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Davis and Keeliath

Republican long shot chases after Demo favorite in 27th Assembly District race

By Michael Mechanic

'I'M GOING TO WIN," says the underdog, Monterey County prosecutor Jim Davis, when asked how he rates his chances of snatching the 27th District Assembly seat from the harbinger, Santa Cruz County Supe Fred Keeley. If that is to happen, the Republican candidate will have to familiarize more people with his candidacy--and fast. As recently as five weeks ago, nobody in Metro Santa Cruz's downtown office, let alone your average Santa Cruz voter, could name Keeley's opponent.

Davis, 39, a former Army paratrooper who has been a deputy district attorney in Monterey since 1991, is running a bare-bones campaign. A recent study by California Public Interest Research Group reported that Davis had raised $22,166 between July 1 and Sept. 30 to Keeley's $100,735. By the time the race is over, Keeley is expected to have outspent Davis 10-to-1.

Keeley is running on his record as a two-term supervisor and member of the Regional Air Pollution Control District board. He seldom mentions his opponent. The supe cites his biggest accomplishments as having confounded PG&E's attempt to defer pollution-control measures on its Moss Landing power plant, and his leadership on the county's "strong but fair" smoke-free workplace ordinance.

"I'm very proud of having authored the ban on Saturday-night specials in Santa Cruz County," Keeley adds. "These are the kinds of issues that are on the table at the state level--environmental issues and public safety issues."

Davis says his priorities, if elected, would be to face the problems associated with juvenile guns, gangs and violence in the schools and to reform the systems by which authorities report and respond to domestic violence. "Our schools are at risk of completely failing--our [state's] funding has been [ranked] at the bottom 10 in the nation," he says. "My daughter's class size has been reduced from 25 to 20, and I want to continue that. But we can't win by throwing money at it."

Davis faces large demographic obstacles. More than half of District 27 voters are registered as Democrats, 34 percent as Republicans, and most of the remainder as members of left-leaning third parties.

A recent analysis by the non-partisan California Journal named Keeley as the likely victor. "When Bruce McPherson took this seat into Republican hands in 1993, and kept it there through 1994, it wasn't just luck. McPherson was a moderate, relatively well-known and respected newspaper editor that even Democrats could like," the Journal wrote. "But this set of circumstances is not easily repeatable. Davis has most of the right moderate stances, but has nowhere near the natural base that McPherson had."

While Davis admits he agrees with Keeley on "90 percent" of the issues, he hails himself as an outsider while attacking his opponent as a career politician. "Fred is a pawn; he's a slave to the insane amounts of money he's had raised for him by the political machine," says Davis. "The over-arching issue is bringing representatives to our government who are real people, not career politicians," adds Davis. "I'm not afraid of politicians. I used to jump out of airplanes for a living."

Keeley has racked up most of the important endorsements and knows how to finesse his way through the corridors of Sacramento from his days as an aide to then-Assemblyman Sam Farr. Keeley nevertheless insists he will act independently and oppose his party if necessary to protect his constituents. "Prop. 211 is overwhelmingly supported by the state party, but I think it is not good, especially for the economy of this area," says Keeley, offering an example. "The state party also opposed both campaign-reform propositions. I'm voting for both.

"Most of my professional life has been in the public sector, and I'm very proud of the work I've done," says Keeley.

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From the October 31-November 6, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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