Obviously confident of beating Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley again in the gubernatorial election, Gov. George Deukmejian said Wednesday that he may even run for a third term in 1990--but conceded there is no realistic chance of his ever being nominated on a presidential ticket.
Unlike practically every other California governor for the last 40 years, Deukmejian said he has neither the personal inclination nor the political capability to run for President.
Interviewed in the governor's traditional "corner office" at the state Capitol, Deukmejian seemed relaxed, perfectly content to stay in his present job far into the foreseeable future and very pleased with the shape of his reelection campaign.
He said with a wide grin that he is "happy" that Bradley, his Democratic opponent for the second consecutive election, has made "a lot of major political mistakes" already. "We're going to feed on that opportunity and make the most of it," he said.
An elected state officeholder for 23 years, Deukmejian confessed to being "a little surprised" that the voters would choose someone of Armenian ancestry, with a "foreign-type name," as governor in the first place.
"I always had a wonder, I always had a thought, as to whether or not someone with a name like mine could get elected as governor of California," he said somberly. "I think it speaks very, very well for this state. It may not have been possible in some other states. Apparently, the majority of the people (in California) are willing to take a person based upon their abilities, their policies, their positions and make a judgment not solely based upon their ethnic, national heritage background."
Deukmejian became slightly irritated, however, when asked whether he thought Californians were also ready to elect a black as governor. "We've never talked about that issue, and we won't," he said.
But, responding hesitantly to the question, Deukmejian noted that two blacks in the 1970s were elected to statewide office--Mervyn Dymally as lieutenant governor and Wilson Riles as superintendent of public instruction (both also were later defeated as incumbents)--and he observed: "So just because someone is black doesn't mean they can't get elected in a statewide election."
Bradley in 4th Term
Bradley is in his fourth term as Los Angeles' first black mayor.
As a campaigner and public figure, Deukmejian basically is regarded as steady and stable--some say dull--and nothing like his charismatic predecessors, Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Ronald Reagan. "How many people in the country are?" he remarked.
Asked whether his shortage of communicative skill has been a political handicap, particularly in such a media-oriented state, Deukmejian said proudly: "It hasn't been so far. You know, I've just about done it all in California politics--the Assembly, and (state) Senate and attorney general and governor. So it hasn't been a problem for me."
Deukmejian illustrated throughout the interview that, while he cannot match President Reagan's skills in front of a microphone while reading from a Teleprompter, he is much more articulate in private conversation than the President--discussing detailed issues adroitly and at length in unbroken sentences, without the tortured syntax that frequently punctuates Reagan's ad-libbing.
There is no indication, either from Deukmejian or any of his advisers, that this governor ever sits and dreams of one day sitting where Reagan now sits--as almost any chief executive from the nation's most populous state might, and historically has.
Not in His Future
"I just realistically don't see it in my future," he said after a long discussion of his political career.
Deukmejian, 57, said he had always longed to be California's governor and after he was elected in 1982 decided to "address all of my energies and abilities" to the office. "I certainly have never felt I could do this job justice and at the same time take all the necessary steps one would have to take if they were going to run for the presidency," he said. "I have always had in mind that I would like to serve at least two terms as governor. . . .
"Also, I am a pretty realistic person. I think that realistically, at this particular stage, there are many other individuals who obviously are in a much stronger position to get the (presidential) nomination, such as the vice president, George Bush. . . . Even if I were to be interested in running, it would seem to me that there would be little possibility of being able to be successful at it. . . .
"There's one other comment I'd make. I feel that Californians at this point in our history would just as soon that their governor not be off running for the presidency, because the last two governors we had did do that. I think that Californians would prefer that their governors stay on the job."
Deukmejian frequently is mentioned--at least in the California media--as a potential vice presidential candidate on a ticket headed by Bush. But the governor said this also is not realistic. "Whoever gets the nomination for President is probably going to pick someone who's already been out running around the country campaigning," he said. "I don't have any serious expectations."
Third Term Considered
He said with a chuckle but nevertheless seriously: "I might even run for a third term."
The only three-term governor in California history was Earl Warren. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown ran for a third-term but was trounced by Reagan, who had vowed never to seek a third term. Brown Jr., remembering his father's experience, also swore off asking voters for a third term. But Deukmejian said he will keep open the possibility--if for no other reason than to stave off being treated as a lame duck during a second term.
"I certainly don't rule it out," he said. "I certainly haven't decided, 'Well, I'll just do two terms and that's it.' "
First, of course, he has to win a second term over Bradley.
"We're going to run just as if we were running behind. We're going to conduct an aggressive campaign," the Republican governor said.
Deukmejian said Bradley already has made three "rather puzzling" campaign "mistakes."
The governor said the mayor is trying to portray himself as "a new Tom Bradley" and in the process "flip-flopping" on previous positions he had taken.
"A very major mistake" by Bradley, the governor said, was delaying a decision on whether to support California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird for reelection. (The mayor has named a committee to study Bird's decisions and advise him on whether to endorse her.)
Deukmejian, while an outspoken critic of Bird, has himself not yet taken a stand on whether two liberal associate justices, Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso, also should be reelected in November. "If I were to vote today, I would vote against them," he said. But the governor added that he will not make a final, public statement about the pair until some unspecified time before the election.
Another Bradley 'Mistake'
Another Bradley "mistake," in Deukmejian's view, was his making the governor's handling of toxic waste a campaign issue. Deukmejian insisted that the mayor also is vulnerable on this issue because of city sewage spills into Santa Monica Bay and also because of an FBI probe into the city's awarding of a toxics cleanup contract at the Capri Pumping Services.
On another election matter, Deukmejian strongly hinted that he intends at some point to endorse the so-called "deep pockets" initiative on the June primary ballot. The controversial measure, strongly opposed by trial lawyers, is designed to hold down insurance claims by repealing a legal doctrine that allows courts to hold one party liable for all damages in an injury case even if that party bears only a small share of the fault.
But the governor said repealing the "deep pockets" doctrine will only partially solve the problem of skyrocketing insurance premiums. He said more competition among insurance companies should be assured, and he indicated that this is a dilemma he would work on during a second term.
Basically, however, a second Deukmejian Administration seemingly would be steady-as-she-goes--more of the same.
Deukmejian said he would continue to reorder spending priorities toward public education and creation of private sector jobs--and away from welfare. He said he regards this as the "most important" achievement of his first term.
Beyond that, the governor said that in a second term he would move aggressively into cleanup of wastes--all types, not just toxics.
"We just can't continue doing what we've been doing since man came on Earth, and that's dumping it into the ground," he said. "People don't want the dumps in their areas. We're running out of space, and we're running into problems." He said a special task force will report to him on the matter in May.