Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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JIM LEHRER: Our Friday night political analysis by Shields and Gigot; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Mark, what would you add to Jeffrey Kaye’s report about the L.A. mayoral race?
MARK SHIELDS: First I would say it was a good piece.
JIM LEHRER: It was terrific.
MARK SHIELDS: It really was. I would add to this. Democrats will say for the first time since 1989, Los Angeles is going to elect a Democratic mayor. For the last eight years, Dick Riordan has been in city hall, a republican. But in addition….
JIM LEHRER: That’s because it’s a non-partisan race and both are Democrats. Happen to be Democrats –
MARK SHIELDS: And both are national liberal Democrats, too. Jim Brulty — the state Senate Republican leader who backed Villaraigosa when Villaraigosa was the speaker said look, the next mayor of Los Angeles said to me it was going to be a liberal labor backed Democrat but I’m supposing Antonio Villaraigosa because I can’t say enough good things about him. He said, whatever civility survives in Sacramento is because of the fairness he demonstrated as leader when he was speaker of the California legislature.
More than just Latinos rising in political power which is a great story, an amazing story and the growth there, what his secret weapon, Villaraigosa, who is behind now in the LA Times poll and candidate polls too the last couple of nights, is the rise of the labor movement in Los Angeles. The labor movement nationally has been, you know, tough times. 108,000 new AFL-CIO dues paying union members in Los Angeles in the last 24 months –
JIM LEHRER: They’re for Hahn?
MARK SHIELDS: No, for Villaraigosa. Led by a very able guy named Miguel Panteros — and they endorsed Villaraigosa in the first primary when he wasn’t expected to do well. And they will have 1800 people in the street next Tuesday. You talk about commitment, passion. They all come out of the Caesar Chavez movement. That’s a great story. But I think if Jimmy Hahn wins, which he may very well do, it will be a testimony to the legacy of his father. His father Kenny Hahn was a beloved figure and the one white politician, the only politician in Los Angeles who welcomed Martin Luther King when he came to that city. He is beloved in the African American community.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what do you think about this race?
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with Mark very much on the labor clout story. This is a test if they can deliver for Villaraigosa. That’s a very important story for them. Within the Democratic Party nationally because they want to extend their influence within the Democratic Party, and this is a test. But no matter which fellow wins, I think Mark is right, this is an end of an era. It’s an end of a decade really, I think. New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, urban reform. The cities were in tough shape at the end of the 80s and early 90s. You had Mayor Riordan elected, Mayor Giuliani elected, Mayor Rendel elected in Philadelphia, people who said we are going to do things differently; we’re going to cut back on labor union contracts, try to make the cities better for economic growth. And I think….
JIM LEHRER: For business.
PAUL GIGOT: They did. You have people streaming back into American cities now. They’re much better off, the crime has gone down. There is, I think– but they didn’t make a big change in the underlying politics. With the good times back, you are seeing a reversion to the traditional liberal coalition and reversion to traditional liberal policy positions.
JIM LEHRER: What happens to the conservatives in Los Angeles? Where do they go in this race?
PAUL GIGOT: In this race, Hahn seems to be the person who is getting most of them; Mark mentioned a couple republicans were supporting him. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He seems to be getting more of those votes. If you look at the policy positions other than the labor backing, they’re pretty close.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s stay in California for a few more minutes. Gray Davis, George W. Bush, the President came out, they had this meeting about energy. What do you think of that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well let me just say I felt sorry for President Bush this week because it’s become part of the job description of a President, particularly I think highlighted by President Clinton but others before him, including President Bush, the first, to go to any place in America that is suffering a crisis whether it is a drought or a flood, you go there. You express– you usually bring with you some federal largesse, some federal help. But that’s what a President is expected to do, to go and show the flag and say, look, we’re concerned the nation is concerned about you. California is different. It is not a natural disaster but it’s an economic disaster, Jim. It’s the sixth largest economy in the world if it were an independent entity.
If California goes down, it will take not only California with it — it will take a large part of the United States. It will have a major ripple effect. President Bush had to go there in that sense, and he had to go there politically. 2002, he is getting blamed by the governor out there, and so he goes out to California, goes to the biggest city in the state and he goes to Gray Davis, the California governor’s home court and kind of elevates him. He has a summit with the president. Presidents don’t give summits to governors. Bill Clinton didn’t give them to George Bush when he was president – Ronald Reagan didn’t give them to any Democratic governors. And he goes in there and Davis all of a sudden is a big guy with a big platform big megaphone. What are you going to do, Mr. President? Where are the price controls? And George Bush does not have an action statement to follow. He is faithful to his convictions.
JIM LEHRER: Should he have stayed in Washington.
PAUL GIGOT: Couldn’t agree more with Mark on this one.
JIM LEHRER: This is two in a row on agreement.
