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
This year, Huerta pressured Davis to come through for farm laborers like his ex-boss had in 1975. It wasn't so easy this time. It took a massive march on Sacramento joined by politicians and Hollywood celebrities. Huerta, who nearly died a year earlier from an aneurysm, threatened Davis that she'd fast if he did not sign the measure. It seemed odd that a Democratic governor would have trouble signing the bill, which guaranteed binding arbitration for farm workers locked in dead-end negotiations with farm owners around the state. But Davis had received $1.5 million from growers. The prospect of Huerta fasting appalled Davis, and he finally signed a compromise version of the bill, with an expiration date set on the arbitration provision: It ends in five years, and a Republican governor could well do away with the measure if elected in 2006.
SEVEN YEARS MANAGING THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE honed Davis' political skills and made him anxious about winning an election of his own.
The Assembly seat Davis chose was a masterstroke. Centering on Beverly Hills, its treasure trove of campaign dollars helped Davis, both in establishing a power base in the Legislature and in future runs for higher office.
He also drew heavily on financial support from Brown appointees and other donors he had met while working for the governor. For the first time in his political career, Davis now was in charge of coming up with his own message. Assemblyman Davis was not the avowed "centrist" we know now who so frequently speaks with a decidedly conservative cast to his rhetoric -- who can forget his lauding of autocratic Singapore as his idea of a well-ordered society? As a state Assemblyman from the Westside, he had a 95 percent voting rating from the left-liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). And his rhetoric still sounded like that of the chief of staff and chief spokesman for Jerry Brown, whose politics, while not reflexively liberal, were incomparably more provocative than what we have become accustomed to from the gray guv.
Indeed, Davis came into the Assembly the same year as fellow Westsider and Jerry Brown associate Tom Hayden. Hayden's voting record, measured by the ADA, was just a little more liberal than Davis', and the two men worked together in various ways through Davis' rise to statewide office. Their alliance included Hayden's "Big Green" omnibus environmental initiative of 1990 (attacked by the Chamber of Commerce as "radical social engineering," and which Davis strongly supported) and helped pave the way to Davis' election to the governorship, souring only with the centrist guv's rejection of various Hayden bills.
Another alliance that would prove to be even more durable formed shortly after Davis' 1982 election to the Assembly. Speaker Willie Brown made Davis a member of his leadership team with the unlikely title of "freshman class president." The two were even more of an odd match than Davis and Jerry Brown, with the terminally witty and acerbic Willie Brown making private cracks about Davis' relative stodginess. But the arrangement gave Davis real influence in the Legislature, which helped him further build his fund-raising base even as he compiled a liberal record. And Willie Brown's brokering of competing business interests to amass a campaign war chest would later be a model for Davis' own techniques as governor.
OF COURSE, DAVIS NEEDED TO INCREASE HIS NAME recognition if he was to make it to the Governor's Office. He got heavily involved in blatant self-promotion in the name of the public good. One such program was the Missing Kids campaign. His name and mug appeared alongside that of the missing youngster on milk cartons, billboards and ads around the state as part of a bold strategy to solve hundreds of missing-children cases. One problem, however: Most of the missing were runaways or caught up in domestic disputes.
What Davis needed most was the high profile of a statewide elective office. His alliance with the erstwhile political machine of Howard Berman; Berman's political partner, Congressman Henry Waxman; Berman's brother, political consultant Michael Berman; and Michael Berman's consulting firm partner Carl D'Agostino gave him the insider edge he needed in 1986 to make such a run. State Controller Ken Cory, once known, thanks to his own advertising blitz, as "the man the oil companies fear most," had seen his once very promising career devolve into a series of charges about shady political dealings. And the man was tired. So just a few months before the 1986 primary election, Cory, an ally of the Berman/Waxman machine, decided to step away from politics. Gray Davis got the heads up, along with the backing of the machine, and made quick use of it.
But there was a price. He would have to jettison his left-liberal media consultants, Bill Zimmerman and Sidney Galanty, who were also Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda's media consultants, in favor of Michael Berman and Carl D'Agostino. Berman and D'Agostino were accomplished direct-mail consultants but had little experience in TV advertising. Zimmerman and Galanty, in contrast, were award-winning TV commercial producers. Galanty had worked for Hubert Humphrey, in addition to producing the groundbreaking Jane Fonda's Workoutvideos. Zimmerman helped the radical Native American movement and went on to work for the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in their election campaigns.