By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Illustration by Juan Alvarado
The survival of Governor Gray Davis will depend on the willingness of progressives — Democrat and otherwise — to vote against the October 7 recall and mobilize others to do the same. This reality is not lost on Davis, who last month performed an about-face on one issue important to many Latinos and liberals. He suddenly asserted that he would sign a bill permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license — only months after opposing such a bill.
This apparent pandering for votes — and Davis’ notorious and incessant huckstering for campaign dollars — is precisely what turned many lefties against him, while also providing fodder for his conservative opponents. But behind everything people dislike about Davis, there’s still a record that, in the view of many, deserves careful review and some respect. To look at that record in detail, from a progressive standpoint, the Weekly interviewed experts, lobbyists and activists. The ratings below on a range of issues are based on this input.
The Record: Poor
The support of one union has added no luster to Davis’ progressive credentials. Members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association enjoyed a 7 percent pay raise this year in the midst of a budget crisis. It was just the latest in a series of extraordinarily good years under this governor.
“The governor’s romance with the correctional officers has been a problem throughout his administration,” said Gerald F. Uelmen, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law. “This has played out in the form of a huge financial burden of building and staffing more and more prisons. And when we tried to change the direction of the criminal-justice system with Proposition 36, Davis didn’t support it.” Voter-approved Prop. 36 allows for the diversion of drug offenders from incarceration to treatment facilities. Despite the program’s promise, said Uelmen, Davis has made no effort to expand drug treatment. “Even a Republican conservative could see the tremendous costs savings of getting people into rehabilitation and out of prison. I don’t see that as a liberal or conservative issue, but a question of economic good sense.”
And “outrageous” is the word Uelmen used to describe Davis’ blanket position against parole for anyone convicted of murder. “Davis ran as a hard-liner on crime, so it’s not as though he’s pulled a fast one on us,” said Uelmen. “On the other hand, he’s carried that into so many arenas.” Davis, for example, blocked statewide rules for enforcing Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The result is patchwork compliance. Having as many as 99 marijuana plants is legal in Mendocino, but three is the limit in Tuolomne County.
On the positive side, said Uelmen, Davis has filled judicial vacancies with “excellent, highly qualified” appointments while diversifying the bench with more women and minorities.
The Record: Good
Virtually no one agrees on what true reform in education ought to be, but Davis has indeed focused on his brand of reform. “Gray Davis said that education would be his number-one priority, and it actually has been,” said Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association. Actually, Davis said education would be his first, secondand thirdpriorities, but, redundant ordinals aside, Kerr credits Davis in particular for pouring more money into education in good times and maintaining smaller class sizes and limiting the overall damage during the current crisis. Kerr doesn’t hold with Davis’ emphasis on standardized testing, but even that stance, she noted, underscores Davis’ focus on education.
Davis has assertively opposed using taxpayer-financed vouchers to send children to private schools. He’s generally supported charter schools while also backing legislation to rein them in.
Overall, on education, said Kerr, “Gray has kept his word.”
The Record: Good
Environmentalists are grateful for Davis’ support of bond measures to purchase sensitive parklands. And California’s bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions in automobiles, signed last year, is so trendsetting that much of the industry has mobilized against it. Davis also signed legislation that requires private energy companies to produce an increasing proportion of clean, renewable energy — such as wind or solar power. Energy companies must achieve 20 percent renewable power by 2017.
In addition, Davis has called for legislation to accelerate the recycling of electronic components. A recycling program is needed because plastics in used computers and TVs don’t break down in landfills, and they also leach hazardous chemicals into the environment. The cathode-ray tubes of monitors, for example, contain potentially dangerous amounts of lead, to name just one toxin. ‰
The governor also supported a Sheila Kuehl–authored bill requiring an identified water source before major residential development can go forward. And the Davis administration has protected the coast against both offshore oil drilling and overdevelopment. His appointments to the Coastal Commission are significantly more eco-friendly than those of his Republican predecessors. And last week, he signed a first-in-the-nation ban on a toxic flame retardant found in the finishes of household furniture that can accumulate in mothers and nursing babies.
The downside, said Bill Magavern, a Sierra Club lobbyist, includes his administration’s negotiating of long-term energy contracts that rely almost exclusively on non-renewable forms of energy. Magavern also faults Davis for deregulating the disposal of radioactive waste from decommissioned research facilities, such as the Santa Susana site once used by Rocketdyne. And Davis vetoed legislation that would have banned low-level radioactive waste from standard landfills, which are typically ill-prepared, he said, to deal with the material. Davis also has given in too often, he added, to logging interests eager to clear-cut old timber, and to agribusiness, which has resisted pesticide restrictions. Both industries number among Davis’ campaign contributors.