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Movin' On Up

[whitespace] Fred Keeley
George Sakkestad

Reflected Glory: Assemblymember Fred Keeley in his Santa Cruz office prepares for his second term--and a prominent role in the New Democratic Order.

In a candid interview, Assemblyman Fred Keeley talks abou the message of the recent election--and his own chances to become the next speaker of the California Assembly.

By John Yewell

In politics, timing is everything, and just about the timeliest politician in California at the moment is Assemblymember Fred Keeley, whose 27th District covers most of Santa Cruz County.

Democrat Keeley was elected to the Assembly in 1996 and quickly began climbing the majority's organization chart, at the top of which is speaker of the assembly. By the end of his first term he was caucus chair, No. 4 on the leadership list, and fresh off a convincing win with 65 percent of the vote over his Republican rival.

In the era of term limits, with assembly members gone after three terms (six years), the parties have learned to be quick on their feet and prepare for succession. In our interview a week after the election, Keeley jokes, "Everybody gets to be speaker for a day." But the reality is that Keeley may soon be ideally positioned himself for that big step up.

Sources have told Metro Santa Cruz that when speaker Antonio Villaraigosa announces his team next month, Keeley--despite his coy demures--will get the No. 2 position of speaker pro tem. That would put him next in line for the top job, possibly as early as next year, when Villaraigosa could step aside to give the incoming speaker time to prepare for the next election. Villaraigosa, who is considering running for mayor of L.A., is also said to be considering Van Nuys Assemblymember Robert Hertzberg for the speaker pro tem job.

Keeley is also being considered as chair of the powerful Budget Committee, and is said to be on a short list to become secretary of the state Resources Agency, a cabinet-level job that would make him the state's top environmental watchdog. Wherever Keeley lands, Santa Cruz could have considerable clout in Sacramento.

After 16 years of Republicans George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, there is enormous pent-up political energy and pressure on Democratic governor-elect Gray Davis to make important, progressive changes in California. Serving as speaker under a governor of the same party would present a unique opportunity for achievement. Is Fred Keeley that good, that lucky--or both?

Keeley would be the most powerful local politician since Henry Mello, and the first Assembly speaker from Santa Cruz County since William Whitney Stow in 1855. Stow went on to be a prominent San Francisco attorney and city parks commissioner; Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is named after him.


Metro Santa Cruz: What is next for you?

Keeley: The speaker has a new role in mind for me that he wants to announce in December.

Give us a hint.

Well, it's a new role. There's my hint, and I'm very excited about it.

Extra-legislative?

No, [it's] in terms of my role in the Legislature. I'm very excited about it.

Is this a committee chairmanship?

Is it bigger than a bread basket? Is it smaller than a ....

You're not going to tell me anything are you?

No. I've already told you something. He has a new role in mind; I'm very excited about it. I see my challenge as doing a good job in my second term. I'm very pleased with the results of the election, obviously. I got 65.4 percent of the vote. I am very pleased with that. But I think that's a result of paying attention to the district, working on the environment, education, social justice issues that are important to the district.

We're going to have a new speaker in 2000?

That's correct--or before.

Are you suggesting that Villaraigosa is grooming you as his successor?

The speaker has been extraordinarily kind to me in terms of the opportunities he's given me to participate in leadership. And I'm interested in continuing to try to serve the people of the district and the people of the state of California in whatever capacity I can.

Would I be off-base if I said that there's a possibility that you could be speaker after the 2000 election?

OK, here's my flippant response: In the era of term limits, if you're not at least talked about as speaker, then there's something wrong. Everybody gets to be speaker for a day. Just kidding.

I'm going to press you until you just finally slap me around.

Let me tell you why I'm being a little careful about this. It's the speaker's duty to announce, not mine. What I can tell you is, the following are the most important positions in the Assembly: speaker, speaker pro tem, majority leader, caucus chair, majority whip. On the committee side: Rules committee, appropriations committee, budget committee, judiciary committee. The speaker has talked to me about two ideas: one is in leadership, one is in committees. They are both very exciting opportunities for me, and represent a significant advancement in terms of where I am now. And where I am now has been quite an honor.

Do you have a preference?

No, I really don't. He has indicated what his preference is, although he has yet to settle these things because he has an awful lot of people to accommodate, and a lot of decisions to make. I have a pretty idea based on my conversation with him.

And you have said to him, that's fine with you, if that's what he chooses.

Right. A very exciting opportunity to enhance my ability to represent the district.

After 16 years of Republican governors there's a lot of pent-up momentum for social change. What are the priorities for the Davis administration? What will be your role?

