More Teamwork Expected From Davis
Gov. Gray Davis, wounded by a shaky reelection showing, will face a budgetary morass in his second term, a more combative group of Republican legislators and fewer Democratic allies than he’s used to, lawmakers and others said Wednesday.
Failing to receive 50% of the votes cast Tuesday, the Democratic governor bested his Republican challenger, political novice Bill Simon Jr., by a margin of merely 5%. Four Democrats who won statewide office Tuesday received more votes than Davis.
Adding to his woes, Davis will confront a Legislature likely to be more polarized, with larger numbers of liberals and conservatives, than he has faced in his first term.
“He is going to have to rehabilitate himself,” Sen. Don Perata (D-Alameda) said Wednesday. “It has got to be a new day.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Davis did not appear to be particularly chastened by the narrowness of his victory. But he struck a somewhat conciliatory tone as he pledged to improve schools and expand health care for poor people -- “within the financial limits that the economy is providing.”
“I’m going to work hard with people on both sides of the aisle,” Davis said. “That’s what voters expect.”
Davis’ second term is starting out to be far different from the one that followed his election in 1998. He swept into office then with a 20-point landslide, giving Democrats control of Sacramento for the first time in 16 years. He arrived in office to find a multibillion-dollar budget surplus, a bounty that allowed him to cut taxes and expand an array of programs.
Emboldened by circumstances, Davis at times seemed to treat the Legislature as an extension of his administration, rather than as an equal branch of government. He went so far as to complain to the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board in 1999 that the Legislature had refused to follow his moderate course.
“They have a totally different view of the world than I do, totally different,” Davis said. “It was my vision that commanded a 20-point victory, the largest victory in 40 years. People expect government to reflect the vision that I suggested. Nobody else in the Legislature ran statewide. Their job is to implement my vision. That is their job.”
On Wednesday, legislators recalled that statement with some derision and pointedly noted that, on Tuesday, Davis received fewer votes that four down-ballot officials, all Democrats -- Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Sen. Jack O’Connell (D-San Luis Obispo), who was elected superintendent of public instruction.
“Looks like Bill Lockyer is the new leader of the Democratic Party,” said Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. “Guess we’ll be implementing Jack O’Connell’s vision,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco).
The Senate is led by Burton and other Democrats who are more liberal than the centrist governor. Democrats appear to have retained a 26-14 majority in the upper house, though Republicans could pick up a seat if a close race in the San Joaquin Valley shifts, once absentee votes are tallied.
Democrats also hold a majority in the Assembly, expected to be 48 to 32. That represents a gain of two seats by Republicans. While that shift is small, it could make Davis’ task more difficult next summer when he pieces together support for his budget proposal, which must pass both houses by a two-thirds vote.
Although Davis refused Wednesday to say whether he would propose tax increases, some aides say privately that they don’t see how the budget gap can be closed otherwise. The shortfall in the coming year could rival this year’s budget gap of $24 billion.
“I don’t think Republicans are going to be in any mood to deal with this guy,” said Sacramento consultant Wayne Johnson, who represents several Republican legislators. “It will be a long time before Gray Davis gets Republican votes on a budget if it raises taxes.”
Davis and the Legislature failed to reach a budget compromise this year until September, two months past the constitutional deadline for establishing a budget.
To obtain the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and Assembly, Davis needed support from all Democrats, plus one Republican senator and four Assembly Republicans. Four of the five Republican legislators who voted for that budget were lame ducks, forced to retire by term limits. Their replacements are expected to be more partisan.
“He has a big budget deficit and there are no longer any independent Republicans,” Burton said. “They’re hard-line people, so it is going to be tough.”
The coming budget battle could be made more contentious by turnover in the administration, especially if Finance Director Tim Gage and Cabinet Secretary Susan Kennedy depart, as some expect, and Davis fails to find respected replacements. Gage and Kennedy generally have had good relations with legislators and have been instrumental in piecing together past budgets.
At the same time, Davis has alienated some allies, notably Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who won a state Senate seat Tuesday. The governor is losing other friendly legislators, including Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), forced by term limits to retire.
Several moderates are also leaving, among them Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto), who worked with Davis to block or temper legislation pushed by liberal legislators. Cardoza won the congressional seat held by Rep. Gary Condit (D-Ceres).
“It really was an imperial performance,” Sen. Perata said of Davis’ first term. “Now, fast-forward to today, he would be well advised to work with us. He and his staff need to immediately open up to the leadership to Senate and Assembly.”
At least some of Davis’ friends echo that advice, suggesting that he become a more humble leader. This is not a time for Davis to make demands on legislators, said Phil Trounstine, who was Davis’ communications director for two years during his term. Rather, he predicted, Davis will become more collaborative. “Don’t be surprised,” said Trounstine, “if you hear strains of ‘Kumbaya’ wafting from across Capitol park.”