TOPICS > Politics

California in Context

October 8, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And now what if any large message has come with the voters … with what the voters of California did yesterday and we look for them with Richard Riordan the former Republican mayor of Los Angeles and Willie Brown the current Democratic mayor of San Francisco. Mayor Riordan, what you would like for the people in the rest of the country to hear from what happened yesterday in California?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Well, I would like them to hear that people put party politics aside and they want to get jobs, health care, education, transportation, for everybody in their state, Republican, Democrat, or independent.

JIM LEHRER: Mayor Brown, what do you want the folks outside California to take away from what happened yesterday?

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: Well, I want them to take the message that this is not a parliamentary system and if they have anything like a recall anywhere available on their horizon, get rid of it.

JIM LEHRER: Is that it? Why, you think this was a terrible mistake to do the recall in the first place?

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: I think when you run for election you should be elected to a term. You should only be subject to losing your job in between the term and next opportunity to be elected for doing something equal to impeachment. It should not be the simple capricious desire by somebody to do something political and use recall as a tool. Recall in California is in that category. I think that could be terribly disrupting to the entire system. I think it could cause politicians never do anything except what the focus groups and the opinion polls says whether it’s right or wrong and that’s not why we should be elected to public office.

JIM LEHRER: Mayor Riordan, do you see the same message coming out of this?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Well, Willie, you know California is in desperate shape. We’re on the verge of bankruptcy, we have an anti-business government, you have 500,000 or more Latino businesses and these people voted for Schwarzenegger because all of these — workers comp — energy all of the rest of stuff is killing their business and recalls have happened twice in the last 100 years in the whole country. I think it was north or South Dakota about 80 years ago and now this year. I don’t think you have that much to worry about recalls.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think, Mayor Riordan, that what was happening in California justified a recall rather than waiting to the next election to get rid of Davis?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Yes, I do and I step back and put it in context. To say we need a revolution in California. California is the most business — anti-business government in the country. We are — the biggest deficit in the history of our country of any state, and we need a revolution and this was a way to shake this state apart and saying we’re mad as heck and we won’t stand any more of it.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think, Mayor Brown, that the state needed a revolution if it wasn’t the recall it needed some kind of revolution, do you agree with Mayor Riordan that things were in that bad of shape?

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: I disagree with Mayor Riordan. After all, there was an election November of 2002. Voters in this state had all of the information that they had in October 2003. They reelected Gray Davis; they reelected all of the Democrats statewide; they reelected a majority of the members of each house of the legislature; they gave the congressional delegation a huge majority, almost every city in California is currently housed as a chief executive, a mayor who is a Democrat or an independent. There is just absolutely no basis for suggesting that a revolution was so drastically needed. I believe the allegations about how unfriendly the state is to business are just wrong.

San Francisco, for an example, voted 80 percent no on the recall. We in San Francisco under my leadership produces a climate and environment in which people love to invest, real estate values are going up every day. There has been no drop in any aspects of what people enjoy doing in this city in spite of the dot-com world going upside down. Our schools are in need of great resources. Our roads systems are still in need. All of those things are consistent with good judgment.

I believe that the PR as offered by Mayor Riordan is exactly what does more damage, the perception and the idea that somehow we have got to attract business by giving them tax breaks, by not having them pay their fair share, by not having them cover workers fairly and comfortably, by not having them provide health care. I think that’s all wrong.

JIM LEHRER: Your response to that, Mayor Riordan, and then I want to move to Schwarzenegger.

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Well, let me just say Willie, we have like three times the cost of workers comp of any state in the union. Our electricity costs are like three times also of any other state. Our health care is dramatically more than other states. They particularly affect small to medium sized businesses owned by minorities and I will say, just to get a good word in for Los Angeles, Los Angeles is doing better economically than any other part of the state.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s leave … the two of you disagree on this. Mayor Riordan, how do you explain Schwarzenegger? Is it a celebrity thing, that did it for him, or why did the people vote for him yesterday?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Well, I think if you saw the polling at first, he started out with like 22 percent in the polling when he announced and eventually got what, 49 percent. I say the first 20 percent probably was a celebrity part. But people listened; they realize he’s a moderate, he’s not a arch right winger or left winger but he’s somebody right down the center which is a profile of most people in California. He’s pro-choice. He’s pro-gay rights. He’s pro somewhat on gun control. And he’s just the right profile that California needs at this time.

