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By Jill Stewart
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Farm worker Maria Mendonza, who was on the first big farm-worker march to the Capitol in 1966, says what she would like to tell Davis:
"I would tell him that we are in new times with computers and that phone you talk on, and it is exciting. But in many ways it is still old times for the campesinos," she says. "Things are better but not so much as fancy people like to think. He can bring us into the new times. I hope he will."
BACK IN SACRAMENTO ON MONDAY, the dimensions of Davis' dilemma become even more apparent. At a press conference announcing that 30 legislators will join farm workers in a vigil and fast outside the Capitol urging the governor's signature, Burton notes that Davis has already signed a bill giving racetrack workers mediation and arbitration rights. "The difference is," he says pointedly, "there was also $20 million for racetrack owners in the bill. There's no money for growers in this bill. But we've given ag $70 million in tax breaks the last three years, so they can afford to pay their workers a little more."
"It doesn't behoove the governor," Burton says even more pointedly, "to split from members of his party, who very strongly support this issue, going into the budget fight and a general election. I'm optimistic, though, because it's the right thing to do."
Indeed, all the major prospective 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- State Treasurer Phil Angelides, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante -- are participating in legs of the march to the Capitol, as are Burton and Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson.
What does Davis have to say about the march? The governor is unavailable, but Press Secretary Steve Maviglio says, "The governor welcomes their participation. He will do the best thing in the interests of all Californians."
Davis frequently cites Cesar Chavez during talks to Latino groups as one of the principal inspirations of his life. "He wasn't close to Cesar," says a former aide from the Governor Jerry Brown administration. "But I sensed warm feelings toward him. Now he has to decide if those warm feelings overcome his new alliance with agribusiness. This is all so different now. With Jerry, there were hardly any growers around. We were on the side of the farm workers, and that was that."
It's different for Davis, too. His alliance with agribusiness is newfound. Big ag didn't do much for him in the most crucial race of his life, the 1998 Democratic primary for governor, when all but a few experts counted him out of the running against superrich rivals Al Checchi and Jane Harman. In contrast, organized labor came through big time for Davis, and the UFW was very supportive, even though other Latino leaders leaned toward Checchi. When Davis trounced agribusiness favorite Dan Lungren in November 1998, UFW activists chanted and danced around him at his victory party in downtown L.A.'s Biltmore Hotel.
Some Davis allies point to his enactment of Cesar Chavez Day. But others scoff at that. Says Dolores Huerta: "Cesar never wanted a 'day.' He wanted results. He would trade his 'day' for this bill in a second."
Others note that Davis is faced with two highly charged Latino-oriented issues, the farm-labor bill and a bill by state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (DLos Angeles) to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers' licenses, and suggest that he can only sign one now. John Burton says only one isn't good enough, and most of Davis' own party agrees with Burton.
So does the man who helped Davis |immeasurably in his career, his old boss, former-Governor-turned-Oakland-Mayor Jerry Brown. He is not on the march this week, because he is leading a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors to the United Nations Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he will talk, among other things, about his support for L.A. Assemblywoman Fran Pavley's antiglobal warming bill.
Brown called Davis last week about the farm-labor bill, which he supports. What did they say? "I'm not getting into all that," says Brown, who along with Davis has assiduously avoided turning their relationship into a soap opera. But Brown, along with other political experts, notes that Davis' ties to agribusiness are largely circumstantial. Republican challenger Bill Simon is "nowhere," says Brown, "so ag has nowhere to go. The Republicans were more competitive when I was running. Ag was always a bulwark of the Republican Party when it was highly viable. They're some of the most conservative in the state. How much is Gray raising anyway?" Told that the Weekly's estimate is north of $60 million (of which agriculture's share is very small), Brown lets out a low "Wow." Pausing for a moment, Brown notes, "You have to balance what you need to do against what you should do."
How adamant is big ag on this issue? Very. "They have the right to express their opinion," California Farm Bureau lobbyist George Gomes says of the marchers. "We believe the governor will make his decision on the facts presented to him. This bill would single out agriculture by requiring binding arbitration. Why go through the bargaining process?"