GOVERNOR - Gray Davis
For 16 long years, California has stagnated under the reign of two successive Republican governors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson - Duke the Dull and Pete the Mean. With the population exploding, the state has built little but prisons, while schools have declined to Mississippian levels. With the population diversifying, the state, at Wilson's prodding, has thrown its social policies into reverse to ensure that its universities and government agencies will become less diverse - in fact, will fade to white.
This year's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Dan Lungren, wouldn't just perpetuate the Deukmejian and Wilson policies. He'd make them worse. While neither as dull as the Duke nor as mean as Pete (which would, forgive us, be no mean feat), he's more rigidly conservative than either. Unlike Wilson, he is zealously anti-choice, a position his judicial appointments are likely to reflect. Unlike either, he's been consistently opposed to environmental protections, voting against the Clean Air and Safe Drinking Water acts while in Congress, and, as attorney general, opposing federal legislation requiring military bases to comply with state environmental laws - the only state A.G. out of 50 to oppose the bill. Unlike virtually every other member of Congress, he actively fought the bill, signed by Ronald Reagan, that provided reparations to Japanese-Americans interned in concentration camps during World War II.
Like his congressional classmate Newt Gingrich, Dan Lungren is first and foremost a right-wing ideologue. Asked about the crisis of public education, he pooh-poohs the need to raise the starting salaries of teachers and argues that private-school vouchers are the real solution. Offered the opportunity to join the omnibus lawsuit against tobacco companies for the billions of dollars they've cost the states in Medi-Cal expenses, he delayed until political pressure compelled him to add California, belatedly, to the list of plaintiffs. Required by law to ban assault weapons in California, he has taken pains to exempt certain weapons and delay their collection. At a time when California's public sector, once the marvel of the world, is in a state of near collapse, Lungren clings to the belief that the state has no proper role in society save to catch and punish criminals. It is a belief utterly at odds with the actual historical experience of California and utterly inadequate to the state's current needs.
This November, fortunately, California has a real chance to stop its spiral of decline. Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis seems poised to lead a Democratic sweep, giving the party control of both the executive and legislative branches of government.
We are, of course, well past the time when such a sweep in itself would have portended a wave of progressive reforms. State government is still constrained by the anti-tax handiwork of Howard Jarvis, progressive forces are still universally weak, and Gray Davis himself is an almost preternaturally cautious political leader. Even though every poll shows public support for more education spending, for instance, Davis has committed himself to virtually nothing specific in the way of education reform during the course of the campaign, lest any position jeopardize his lead. At a time when campaign-finance practices threaten the government's very legitimacy, Davis has offered the most exquisitely incremental reforms. Indeed, this was one of the reasons why the Weekly endorsed Green Party candidate Dan Hamburg in June - a forthright progressive with the proverbial snowball's chance in hell.
June, however, is long gone, and a vote for Hamburg this November only threatens to undo what is clearly, for all of Davis' moderation, the first real opportunity progressives have had in decades to go on the offensive in California. While Davis himself hews to the center, a Davis governorship, coupled with the more overtly left leadership of Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in the Assembly and Majority Leader John Burton in the Senate, would clearly enhance the prospects for any number of progressive causes. For the first time in two decades, farm workers could look forward to having a state Agricultural Labor Relations Board that won't be the stooge of agribusiness. Health-care activists would find a government willing to craft a plan for universal coverage of children. Champions of living-wage ordinances would be able to turn their attention from city halls to the Capitol. Advocates for rebuilding the state's decaying roads, bridges and aqueducts wouldn't have to line up behind the prison-construction lobby. And there would at least be a chance - which there wouldn't if Lungren wins - that the state will fashion the trade-off it so clearly needs to improve its schools: increasing the funding for teacher salaries and training in return for requiring greater accountability from teachers and principals.
Having served as Jerry Brown's chief of staff, assemblyman from the Westside, state controller and now lieutenant governor, Gray Davis is certainly as prepared to be governor as any candidate in the state's history. On the UC Board of Regents, he led the fight against repealing affirmative action and for domestic-partnership benefits. He has been a consistent supporter of labor and environmental causes.