In perhaps the most bizarre turn yet in California's season of political madness, the state's highest law enforcement official has said, in effect, that allegations of sexual harassment and even possible assault of women do not constitute serious offenses if perpetrated by his "good friend" Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Speaking at a conference in Berkeley on Saturday, Attorney General Bill Lockyer told reporters that although he believed the slew of women's allegations that the governor-elect had grabbed them sexually without permission or invitation, "I'm convinced Arnold didn't really understand that he was caught up in frat-boy behavior."
Since "frat-boy behavior" has at times encompassed serious violations of the law -- including, all too frequently, rape -- it is not clear whether Lockyer is denying the seriousness of the complaints against Schwarzenegger or simply suggesting that the actor was not mentally competent to comprehend the consequences of the alleged acts.
In earlier remarks at U.C. Berkeley, Lockyer, a Democrat, made headlines with a surprise announcement that he had voted for Schwarzenegger in the recall election. That's his right, of course, although his comments afterward questioning Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's integrity bordered on slander.
Explaining his refusal to vote for Bustamante, Lockyer told reporters, "You know people in your profession really well. You know who works hard and who doesn't. You know who's honest and who isn't. And that's all I'm going to say." Without providing any backing for his remarks, which stop just short of accusing the state's No. 2 official of crimes, Lockyer appears to be playing the same "puke politics" game he accused fellow Democrat Gray Davis of employing in the 2002 gubernatorial race. He has clear motive to do so, because he and Bustamante are projected to be rivals in 2006.
Bustamante, however, has his own political firepower with which to retaliate, probably including the large Latino caucus in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Not so the 16 women who went public with complaints of having been abused by Schwarzenegger and whom California's attorney general has now chosen to denigrate. Oddly, Lockyer accepts that their stories are true but implies that serial molestation by one of the wealthiest and best-connected men in the country is not to be taken seriously. That is an incredible signal of disrespect to send to women.
On the movie sets where many of the incidents are said to have occurred, Schwarzenegger was in an enormously powerful position over the people who later leveled complaints against him -- he could have ruined their careers. His inchoate and vague admissions and semi-apologies since the charges were made do not leave one sanguine about his future actions.
Lockyer has set the bar very, very low for bosses in California.
At best he's a hypocrite. On the last day of the recall campaign, Lockyer did state that even though the one-year statute of limitations had presumably run out on the incidents described by the women who came forward, "Arnold should volunteer" for an "investigation to clear up these charges," adding, "There's too many of them, they're disturbing, the volume is disturbing." But in the wake of Schwarzenegger's convincing victory, Lockyer apparently decided that the bodybuilder's coattails were too long to ignore for a politician trying to capture the hearts of those fickle swing voters.
I have known and respected Lockyer for four decades, and I would hate to think he is now lowering his ethical standards to better position himself for future political campaigns.
"He's put himself on the side of the angels," cheered George Gorton, Schwarzenegger's campaign strategist. "If there ever was a time to hold hands and walk together out of the forest, it's now." Let's hope Lockyer will not fall for this phony fairy tale and instead exercise his responsibility to protect the public interest, wherever that path may lead.
Sure, let's all wish Schwarzenegger lots of luck in playing his new role. But we don't need the state's attorney general to become another groupie of the Terminator, looking the other way instead of making sure that women -- and the public interest -- don't get molested.