- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

This November's election results brought discouraging news for Republicans and conservatives. Even with President Bush's unprecedented public support, Republicans managed to lose the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. The outlook for next year is pretty dicey given the usual jinx in mid-term elections on the party holding the White House. But there is a bright spot on the horizon. Republicans and movement conservatives throughout the nation should be watching a state they have ignored in recent years California for a pick-me-up boost.

Admittedly, the last few elections there have been uphill for conservatives and Republicans. Just a year ago, Gov. Gray Davis looked unbeatable. Speculation centered more on his chances for the 2004 presidential nomination than his expected landslide re-election. Then came California's energy crisis and Mr. Davis' bright future dimmed.

So, who is going to challenge Mr. Davis?

The White House had been pushing Richard Riordan, the immediate past mayor of Los Angeles. The White House received its wish but now some in the political operation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are distancing themselves from him.

First, it turns out that one of the biggest contributors to Mr. Davis was who? Why Richard Riordan. Second, most of Mr. Riordan's professional team abandoned ship in highly publicized departures. Third, Mr. Riordan has been proving to be more liberal than Mr. Davis. Party operatives are starting to realize that running to the left of Mr. Davis is not the ticket for victory.

Secretary of State Bill Jones is a political veteran. But he is not considered to be a particularly fresh, appealing personality nor a bold leader. Nor has he demonstrated strong prowess as a fund-raiser.

Then, there's William E. Simon Jr., son of the late Republican secretary of the Treasury, who is a real Republican and conservative. He has welcomed Mr. Riordan to the campaign.

Mr. Simon, a successful businessman, has a real-life understanding of what it takes to start and grow successful businesses. So, like his father, he is an articulate proponent of the principles of lower taxes and regulations that can help small businessmen and investors. He has addressed the steps that must be taken to solve the state's financial problems, having already issued a plan to reduce non-public safety spending by 15 percent. Mr. Davis has taken an $8 billion surplus and turned it into a $13 billion deficit. And now Mr. Davis wants to raise taxes. Mr. Simon has argued convincingly that raising taxes in an economic downturn would be the worst possible move. But every time the capital-gains tax is cut more money flows into the state's coffers.

What makes Mr. Simon's candidacy so attractive is that, put him in the governor's mansion, and it is highly likely that he will become a national leader of the conservative movement overnight.

Mr. Simon has that quality that is very rare and valued in a conservative candidate. He has a moral framework but can explain himself in such a reassuring manner that he does not frighten potential supporters as some less articulate conservatives have done. His ability to discuss issues is so down-to-earth that even casual voters can readily grasp what he is discussing.

He speaks eloquently on the need for religion in the public square and the revival of the traditional family and values. As a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, Mr. Simon has used his position to remind that outstanding, economically oriented think tank that, without God and the morality which springs from the belief in a higher power, there is no basis for an ordered society. Plus, he is an unashamed supporter of the U.S. Constitution, concerned about catching terrorists but also about the draconian anti-terrorist legislation that has given federal law enforcement the potential to circumvent the rights enjoyed by American citizens who are not "politically correct."

Mr. Bush has demonstrated his leadership ability, and it has been widely credited even by his onetime critics in wake of September 11.

Certainly, the president is inclined toward conservative views. But now that Sen. Jesse Helms is departing, the movement needs leaders at the state and local level willing and able to advance a platform of bold colors rather than pastels, as Ronald Reagan used to say. During this bland era of bipartisanship, during which the Republicans in Washington have negotiated away much of what they believe, the election of Mr. Simon, who is devoted to advancing conservative principles and fresh ideas in the nation's largest state, would be a welcome change.

Just like Mr. Reagan's 1966 candidacy for governor in California gave conservatives cause for renewed hope after the disappointing showing by GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater two years earlier, Mr. Simon's candidacy represents a harbinger of hope for conservatives and Republicans in what may not be the best Republican year. If Mr. Simon can win and govern successfully, he might come to mean a good deal more than that. After all, California is considered to be a trend-setting state. The trend has been against Republicans throughout much of the last decade. If Mr. Simon can win in California, then all eyes will be focused on the West Coast.

Paul M. Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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