Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox last week likened long wait lines at DMV offices to the Holocaust.
But he quickly backtracked, apologizing to anybody offended yet also insisting he didn’t really say what he clearly did say.
The whole fracas is reminiscent of longtime New Republic editor Michael Kinsley’s adage that a “gaffe” is when a politician unwittingly tells the truth, namely what he really thinks.
Cox, badly trailing in the polls to Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, has been touring DMV offices in recent weeks to capitalize politically on the big lines. He has even handed out bottled water to folks waiting.
At a Sacramento DMV office last Wednesday Cox told a woman who said she had been waiting nearly one hour, “You know, I met a Holocaust survivor in Long Beach. He survived concentration camps, and he said this was worse. He’s 90 years old and he had to wait four hours down in Long Beach. Can you imagine that?”
“Last week I spoke with a 90 year-old Holocaust survivor waiting all day at the DMV who compared the wait to the long lines in pre-war Germany and Latvia, one of the most horrific times in history. His story stuck with me not only because of the gravity of speaking with a Holocaust survivor, but because my mother was Jewish and this subject always compelled the utmost respect and attention in our home.
“While recounting the conversation with the gentleman in the DMV while I was in Sacramento, I attempted to convey his frustration and, in paraphrasing his comments, I misspoke. I certainly apologize to that gentleman, and to anyone that may have been offended.”
Offering a decidedly curious mix of humility and self-praise, Cox also said, “I’m not as polished as some others in the public eye—and when I get it wrong, I’ll admit it as I’m doing now.”
Cox concluded his statement by making clear he would steadfastly crusade against DMV lines.
“I will continue to travel the state and listen to the frustrations of Californians, and will work tirelessly to bring attention to those individuals.”
The Republican candidate has made DMV lines a big issue since finishing second in the June primary to Newsom. As his spokesman last week chirped to the San Francisco Chronicle, “This is a great reference point for everything John talks about. It’s about bringing more transparency to government. It’s about approaching issues like a businessman. It’s about reforming a government entity that nobody is happy with.”
But it’s unclear how all the talk could help him gain traction among voters since the long waits can’t easily be blamed on Gavin Newsom. The Democrats fully control the state legislature and have moved to solve the crisis through additional funding. The California Joint Legislative Budget Committee on August 8th approved the DMV’s request for $16.6 million in additional funding to alleviate the lines by hiring 230 new field office staffers.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have been wondering why nothing seems to have improved after the last batch of funding was doled out. Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) has led the charge for an audit. He penned a funny but frustrating op-ed that notes how DMV Director Jean Shiomoto “has requested lawmakers approve another $26 million to hire 400 more employees … The request is on top of $16 million in emergency funding the agency has already tapped to hire more employees.”
Still, Cox can’t even credibly accuse the Democrat-controlled legislature of stupendous inaction on the lines since they have repeatedly directed additional funding, albeit to no great effect.
Does all this make the newbie politician’s shtick misplaced?
University of California at San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser told California Globe, “This is not anything new in California life. People have long known there are going to be long lines at the DMV because we’re a car culture.”
Kousser allows that Cox’s DMV fixation “keeps him on his message that California government is too big and too slow and too expensive.”
But “this is not a new scandal to associate with Gavin Newsom. And that makes it harder to score political points.”
Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, which has been critical of politicians, such as Ben Carson, trying to score political points with crass Holocaust analogies, has not issued any statement about Cox’s remarks. And in a testament to the considerable sloth of journalists today it seems that nobody who covered the widely-reported controversy bothered to ask the venerable Jewish organization.
The ADL Los Angeles regional office did not reply to the Globe’s request for comment.
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