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A Welcome Change

California voters focused on issues--primarily education--rather than ideology or White House scandal in choosing Democrat Gray Davis to be California’s next governor. It was a sound choice. The incumbent lieutenant governor is a centrist problem-solver who offers California a welcome change from the confrontational politics of recent years.

Tuesday was a big day for Democrats as Sen. Barbara Boxer survived a strong challenge from Republican state Treasurer Matt Fong to win reelection. It was unfortunate that Boxer had to resort to such a negative campaign in recent weeks to win. Now, we hope she will expand her horizon and become a more effective senator for the state.

But the California governorship was considered the No. 1 office at stake in the nation this year. The Republican candidate, state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, is an able and experienced officeholder. But his campaign failed to articulate a vision of what California would be under a Lungren administration, other than more of what we have had in the past eight years. That is not enough to prepare the state for a turbulent, uncertain future, or to make California once again the example that other states strive to emulate.

Davis is not a charismatic or inspirational politician, but he demonstrated this year he is able to keep his eye on a goal and work toward it with discipline and determination. A pragmatist rather than an ideologue, he properly set education reform as his first priority as governor but also promised that he would have an administration that better re-flected the diversity and talents of a changing California. During the past eight years, Sacramento too often was a political caldron of division and confrontation, sometimes--sadly--along ethnic as well as partisan lines. Now, we look forward to a new period of civility and cooperation in state government.

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There always will be partisan battles in the Legislature and conflict between any governor and the opposition party. That is the core of the two-party system. But we expect the tone to be different now. The new governor must reach out and bring all segments of California society together in developing the programs that will be the foundation for the revival of the California Dream. Some groups’ ideas will prevail while others’ will not. But all must feel that they were able to contribute to the effort, that their views were consid-ered and that the result will be a better and stronger California.

Nationally, voters refused to use the ballot box to punish President Clinton for his personal conduct in the White House, but how much his political stock may be buoyed by midterm election results remains to be seen. That outcome might temper the zeal with which House Republicans press impeachment proceedings against Clinton because of his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

Voters were concerned about issues such as health care, Social Security and education and not the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. That indicates that the voters are far more discerning and pragmatic in using their ballots than many political experts had believed. And it fits with opinion polls that still give Clinton high marks for the job he’s doing but have sent his personal popularity tumbling.

Nationally, the Republican strategy of making the election something of a referendum on Clinton clearly backfired. And it should cause GOP House leaders concern about how they should conduct the impeachment hearings. But the president should not read these results as some sort of verdict by the voters on how they view his actions that led to the scandal. They still rightly condemn his behavior.

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