GOV. BROWNOUT FOLLOWS FOOTSTEPS OF GOV. MOONBEAM

California Gov. Gray Davis seems determined to follow a predecessor and fellow Democrat, Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., into moonbeam oblivion.

Having run out of tantrums misdirected at Texas energy companies over electricity prices, Davis is hard after a new dragon: the automobile.

At the dedication of a new 6-mile segment of the Foothill Freeway in San Bernardino County, Davis declared that the ceremony signaled an end to new-highway construction in California.

Primacy of the automobile, he said, is over.

The statement does not harmonize with behavior of Californians. They notoriously spurn the public transportation Davis wants to expand in favor of cars and crowded freeways.

The discord brings to mind an environmental swerve that Brown took off the political road 20 years ago.

While serving as governor-but famously refusing to inhabit the mansion that goes with the office-Brown in 1981 balked when farmers wanted to spray the pesticide malathion on crops threatened by Mediterranean fruitflies.

Encouraged by environmentalists, he drummed up fear over malathion, citing a dated and subsequently discredited study linking it to genetic damage.

When the California Department of Health Sciences advised him of malathion's safety, Brown went further by saying it might cause cancer, which it never has been shown to do.

It wasn't until several states and Japan banned Californian fruit that Brown finally yielded to science and economics and allowed spraying of infested crops. By then, however, his environmentalist fear-mongering had allowed crop damage estimated at $100 million.

It also earned him the nickname "Gov. Moonbeam" and contributed to his loss to Pete Wilson in a 1982 race for the US Senate.

Brown is now mayor of Oakland-where few voters make their livings growing crops.

While no one would accuse the former governor of turning conservative, his political behavior is notably more pragmatic than it was when he could have occupied the governor's mansion but didn't.

Like Brown, Davis has a nickname. It's Gov. Brownout.

And like Brown, Davis earned the mockery by evangelizing environmentalist fantasies that conflict with the interests of real-life Californians.

He made his state a laughingstock by insisting that Texas energy producers, not California's stop-everything environmental regulation, led to the electric power calamity.

Now he commits himself to coaxing Californians out of their cars and into trains and buses.

He'll probably win marks in opinion polls for undertaking this crusade. He'll probably also lose whatever election he enters next in California-unless it's for mayor of some hamlet where nobody drives.

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