PAUL GIGOT: Analysis, it’s not ideology.
JIM LEHRER: We still have a couple more subjects so go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: Gray Davis is a desperate politician. He has lost 25 points in the polls in four months, not because they say he caused the problem but because he has been blaming everybody else and not solving it. Bush comes in and elevates Davis gives him the same kind of platform. Makes himself a punching bag and Davis is swinging a lot of punches at him. So I think that was a tactical mistake. I asked a White House strategist about it. He said it would have been worse if we didn’t meet with him.
JIM LEHRER: Had to do something?
PAUL GIGOT: No question he had to go out there and had to do it after his energy plan so he says we have something we can do about it. I give President Bush credit for guts on the policy grounds of not succumbing to the easy play politically, which is to impose price controls. That’s easy. They’re popular in the short-term, they get unpopular in the long-term when they cause shortages.
JIM LEHRER: That’s what Gray Davis wants. That’s what he’s being hit on the head about.
PAUL GIGOT: He is taking a short-term hit — he hopes it doesn’t last too long.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s move on to Washington. Democrats take control over the Senate this week. The outgoing majority leader Trent Lott said that Jim Jeffords essentially pulled off a one-man coup, he overrode the will of the American people by doing what he did. He said this a couple of days ago. Is he right?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it’s too much to say he overturned the will of the American people — this was an awfully close election. The will of the people of Vermont is not the will of the whole United States. There is no question about that. But one man coup, it was a one-man decision. I agree with Lott when he says there wasn’t much that anybody could do to keep Jeffords from switching once he decided that he was incompatible ideologically with the Republican Party. And this is one of the reasons Trent Lott isn’t being challenged.
He’s getting criticized by a lot of people outside, but you know what, his fellow members, most of them, don’t blame him for losing Jeffords because they know from inside the Senate that Jeffords was one of the most hand held worked with Senators, what can we do for you? What can we give you? They gave him a lot. Trent Lott personally saved his committee chairmanship in 1996.
JIM LEHRER: Jeffords’ committee chairmanship.
PAUL GIGOT: When Dan Coats, former Senate Dan coats had the votes inside the committee to beat him and Lott stopped it.
JIM LEHRER: Yet there is talk, mark, that Mr. Lott may be on the way out as Republican leader. You agree with Paul that isn’t going to happen?
MARK SHIELDS: I will not argue with Paul’s analysis there. I thought early on in this when Jeffords went, there seemed to be a rush to make Trent Lott the fall guy. I mean boy, from the White House from other Republicans, it was all Trent Lott’s fault, all Trent Lott’s fault. I thought it was a little unfair quite frankly. I think that if Jim Jeffords’s mistreatment at the hands of the Republican leaders – I think most of it that he could identify would be traced directly to White House actions rather than anything Trent Lott did.
I think Paul is right. But in this case Trent Lott is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. He is saying he feels liberated now. You know, now that he is in the minority, it is good to be in the minority because you can stand up for what you believe in. I mean if that’s the case, why is Tom Daschle smiling? And I think in that case he deserves credit for being upbeat if not pollyannaish.
JIM LEHRER: We only with a couple of minutes left. What are we going to see in the coming week? What is Daschle in for Lott going to mean right away?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, right away the first thing I think you’re going to see is a lot of shouting about the organization. Under the senate rules, Daschle is going to need 51 votes to organize. He is going to need some Republicans to agree. There is going to be negotiating over the terms of change over committees, –
JIM LEHRER: Committee structures.
PAUL GIGOT: Committee structures and things like that. And there will be a lot of fighting. But the other thing you are going to see immediately is a change of the issue agenda because the Democrats now control the calendar and you are going to see them bring up the patients bill of rights, for example; you’re going to see them talk about prescription drug benefits.
JIM LEHRER: Minimum wage.
PAUL GIGOT: An awful lot of those things are going to come up. You are seeing some new committee chairmen say that this Bush item is dead; that Bush item is dead; Daschle talking about repealing the tax cuts.
JIM LEHRER: And Carl Levin is talking about holding hearings on why energy prices are so high.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. I think you’ll see three things happen.
JIM LEHRER: He’s chairman of the -
MARK SHIELDS: He is chairman of the oversight committee. Three things happen — First of all prescription drugs will have got a new life. Caps on energy prices, there will be hearings on it, no doubt about it. And I think there will be a bill reported. That is backed by Dianne Feinstein of California and by Gordon Smith, the Republican Senator from Oregon. There is bipartisanship on this. As one Republican Weisman said price controls may not be good economics, they may be good economics but they’re very good politics. I think what you are seeing Jim is sort of a sense of the Democrats moving on issues the Republicans are not as comfortable with but politically may have to succumb to.
JIM LEHRER: As a NewsHour wise man said once, we are out of time. Thank you both very much.