By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
If, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, the real test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time and not be paralyzed by the standoff, what then are we to make of Gray Davis — who seems unable to act unless he’s holding contradictory ideas? California’s new governor has now signed his first budget and completed his first seven months in office, and about the only thing we can conclude is that Davis is routinely, habitually, chronically paralyzed — save in those instances when he’s able to unveil conflicting policies. If Davis can’t move left and right simultaneously, he won’t move anywhere at all.
Consider his solution to the Proposition 187 conundrum. Like every Democratic official in the state, Davis opposed the 1994 immigrant-bashing initiative. When he became governor, he had the ability to put 187 permanently to rest. A federal judge had already struck down much of the measure, and simply by dropping Pete Wilson’s appeal of that ruling, the statute would die. Instead, Davis delayed his decision on the appeal (soliciting input through a mediation process) until he had a suitably contradictory position to pair it with.
On the very day that Davis announced he’d drop the 187 appeal, much to the satisfaction of the left, he also let it be known that he’d veto a bill intended to mitigate (symbolically, infinitesimally) the affirmative-action-abolishing Proposition 209, much to the satisfaction of the right. Authored by Senator Richard Polanco and sent to the governor with bipartisan support, the bill said only that the state should support nonbinding outreach programs to minorities and women. The same bill had passed the Legislature in 1998, with the blessings of GOP gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren, only to be vetoed by Wilson. No one had anticipated Davis’ veto — but then, no one had anticipated Davis’ timing: that on the very day he finally stood up against 187 and the anti-immigrant right, he also would win the blessing of conservative capo Ward Connerly for upholding the spirit of 209.
"In this administration, the governor gives with one hand and takes away with the other," says Angie Wei, policy analyst for the California Immigrant Welfare Collaborative. "In the budget, we won a fierce fight on [extending] prenatal care [to undocumented immigrants], but on the same day, in the same budget, he took away their long-term-care provision." The state program providing financial assistance to undocumented immigrants in nursing homes had been signed into law by George Deukmejian 11 years ago and had survived Pete Wilson’s cutbacks in the trough of the recession. It fell prey to Gray’s blue pencil last month.
Indeed, the lion’s share of Davis’ cuts — 46 percent of them — came from health and human services, though those programs constituted just 26 percent of overall state spending. The Legislature had extended Medi-Cal to families with children with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level; Davis cut that back to 100 percent and reimposed an assets test for eligibility. The Legislature was primed to put more funds into In-Home Supportive Services, the program that pays for home-care workers around the state; Davis reduced funding to the point that the counties responsible for administering the program will likely not be able to cut those minimum-wage workers a raise.
Davis did shepherd through a modest education program of his own, providing more funds for teacher training, and mandating a statewide high school graduation test in four years’ time. He signed bills banning assault weapons and limiting the frequency of gun purchases; he repaired relations with the government of Mexico. But woe to those who’d like the state to move beyond his own painfully modest agenda. Assembly and Senate committee chairs have been told in no uncertain terms that he’s not ready for the HMO reforms percolating through the Legislature.
The oddity in all this is that Davis isn’t distancing himself from the unpopular parts of the liberal agenda (he did that 15 years ago), but from its motherhood-and-apple-pie components. HMO reform, as any pollster will attest, is wildly popular. Programs to help the working poor, like the one to give minimum-wage home-care workers a raise, have none of the stigma of welfare. Seventy percent of respondents to an L.A. Times California poll support a tax hike dedicated to education. The current boom — and the rise in public support for selected governmental endeavors — offers the best opportunity in decades to address the long-term needs of the state, an opportunity Davis resolutely declines to take.
And not just that: He’s sounded positively petulant that there are actually members of his political party who’d like to seize that opportunity, who have priorities other than his own. Asked, in his now notorious July 20 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, why he wasn’t placing more emphasis on health care — California, after all, leads the nation in the number (7 million) and percentage (22) of medically uninsured — Davis responded, "Did you see one [Davis campaign] commercial on health care?" In chasing such rainbows as expanded health coverage, the legislative Democrats were way off base. "They have a totally different view of the world than I do," Davis continued. "People expect government to reflect the vision that I suggested. Nobody else in the Legislature ran statewide. Their job is to implement my vision."