Wednesday night after the Tuesday election, the speaker pulled the leadership team together and had a dinner in Sacramento, and one of the things he asked me to do then was to prepare some thoughts about how we would conduct the business of the majority between the time the Legislature comes back into session the first week of January and the time the budget takes over, which roughly happens around the first week in May.

What should we really be doing for the first four months? Because by the time the budget takes things over, that's the first time where the two-thirds vote requirement really comes seriously into play. And the thought of the speaker and the leadership team was that we want to be able to accomplish some things prior to that period, because if we wait until then, that's when the Republican minority can make an imprint.

We don't want that to be the first impression that's made about how does a Democratic governor governing with Democrats in control of both houses of the Legislature. Let's not have the budget be the first impression that people get. So he asked me to take a look at the kinds of things that Gray Davis had been talking about, the kinds of things that our candidates both in the Senate and the Assembly had been talking about to try to find some common ground, identify some policy and issue areas that we may want to work on. That's what I've been doing since the election, and I will be presenting that to him early next week.

Setting the Agenda

You've said that you want to try to present a reasonable set of goals that were not so ambitious that they would be too controversial, but that represent real change so that people don't get the impression that the new governor and new majority are just trying to make token changes.

Different tastes of vanilla.

Right. To try to avoid the impression that you're taking the easy way out.

I think they're largely going to fall into four issue areas: Education, environment, guns and health care. I think that within those my assessment is that in the area of education the governor-elect has already indicated that he is going to call the Legislature into special session, immediately after we go back into session, for the purpose of focusing on education.

He's floated three ideas out there right now: Trying to have legislation adopted which would set certain reading standards for students by the time they reach third grade. Secondly. increasing teacher training and competency in certain core subject matters, like reading and mathematics. Third is around accountability generally. He has yet to signal to us what he means by that.

Within the educational system? Not strictly teachers?

It's one of those subjects where it's an easy term to throw around, and then there's a lot of debate about what that term means.

It sounds like one of those "vanilla" idea problems.

Yes, it is.

Aren't you a little afraid of being sidetracked by the vagueness of that?

I suspect by the time he gets to his inaugural speech and the state-of-the-state speech the day before he first submits his budget on January 10, we will have heard in considerable detail from him, both in terms of the signals he sends to us as well as in those two important speeches, what he means by that.

Gun Laws and Health Legislation

You've outlined these four broad areas--the environment, education, guns and health care ...

Now within the other three, through consultations with my various colleagues ... for example in the area of guns, I think it's likely that we will see bills early in session on a ban on assault weapons, and a "Saturday night special" ban. I think those are very likely.

An expansion of the current ban on assault weapons? To include what?

To include a wider variety. Because what happened last time is that the ban was able to be circumvented by the manufacturers simply by defining away their weapon.

What kind of ways did they do that?

They would say that the clip isn't really being used as an automatic, that they "prohibit" in their specifications anyone tinkering with our gun to allow it to become an automatic weapon.

And people would do that all the time?

People did it all the time.

So you would be broadening the ban to include weapons that are capable of being modified, for example?

Or made to be modified. It's largely a reintroduction of Senator-elect Perata's bill from last year. Second would be Saturday night specials, which will be a bill similar to the one Sen. Richard Polanco (D-LA) had vetoed last year. During the course of the campaign virtually every Democrat that I know, when they talked about crime and violence issues, spoke about the need to try to reduce the epidemic of hand guns and gun violence in this society. There's was a lot of talk that those two issues resonated, and voters want some action on those. My recommendation to the speaker will be that early on those would be a couple of good candidates in the area of guns.

In the area of health care, this is an issue that has a lot of complexity to it, but the short version of the issue is that there's a very strong concern out there by those people who deliver health care as well as by consumers of health care that one of the downsides of HMOs is that they have transferred decision making from health care professionals to health insurance bureaucrats.

Also that patients have really gotten disempowered in the process. The scope of what is offered by HMOs is up to them. So I think it may make sense to look at a couple of issues fairly early. That send a signal that the Legislature and the governor understand that there are issues that need to be confronted--and a willingness to go straight at that. For example, there was a bill by Senator-elect Liz Figueroa of Fremont that last year died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. I think in terms of the general subject matter it would be worth looking at.

What was it?

That bill would essentially say that an HMO could be held liable for their medically related decisions. We get to decide who can be held liable under California laws when they are practicing medicine. The test here is, what do you call practicing medicine? If an HMO makes a decision can or can't have a test, or medical procedure or whatever it might be, in many people's view they will be practicing medicine. We think that when something goes wrong and liability should be assigned, that it makes sense to have them in the net as possible folks who can be held accountable.

I will recommend that that's a subject matter that I will recommend to the speaker that we should move into early and quickly and clearly. Also, I think in terms of the scope of services that are offered: there was a bill last year by Assemblyperson Helen Thomson of Davis, a very thoughtful measure on mental health services to require HMOs that offer products in California to at least offer a mental health component to their product. That is also an issue of empowerment for consumers as is the first one.

