

Riordan/Simon, Republican Dream Team?

Within the last few weeks the Sacramento Bee reported that the Riordan people were trying to persuade Simon to become a running mate. The fact that Simon and the L.A. mayor are friends only fueled speculation.

During NewsMax's interview, Simon was asked if there were any truth to the report. He stated that he had not received any such request from the Riordan camp.

When asked specifically whether he would consider a running mate-arrangement with Riordan, he said that Riordan was a "good man," acknowledged the friendship and left the door open for further discussion. But Simon was unequivocal about his run for governor. He stated directly, "I want to be governor of California."

Practical Conservatism

Simon also made it clear that he intends to campaign as a conservative. He invoked Ronald Reagan's name during the interview and subsequently over a dozen times in his speech.

His statements indicated that he respects the values of the conservative base, yet it is evident that he has a pragmatic comprehension of the political realities of California.

When it comes to social issues, Simon does not back away from his conservative core beliefs, but at the same time he acknowledges these areas will not be the thrust of his campaign.

For example, on the issue of life, Simon stated, "I'm pro-life, but I don't plan to make it a centerpiece of my agenda."

Instead, Simon stressed his experience as a lawyer and his intent to uphold the law. He does not believe that a governor has much influence in the area of abortion, but did say that a governor can impact "electricity, schools, water, roads, and so you are not going to hear me talking a lot about abortion." Simon reiterated, though, that he would not back away from his pro-life stance.

Similarly, he expressed a desire to have a moratorium on all new gun laws, but again let it be known that this would not be his central focus in the campaign.

He spoke of Reagan's message of economic opportunity through private-sector growth. He alluded to the possibility that we are entering a soft economy in California and stated that appropriate steps should be taken to encourage economic growth in the state.

Referring to the Davis rhetoric as anti-business, Simon contrasted Davis' approach with his own desire to make California a business friendly state.

Simon is refreshingly direct in his answers to questions.

When asked about the Klamath Basin, he indicated that he would have intervened on behalf of the farmers who are losing their livelihood due to the Endangered Species Act.

When asked whether or not he was disappointed with the non-involvement of the Bush administration, his answer was a simple, "Yes, I am."

He did not hesitate to distance himself from the Bush administration and Gale Norton on offshore drilling. Simon believes this option should not be considered, because California has a sufficient amount of untapped inland oil drilling, which has not yet been exhausted.

He also believes that price caps are the wrong action, even if they are initiated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and characterized by the Bush administration as "market mitigation measures."

Simon acknowledges that hindsight is 20/20, but feels that Davis received adequate warnings of an impending energy crisis and failed to take action.

He himself would have brought more supply on more quickly and allowed the utilities to enter into long-term contracts. As to supply, there were existing plants that Davis could have brought online immediately, in Huntington Beach and other areas of the state.

Simon would have streamlined the permitting process, just as then Gov. Pete Wilson did in 1994.

Looking to the future, Simon would continue to try to bring power online, work together with the power companies and potential investors, and avoid use of the kind of hostile rhetoric that Davis has employed.

In his speech, he underscored the need for private-sector growth: "We have a government in California that has grown so large and so intrusive that it is strangling the innovation and freedom that allows the people to make California great."

He does not want his party to be a "watered down Democratic Party."

The centerpiece of Simon's campaign is the Reagan model.

He told NewsMax, "Ronald Reagan stood for words like freedom, opportunity, entrepreneurship and less government."

This is music to the ears of the grassroots conservative base. Will it play in the general election? The answer to that question will determine the next Republican candidate for governor.


Reproduced with the permission of
NewsMax.com . All rights reserved


Copyright © 2001 -
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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