GOP Stalwart Attacks Simon
As Bill Simon Jr. sought Thursday to right his struggling gubernatorial campaign, the Republican hopeful suffered a new blow from an unlikely source: a veteran GOP strategist touted as one of Simon’s top advisors.
Lyn Nofziger, a conservative stalwart since his days in Sacramento with then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, denounced Simon as “inept, weak ... and too dumb” to beat incumbent Democrat Gray Davis.
Further, Nofziger said he never worked for Simon, despite an announcement from the campaign earlier this summer in which Nofziger was described as a senior advisor to “Team Simon.”
“I never signed onto anything,” Nofziger said in a telephone interview Thursday night, during which he vouched for the commentary that first surfaced on the Web site of Campaign for California Families, a group that says it lobbies for conservative family values.
“If I considered myself an advisor to the campaign, I wouldn’t have written that,” he said.
Nofziger said he originally wrote the opinion piece for his personal Web site, a compendium of his daily musings on politics that are occasionally circulated among campaign insiders. He said he was inspired by the flap this week over Simon’s position on gay rights.
Under pressure from some conservative backers, Simon disavowed his campaign’s response to a gay rights questionnaire, including pledges to sign a Gay Pride Day proclamation and to support job benefits for partners of gay state employees.
Nofziger, who wrote his commentary before Simon’s disavowal, described the candidate’s stance as a “spit in the eye of his conservative, pro-family base.”
“Californians now are going to have a clear choice when they go to the polls to elect a governor this November,” Nofziger wrote.
“They can reelect an inept, corrupt incumbent Democrat named Gray Davis,” he added. “Or they can elect an inept, weak and not very bright Republican named Bill Simon. Take your pick. But be smart. Bet on Davis. Simon is too dumb to win and his senior consultant, Sal Russo, isn’t much better.”
Asked Thursday night if he stood by those comments given Simon’s denial that he had reviewed or personally signed the questionnaire, Nofziger replied, “I don’t have any choice.”
A spokesman for the Simon campaign, Mark Miner, said Nofziger was no longer associated with the campaign.
“Obviously, these are unfortunate comments from somebody who doesn’t know the candidate very well and hasn’t spent any time with him at all,” Miner said. “He attended one meeting, if that, and was never paid by the campaign.”
Eager to steer his troubled campaign back toward issues, Simon rallied a group of GOP women in Garden Grove before touting education reform at a charter school in Watts. The events gave Simon a break from the defensive posture into which he has been forced nearly the entire summer by troubles both personal and political.
Simon began the morning with an emotional pledge to keep swinging at Davis, who has spent $18 million on television ads over the summer that Simon said are “trying to trash me and my family, my business, my career.”
“He’s got the arrogance of power, and we’ve got the vision.”
But in what appeared to be an allusion to recent sniping within Republican ranks about his candidacy, he appealed for unity within the party.
“We need to stop fighting one another,” Simon told about 200 members and guests of the Orange County Federation of Republican Women. “We can’t afford to waste one day.”
Simon’s campaign also began its first round of network television advertisements since the Republican primary in the early spring.
The campaign has previously aired an ad mainly on cable stations.
Davis, by contrast, has broadcast advertising for months that has focused relentlessly on Simon’s problems, including a $78-million fraud judgment handed down by a Los Angeles jury earlier this summer against Simon’s family company.
Russo, Simon’s campaign consultant, said the new ad, featuring former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, will change the campaign’s dynamic.
The ad was aired on a few stations Thursday and will air statewide today, Russo said.
At the Watts Learning Center, Simon shared hugs with grinning grade-schoolers and took a break to read with 8-year-old Devonne Bowman.
When asked what a governor does, Simon replied, “A governor is very important because the governor sets a tone for the whole state. The tone I want to set is that California is a place that’s friendly to all people.”
Simon praised the elementary school of 224 students for its academic standing, which he attributed to flexible arrangements between school and community that, he said, are not allowed with traditional public schools.
The state should expand the number of charter schools and give them more money, he said.
Simon also criticized Davis for the $98.9-billion budget that the governor signed Thursday.
The budget was signed 65 days after the July 1 deadline contained in the state Constitution--a record for tardiness.
Simon criticized the budget for carrying more than $10 billion in debt but declined to say how he would eliminate the deficit if elected.
Simon’s lack of budget specifics has become sport for the Davis campaign, which distributes a daily report on how many days have passed--114 on Thursday--without a Simon budget plan to match Davis’.
“Davis always points fingers and says, ‘Give us more specifics,’ ” Simon said. “You’re the governor, you give us more specifics.”
Davis spokesman Gabriel Sanchez, who shadowed Simon at both events, retorted that Simon has failed after “oceans of time” to produce suggestions for budget cuts or revenue increases.
“The guy’s going around talking about how much more money he would spend,” Sanchez said before repeating an insult first hurled by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan during his primary campaign against Simon: “In the words of Dick Riordan, he’s a sanctimonious hypocrite.”
Today, Simon planned to take a day off campaigning to spend his wedding anniversary with wife, Cindy, and then resume his efforts in Northern California.
Times staff writers Matea Gold and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.