What a gift the city of Bell pay scandal has been for Democrat Jerry Brown. Instead of actually buying campaign advertisements for his gubernatorial race, the attorney general can investigate the excessive salaries in that tiny city and tell California voters it's outrageous what public officials were being paid.
It's doubtful that Brown could find a Californian who didn't already know that, but it sure beats spending his campaign cash. Let Republican opponent Meg Whitman unload her political war chest attacking his motives in the Bell investigation.
Brown is doing the people's work in Bell. He's even set up a hotline so tipsters can call in complaints about Bell's operations.
It's better than having to come up with a workable plan to close the state's $19 billion budget gap. A sensible proposal can only lose votes because it will entail pain for Californians given the size of the deficit. That makes political handlers nervous. But Brown is all over the Bell scandal.
That might even be a good strategy if he's elected governor.
"Don't bother me with the state budget mess; I have to be in Bell this afternoon holding hearings on the salaries of mid-level managers who also might be ripping off the public."
As attorney general, Brown has a political advantage because he can run for governor just by performing his AG duties. Some might argue that the Bell investigation is overkill, but it loosely falls into the definition of the job.
Even Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has a Bell investigation going. It's only coincidental that he's running for attorney general.
Whitman realizes that the Bell scandal could help Brown in the governor's race and has been on the attack ever since he began showing an interest in this tiny Los Angeles County community. Her latest counter-punch to Brown's Bell investigation is to look at the salaries paid in Oakland during his tenure.
"When he was mayor of Oakland, he stonewalled reporters who were trying to get to the bottom of the city's wasteful spending," said Andrea Jones Rivera, a Whitman spokesperson.
"Jerry's hand-picked city manager cashed in $183,000 of vacation and sick pay and gave herself $60,000 of bonuses on top of her six-figure salary. Jerry's confidante and personal guru, Jacques Barzaghi, was on the city's payroll for $126,000 a year at a make-work job that eventually cost the city another $50,000 in a sexual harassment settlement."
Unfortunately for voters, they have learned more about the Bell scandal and Oakland under Brown's mayoral tenure than they have about the most serious issues facing the state. Californians deserve better from the candidates that the Democrats and Republicans have nominated for governor.
Brown uses his AG office to get publicity for the campaign and Whitman seldom ventures out of her protective cocoon that her handlers have created to limit tough questions.
Being governor of California isn't an easy job, and the way Brown and Whitman have campaigned so far, it doesn't seem they are up to the task. We can only hope that they are better than their handlers have allowed them to be in this campaign.
This is what we know about Brown and Whitman: They are good at criticizing each other, but not so good at offering voters real solutions to the challenges facing the Golden State.
There's no reason to believe that we'll get more substance out of either of them between now and Nov. 2. Brown will stick to his Bell-style campaign and Whitman will continue to spend her personal fortune. Voters will be left wondering what they really stand for.
Boren is editorial page editor of The Fresno Bee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1626 E St., Fresno 93786.
THE FRESNO BEE