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Gladiator

Think California's getting a new governor? Don't hold your breath.

12:00 AM, Aug 4, 2003 • By LARRY MILLER
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ANYONE WHO THINKS Gray Davis's goose is cooked knows nothing about Gray Davis.

Oh, it's in the oven, all right (his goose, that is), and it's been basted, and it's been going for a while. And the table is set, and the guests are seated, and they're all smacking their lips.

But it is by no means cooked. In fact, the Republican party of California has just handed him oven mitts and offered him a chance to take it out.

And I think he will. Maybe I'm screwy, but I think on October 8, the day after the special recall election, California Governor Gray Davis will still be California Governor Gray Davis. Moreover, I think he's going to be Senator Hillary Clinton's running mate in 2008 and the next Democratic vice-president of the United States. And after that? Oh, I think you all know what comes after that.

Don't get me wrong, long before any of this happens (very shortly, in fact, and as a direct result of Davis' pitch-perfect boneheadism), the state of California will have a bond rating just above Chechnya's. Our roads and power plants will look like, well, Chechnya's, and all the schools and businesses are going to--Come to think of it, let's just stay with Chechnya.

But this is not about whether the guy is any good at being governor, or even has the slightest idea of what's in the drawers of his desk. Governing is not his field. That may sound contradictory, or at least ironic, but it's neither. He knows nothing about running an office; his field is running for office, and he is pre-eminent in it.

This moment in California's political life is about survival and winning, and those are the two things Gray Davis does better than anyone I've ever seen. They are the things his soul vibrates to like a tuning fork, the things God created him to do as surely as He created Shakespeare to write, and (What a smart move!) they are the very things Davis has just been dared to do by San Diego Representative Darryl Issa and the Republican party. I believe we've just seen the greatest electoral miscalculation since Gary Hart said, "If you think I'm lying, just follow me around."

I just realized something. Do any of you know what I'm talking about? Is the Gray Davis thing a national story? It bounced around a bunch of papers, but state races are usually only known to people in the state.

I like to think I'm at least a little in touch with national news, but, to be honest, I'm not even sure I could name any other governors. Can anyone? Wait. Pataki in New York. Okay, that's one. The guy in Illinois who did the death penalty thing--but I don't know his name. Oh, Bush in Florida (duh). Okay, that's two. Parris Glendening used to be governor of Maryland, right? But I think the only reason I remember him is that a Kennedy tried to succeed him, and because he has one of those political names that is both fabulous and preposterous, like Estes Kefauver. (It was that one, incidentally, that gave me my first clue, even as a kid, that parents could be so dog-tired at the end of a day they might throw their hands up and say, "Oh, let's just go with 'Estes' and be done with it.")

Now, the reason I don't know any other governors is not because I'm state-o-centric, or, frankly, have any feeling for California at all over Ohio or Alaska. It's a fine place, you understand, with far more terrific people than you might think, and you never need a winter jacket, or even underwear (I use both, by the way). I live here for a reason, though: If you want to make steel, go to Pittsburgh. (Not any more, come to think of it, but you know what I mean.) Maybe it's because people in my line have a little circus blood in us, but where I live at any given moment matters to me as much as whether or not Mr. Clinton wore briefs or boxer shorts, and that matters to me very little. If you ask, "Do you like living in Los Angeles?" I would say, "My family is here, our house is here, I work here, it's in America, the stores have food and liquor. So, yeah, I suppose I like Los Angeles."

I'm pretty sure that's it, though, for governors. I don't know any others. Some in the past, I guess. Cuomo. Ann Richards, right? Tommy Thompson used to be governor of Wisconsin, I think, before he became . . . whatever he is now. Well, Wallace in Alabama, but who wants to be known for that? Hold it. Is Sununu's kid governor of New Hampshire? (Is anyone, now that I mention it?) Wait. Dean was Vermont, right? I guess we all know that one; the fun's just started with him.

I know who the last few governors of California were, because, again, this is where I live and drive around, and if there are two things that are difficult to miss on billboards, it's a candidate's loopy grin, and the crotch of a Calvin Klein model, which, come to think of it, is much the same thing.