The most graphic illustration to date of the contrast in styles between Gov. Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian was seen in the state Capitol on Wednesday when Wilson went upstairs to do some bonding with the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem.
The real bonding, however, was aimed at Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), a disciple of the human potential movement who in the mid-1980s dreamed up the idea of the state task force. More important, from Wilson’s standpoint, Vasconcellos is one of the Legislature’s most influential members because he chairs the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, which shapes the state budget.
Deukmejian and Vasconcellos couldn’t stand each other and frequently let people know it. “I don’t ever want to go through that again,” Vasconcellos told a reporter Wednesday, referring to his relationship with the former governor. “I didn’t enjoy it, didn’t know how to get out of it.”
And in case there was any doubt that Wilson’s style will be different from Deukmejian’s, the new governor also did some bonding on Tuesday with Vasconcellos’ Senate counterpart, Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose), who chairs the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee. Wilson tagged along with the veteran senator for a rare gubernatorial visit to the Derby Club, a traditional luncheon group made up of lobbyists and legislators that harks back to a bygone era when there was a lot more socializing between special interests and lawmakers.
The gregarious Wilson--in contrast to the aloof Deukmejian--also has been seen recently in some of the legislators’ favorite nighttime hangouts and generally has been more accessible to them in the Capitol. At the same time, legislators seem to be making a special effort to get along with this governor after eight years of frequent battling with his predecessor.
But aside from developing relationships with powerful legislators, Wilson made it clear Wednesday that he is, in fact, a strong supporter of Vasconcellos’ self-esteem movement. Indeed, Wilson’s lavish praise of the group seemed more in keeping with what might have been expected from unconventional Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. than from fellow Republican Deukmejian.
The task force once was ridiculed in the “Doonesbury” cartoon strip and has been the butt of many Capitol jokes, but Wilson said its ideas mesh easily with his proposals for shifting state priorities toward prevention of society’s ailments. The governor’s ideas--highlighted in a proposed budget that Vasconcellos’ committee is about to begin considering--involve such programs as prenatal care, mental health counseling in elementary schools and treatment of pregnant drug addicts.
The occasion for Wilson’s visit to the 25-member panel--officially called the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility--was the first-year anniversary of the unveiling of its final report after a three-year, $735,000 study. The task force called self-esteem “a social vaccine for strengthening us to be less vulnerable to the human dysfunctions of crime and violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse and educational failure.”
Wilson observed that by speaking to the group he might “risk providing new fodder for ‘Doonesbury’ ” and “sending (cartoonist) Garry Trudeau into gales of mirthfulness,” but he said “the fact of the matter is the purpose of what you’ve done is to simply allow people to feel good about themselves.” And he went on to talk about such things as “resonance” and “resonating"--concepts that go beyond what most people are accustomed to hearing from governors.
When he was all through, he patted Vasconcellos on the knee and called him “my good friend John.”
Then the governor admonished the task force to continue pressing its cause because “we can’t expect ‘Doonesbury’ to do it all.” And he officially proclaimed February as “Self-Esteem and Responsibility Month” in California.
The task force chairman, Andy Mecca of Marin County, told reporters that Trudeau’s lampooning of the panel had been more of a plus than a minus. “It provided an international landscape,” he said, adding: “Isn’t there an old adage that it doesn’t matter what they say, it’s whether they spell your name right?”
He noted that there now are self-esteem task forces in most of California’s counties and in three states, plus an international group. Turning to the governor he said, “You were talking about this 20 years ago, long before it was fashionable.”
An obviously pleased Vasconcellos told a reporter that Wilson’s visit to the self-esteem task force showed that “he is the converse of Deukmejian. He sees the rightness and smartness of investing in prevention work. That’s night and day. And he’s available and he’s interested in being cooperative. And that’s night and day. It’s a hopeful sign.”