JIM LEHRER: Do you any in terms of people outside California they should take away from this that a celebrity is the way to go right now if you want to get attention and large turnout et cetera?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: No, I don’t think. So but certainly through the years the person who is the most liked candidate usually won. So there is an element of a celebrity to that.

JIM LEHRER: How do you read that, Mayor Brown? Why Schwarzenegger, why did he do so well? He did do well.

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: Well, I think he did extremely well, because one, Mayor Riordan is correct, he is well liked, I even consider him a friend of mine. I enjoy having lunch with Arnold, Arnold is like one of the regular people whom you kind of hang with. The public got that clearly and then there was a clear absence of quality among the other 135 plus Gray Davis of anybody who could match Arnold in that category.

If you add to that the years and years and years of his formidable reputation in the movie world and all that goes with that, you have a formula for great potential victory. Put on top of that, $23 million, more money than anybody else could afford to spend in this campaign and you have factors that go beyond reality. You know no other politician could announce his candidacy on the Jay Leno show. No other politician could get an opportunity for softball interview on the show that’s done by one of the most famous women in all of America, Oprah Winfrey, and nobody could have the same person that introduced him to run come and say, now here he is. That just doesn’t happen.

All of those things combined, plus, by the way, Arnold’s photograph in a favorable fashion was on the front page or one of the pages of every paper in California every day from the first day he announced. Those are all formidable pluses. The celebrity status gives you that advantage. I think Republicans were smart to go with Arnold.

JIM LEHRER: Mayor Riordan, what do you think — were you surprised that the sexual harassment allegations that came out a few days before the election didn’t seem to affect the outcome?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: No, I wasn’t because I think people saw that it was a dirty trick pulled by The Los Angeles Times who all of this information which was in a magazine six months before and people saw it for what it was and have also seen these kinds of dirty tricks in campaigning before and they pretty well ignored it.

JIM LEHRER: So this should be seen as a dirty trick — reaction to a dirty trick rather than the voters of California saying oh, well, whether it’s true or not it doesn’t matter?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Well, I think there’s that element too. I’m not saying the article was inaccurate and I think people, first of all that, the state I mentioned is in dire shape and people are more interested in having somebody they think can govern this state out of the problems we have.

JIM LEHRER: Mayor Brown, what’s your analysis of this sexual harassment thing, why it didn’t work?

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: Well, one I think that it came far too late. I think any allegation of that nature requires a politician to respond. If the politician hesitates, it gains credibility. If the politician is caught lying, it gains credibility. If the politician finds himself actually faced with his or her accusers, it creates a problem for him.

Arnold was very, very lucky. His instinct said, acknowledge that I may have conducted myself inappropriately. That would give all of those who want to give your past, i.e., the news organizations, Richard Riordan and others and the Republican establishment the opportunity to say, dirty tricks and in a short time span of six or seven days, that can carry.

Now however, after the fact, I think that Mr. Schwarzenegger has got to remove that from his resume and he’s got to do it clearly and precisely by dealing directly with each one of the individuals who made the accusation and have those individuals acknowledge that they were either true or not true or appropriately dealt with.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mayor Riordan, a lot of people said this was a circus what you all conducted over there these last several weeks, guilty as charged?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: Oh, I think. So what is in Alice in Wonderland they said if you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there. It was a strange place we were going and it was a circus, but then I think people saw a lot of discipline in Arnold Schwarzenegger and a lot of discipline in the other candidates and started to take them all seriously.

JIM LEHRER: So this was democracy in action, not democracy run amuck?

FMR. MAYOR RICHARD RIORDAN: It was democracy in action with a little bit of amuck. I mean you don’t have 150 cameras at a statewide election normally.

JIM LEHRER: Okay, well mayors, both, thank you both, very much.