By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
And there‘s more, from this and earlier years of Davis’ tenure. Worker comp rates have finally been raised from abysmally low standards. The eight-hour-day standard for overtime pay has been restored. Employers providing health insurance under municipal living-wage ordinances have been allowed to form insurance-buyer pools. State contracts cannot go to companies engaged in anti-union activities among its workers. Major bond measures funding long overdue school construction and parks acquisitions have been enacted by state voters, measures that won the governor‘s blessing before going on the ballot.
All in all, quite a record. Davis signed many of these measures with the greatest reluctance, some he signed only after vetoing previous iterations, some he signed kicking and screaming, some he signed willingly. But sign them he has. So what gives?
What is driving Davis to decency, and better than decency, is the state itself. Politically, the huge immigrant influx, the labor-Latino alliance to which it has given rise and which in turn has steered it in progressive directions, the steadily advancing social liberalism of the state’s voters, the steadily advancing economic liberalism of the state‘s Latino voters, and the organization of all this energy by a new-model labor movement and by longstanding environmental groups, have made California the leftmost state in the nation. As John Judis and Ruy Teixeira demonstrate in their important new book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, independents in California actually stand to the left of Democrats when polled on many social issues.
Crucially, these changes have been reflected, and advanced, by the state Democratic Party. Term limits have brought new legislators to Sacramento, some of whom espouse these progressive positions, some of whom owe their election to unions and enviros who promote these positions. Key legislative leadership -- above all, state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton -- have steered the above-listed bills through the legislature and presented them to a frequently unhappy governor. Often as not, though, the pressure on Davis to sign these bills has been such that he couldn’t refuse.
He‘s tried. Breaking with his newfound funders in agribusiness to side with the farm workers went against his every instinct to hew to the center and keep the money coming in. Very frequently, his fears overwhelm him. Despite his commitment to sign legislation enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, he flinched at the thought this might cost him some voters concerned with post-911 security issues. The damage to the Democratic base here -- to Latino citizens with family and friends who must continue to live in the shadows -- is real and significant. But this was a cause with little institutional heft behind it: Undocumenteds could hardly write Davis a check. On this bill, the governor‘s was the kind of calculation that makes him so distinctly loathsome a character.
And this is far from the only truly loathsome political calculation that’s characterized Davis‘ tenure. His record of overturning all parole and commutation recommendations from the board members charged with overseeing the cases, out of a need to look tougher on crime than Daryl Gates, has resulted in a number of travesties of justice.
But this doesn’t gainsay that Davis has presided over major advances in social policy in the U.S., at a time where social policy is being ratcheted backward in Washington and many state capitols. And thus, with noses held firmly and high, the Weekly is endorsing Davis for another term as governor.
What of the alternative courses of action? Bill Simon is a not-ready-for-prime-time overage preppy with an abysmal performance record in his previous jobs, who adheres to the positions of the Neanderthal wing of the GOP: anti-choice, anti--gun control, against the farm-worker bill, against the fuel-efficiency standards. If Mississippi‘s in the market for an incompetent governor, it could do worse than Simon.
There is, of course, a Green candidate for governor, too, but what’s going on in California today illustrates precisely what‘s myopic and misguided about the Greens. In fact, this is a state where the political difference between the two main parties, far from being nonexistent, is huge. The state Republicans, who nominated Simon over Richard Riordan, are the kind of laissez-faire, intolerant, socially reactionary force that reflects the values of Dick Cheney and Tom DeLay. The state Democrats are contested terrain. They have a business, New Democrat wing and a labor-environmentalist-feminist wing, and the two often clash. In the March primaries, these two wings duked it out in a number of open Assembly seats, with the progressive forces winning the lion’s share of the contests. In short, prodded by an energized labor-liberal coalition, the Democrats are moving leftward, and increasingly resemble a genuinely progressive party.
So what about Gray? How do we assess him? On this, I want to defer to my sweet and brilliant friend Jim Chapin, the historian and commentator who died suddenly on the last day of September. Chapin was a master analogist, and during the 2000 campaign, he asked, ”What if you gauged the two sides in the Civil War just by looking at the generals in command at Antietam? McClellan was more pro-slavery than Lee. If that‘s all you focused on -- not the armies, not the governments, not the states and their politics -- you might conclude there was no difference between the North and the South.“
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