The Mediterranean fruit fly shows no signs of lifting its dark cloud from Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s political horizon -- and could, in fact, hover long enough to drench the governor's bid for US Senate in 1982.
Each new find of the potentially devastating Medfly -- which now has leaped to southern California -- not only lengthens the state's multimillion-dollar battle, it also prolongs the political storm now raging around Governor Brown.
Aerial spraying to eradicate the fly began over a nine-square-mile area in the southern part of the state on Aug. 26. But it remains to be seen whether that will head off the possibility of widespread embargoes against California's already begun to materialize with a Aug. 26 decision by Japan, California's largest foreign customer, to require fumigation of all California produce imported to Japan. Such an action, officials fear, may trigger embargoes from other states and nations.
The eradication project statewide now includes an aerial spraying zone of nearly 1,200 square miles and a quarantine zone of approximately 3,200 square miles. Before the fly can be declared eradicated, aerial spraying must be completed and no new finds discovered for a period of 55 days.
As the fly continues spreading, however, and winter months approach (during which time Medflies cannot be detected or effectively sprayed because they become relatively inactive), prospects for wiping out the insect this season look increasingly bleak.
A spokesman for the eradication project says the state will still be checking Medfly traps next spring, in case a new outbreak occurs after the dormant winter months. And according to Don Fiskaali, an economic entomologist with the state's agriculture department who has been assigned to the Medfly case, "it will take at least two years to bring [the Medfly] down to zero."
Such a timetable only adds to the woes of Governor Brown, who has done everything but announce his candidacy for the Senate seat now held by Republican S.I. Hayakawa. The primaries are held June 1982 and the general election in November.
Brown drew sharp criticism for his initial decision to delay aerial spraying, a decision he said was made because of environmental concerns. And as the Medfly situation worsens, local newspapers, political opponents, and agriculture leaders (longtime enemies of Brown because of his ties with farm labor leader Cesar Chavez) have escalated the verbal lambasting. The national news media, which frequently display a fascination for the governor, have followed closely the entire controversy and its impact on the perennial campaigner.
The latest California Poll, released last week, found that 40 percent of Californians rate Governor Brown's job performance as poor as very poor. It is the next-to-the-lowest such rating Brown his tenure as governor, the worst being a 47 percent poor-very poor rating he received in April 1980, right after his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
Nor can the governor be encouraged by the fact that San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson announced Aug. 26 that he has decided to drop out of the gubernatorial race and will run for the Republican nomination for US Senate instead. Mr. Wilson, who claims that his polls show he is the only Republican capable of beating Brown in a one-on-one Senate race, has begun his campaign by brushing aside his Republican primary opponents and launching directly into attacks on Brown instead.
As widespread as the governor's current troubles may be, however, he cannot be counted out of the running. For one thing, Brown is known as a tough, persuasive campaigner. Some analysts say they still expect him to win to Democratic nomination next June -- although other political pundits say Brown would be smart to avoid a potentially embarrassing loss in the general election by sitting out this race and gathering strength as a political sideliner in the coming few years.