By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
After 1986, Davis vowed never to be out-toughed on crime, moving ultimately from being a friend of squishy humanist Rose Bird to an admirer of hard-line Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew. When he ran for governor in 1998 against thenÂAttorney General Dan Lungren, Davis said: "I will have no enemies to the right on crime."
DAVIS HAS BEEN WARRING WITH PROGRESSIVES since he walked into the Governor's Office. The stage was set for what was to become one of the great political feuds in California history when Davis memorably told the San Francisco Chronicle's editorial board in 1999 that the job of the Legislature "is to implement my vision." To which Senate President Pro Tem John Burton retorted: "What fucking vision?" The two have clashed repeatedly on issue after issue, with Burton pushing a left-liberal line and Davis holding the line for a more cautious centrism.
Things have gotten very personal between the two, especially on Burton's end. In his exasperation with the senator, who has stormed out of the Governor's Office several times, Davis says Burton is a San Francisco liberal who doesn't understand that a politics which plays to cheers in the City by the Bay and the Westside of L.A. does rather less well in much of the rest of the state. For his part, Burton has taken to denigrating Davis' military record, jeering "his Bronze Star without valor" on the day he shunned the governor's San Francisco signing ceremony for the global-warming bill, which put California in the lead in combating global warming by cutting tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. (Davis received the award for merit, rather than valor, which is a military term for combat heroism.)
Though this dysfunctional shotgun marriage actually works for the Democrats on issue after issue, with Davis prodded to make progressive decisions, it would work a lot better if the two weren't feuding. For all Burton's drive and cunning, Davis is after all the governor, and could make the moves to bring the relationship under control. He has not.
The irony is that each man needs the other. For example, Davis would not have had the opportunity to sign the global-warming bill, which he now views as one of the great achievements of his career, had Burton not taken charge and gotten it through the Legislature. Burton would not have this huge accomplishment for liberal politics had Davis not signaled his support to wavering legislators and decided to risk a threatened statewide referendum, funded by the big auto manufacturers, that could have complicated his re-election.
Although Burton and Davis have produced, with Burton often playing the prod, many major programs -- the first paid family-leave program in the nation, the establishment of California as a haven for stem-cell research, the restoration of the eight-hour workday, big increases in unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, energy-conservation programs, the farm-workers' bill, the nation's biggest renewable-energy requirement, the global-warming bill, a state public-power authority -- there is always room for disaster between the two.
Tom Hayden, who clashed repeatedly with his old ally once Davis became governor, thinks Davis is a very clear example of the power-politics ethic that most of the mainstream media actually embrace, their occasional protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. But he adds a caveat: "At least he has the grounding in unconventional ideas like renewable energy that he received in the Jerry Brown days." Indeed, his politics are much like those of Bill Clinton, who is beloved in many liberal circles. But he doesn't have Clinton's personality.
Davis makes no apologies for his style -- or lack of it. "Of course I want to do good things," he says. "But I want to do things that I know will work. I'm not a show horse, but I can get the job done." A few years ago, Davis told an anecdote that may yield more insight. "I like the old story about FDR," he said. "The one where an advocate meets with President Roosevelt and at the end FDR says, 'You've convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.'" And it is true that big things have happened on Gray Davis' "watch," as he likes to call it. "I am at the center of where California really is politically," Davis says. "You may not like it, but this is a big, complicated state. I have to be in office to do things. Things have to be done in their time."
WHEN FORMER GOVERNOR PAT BROWN DIED IN 1996, the players involved in California Democratic politics crowded into San Francisco's St. Cecilia's Church for his funeral service. Davis, then lieutenant governor, was California's ranking Democrat. He had longstanding ties to the Brown family, having been Jerry Brown's chief of staff and Kathleen Brown's running mate, and he cited Pat Brown's role as builder of the modern-day California as an inspiration for his own governorship. But on this day, as the late governor's casket was carried out of the church, Davis was by himself. With his former boss standing nearby but very much apart, Davis cast his gaze across a number of familiar faces, looking for someone to stand with him. No one did. So the future governor stood where he was, alone again, in the crowd.
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