- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2001

Republican lawmakers in California are planning to vote against the state budget because it gives $180,000 in taxpayer money to Al Gores former political operatives, who have been hired by Gov. Gray Davis to blame the energy crisis on President Bush.
But one of those operatives, former Gore press secretary Chris Lehane, said his hiring was no different from Mr. Bushs retaining his own political strategists.
"Last time I checked, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin — while being talented at what they do — are not exactly titans of bipartisanship," Mr. Lehane told The Washington Times. "They are clearly political operatives."
Mrs. Matalin, a presidential adviser, acknowledges there is a political component to every White House, but insists the Bush team is too steeped in the policy details of the energy crisis to mount political attacks.
"No one at this White House has ever tried to do anything in California except help Governor Davis fix his energy problem and get electricity to the citizens of California," she told The Times. "No one here has been political.
"I mean, try to find one thing that any of us have said," she added, contrasting the White Houses public statements with Mr. Davis sharp criticism of the president. "Hes the one who keeps attacking us."
California Senate Republican Leader James Brulte said the governor should have used his campaign war chest, not taxpayer funds, to hire Mr. Lehane and Mark Fabiani, who call themselves the "masters of disaster" for their knack at turning Clinton-Gore scandals into attacks against Mr. Bush.
Mr. Brulte said he would vote against the budget next month and urge lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to follow suit.
"These are not energy experts; these are not bond experts; these are political attack dogs," Mr. Brulte said. "And theyre very good political attack dogs. I have nothing but respect for their political skills; I just dont think the taxpayers of California should be paying their salaries.
"We Republicans dont control the state legislature, but even the Democrats privately are grumbling," he said. "I mean, this is a governor whos got $30 million in the bank and wants to saddle taxpayers with this kind of political expense."
Bob Mulholland, campaign adviser to the Democratic National Committee, said former California Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, spent similar sums on ruthless political operatives of his own.
"Their governor hired the same caliber of people," Mr. Mulholland said.
"They were all put on the public payroll by Wilson and not a word of criticism was raised by the Republicans, so I think its just a lot of noise to cover up the fact that Texas is making a lot of money off the backs of Californians," he said.
Dave Cox, Republican leader of the California State Assembly, dismissed the notion that Mr. Bushs former colleagues in the Texas oil business were gouging California energy consumers.
He also charged that Mr. Lehane and Mr. Fabiani have a conflict of interest because they also are working for Southern California Edison, a utility that is poised to receive "a sweetheart deal" from Mr. Davis.
Specifically, the governor has proposed a memorandum of understanding that would give the utility a large cash infusion of tax dollars and absolve it of significant responsibilities for maintaining the states electrical grid, Mr. Cox said.
Mr. Lehane denied any conflict of interest.
"Both the governor and Edison are in agreement in terms of what needs to be done at the public policy level," he said. "The memorandum of understanding is not only good public policy, not only for Edison and for the governor but, most importantly, its good public policy for the people of the state."
He added: "Both parties are in agreement that its a good thing for the state to take over the grid because it will help deliver electricity more efficiently and effectively."
As for the cash infusion, Mr. Lehane said, it might prevent the utility from going into bankruptcy and causing "higher rates to be passed on to the ratepayers."
The former Gore spokesman also blamed Mr. Brulte for helping engineer the partial deregulation that Democrats blame for the energy crisis in California. He shrugged off the notion that Republicans would try to get his contract canceled.
Although Democrats control both houses of the state legislature, they need at least some Republicans to support the budget, which cannot pass without support from two-thirds of lawmakers. In the Senate, Democrats hold a 25-14 edge, with one seat vacant. In the General Assembly, their margin is 50-29, with one vacancy.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Brultes objections would derail the $80 billion budget.
Mr. Mulholland warned that the Republican would be punished for his stance.
"Remember, its tit for tat," Mr. Mulholland said. "The governor, ultimately, has the veto power, so some of those projects that Brulte has been pushing through the legislature for his district could find themselves in a lonely basement room."
Mrs. Matalin suggested such political paybacks were the domain of California Democrats, not Washington Republicans.
"They only know how to operate in one arena," she said. "And were not getting in that arena."


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