So I think the governor's going to call us into special session, we'll work cooperatively on public school issues, change course on the current administration's response on assault weapons and Saturday night special bans, which are strongly supportive by mainstream voters in California--signaling early both to the administration and to the voters that there is absolutely a new day when it comes to health maintenance organizations. There's enormous consumer frustration and concern about that. So we'll send a message early that we're willing to take that on.

Gov. Wilson was literally a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance companies, when it came to any bills on health maintenance organization accountability. On any kind of governmental action with respect to what their product line should be, he simply was not going to go there. That's been a source of enormous concern both for the medical provider community and the consumer community. We'll signal clearly that a new day has dawned on that subject.

Lastly, on the environment, in fairness to the administration, it has an uneven record. On the one hand the governor signed my ocean management bill, which the Associated Press was the most significant ocean management bill in 50 years. I very much appreciated that. On the other hand, a wide range of other bills, he would not sign, and as a consequence there weren't even attempts made to put those on his desk.

In the area of the environment, the governor signaled fairly early in the session last year that he was not willing to reauthorize the state superfund cleanup law, and that was a very anti-consumer and anti-environmental decision by him. We simply have to reauthorize the superfund at the state level, because otherwise communities are left with state superfund cleanup sites and share of cost that are far beyond their abilities to deal with. So you end up with these environmental nightmares.

There was a clean-water bill by Assemblymember Migden (D-SF) last year which would have increased the penalties for violations of the state Clean Water Act, and the administration was not interested in that. The current level of fines in my view and the view of a lot of people are not a strong enough deterrent.

I think if we work on those four subject matters, those are mainstream issues, issues that the voters clearly signaled, I think, during the course of the election when I consulted my colleagues up and down the state, that their voters wanted to see something done on that.

Keeley & Bonny Hawley
George Sakkestad

Right-hand Woman: Bonny Hawley, Keeley's chief of staff, holds down the local fort.

The Environment

On the environment, Santa Cruzans sent a clear message in the election by electing three slow growth, maybe even no-growth candidates.

Or ungrowth.

In the past on Terrace Point, you've expressed some support for the marine lab part of that project. Do you have a position on the project as a whole?

I'd be glad to defer that issue to the Santa Cruz City Council. I've in the past taken the position on that issue before I was a state legislator, when I was a county supervisor, I was concerned about the plans at that time, which as I recall were for significantly more dense development on that site than are currently being proposed, and I voiced opposition to it at that time. As a state legislator I don't have a dog in that fight.

That doesn't prevent you from expressing an opinion about it. You'd rather not?

[Smiles].

There's a lot of frustration, not just among local environmentalists, but among county officials, that they are powerless to really do anything about abusive logging practices, and that the California Department of Forestry has laid down and played dead. Many people would like local control to be returned.

My very first bill that I introduced in the Legislature was a bill to do exactly that.

Will you try again?

I will try again. Now, having said that, the question is how. Is that through the budget, through trying to participate in the decisions about a new director of the Department of Forestry and the members of the state Board of Forestry, through the Legislature, through rule-making? The answer is it's probably all those things. I have begun discussions with a statewide group of environmentalists who are interested in looking at comprehensive forest management and timber reform in California. There has been some thought to looking potentially at a year 2000 ballot measure statewide.

Would that be in the event that you failed at the legislative level?

Or that the legislative level is used for the purpose of raising awareness, public education and consciousness and concern about it. It can be part of an overall strategy. There was some interest in actually doing this about a year ago. In fact, some of the polling came back quite good on this. But when the polling on the so-called title and summary came back, the concern about attorney general Lungren--under current law the attorney general prepares the title and summary for ballot measures. You can call a ballot measure anything you want, but it's the attorney general that prepares the title and summary. What ended up happening was that the title and summary that the attorney general was prepared to put on this item would have hurt its chances.

Do you recall exactly what he was going to do?

I can get that for you. A decision was made in office with a number of environmental organizations on a statewide basis not to go forward.

You're saying it was because Dan Lungren said he was going to give it a title and summary that people would flee from?

Or that they certainly won't flock to.

So you said, "Flock you"?

You know, the courts in a San Mateo case a few years ago really made an interesting distinction, where they said the state has preempted local government on how to timber harvest, but not where to timber harvest.

But didn't the previous law also freeze timber harvest zones in place?

There's a mechanism in the law for making changes in that. It's a pretty high standard, but there's a mechanism for making changes.

But it's difficult and it's not being done. Is that right?

That's exactly right.

Is there perhaps a legislative remedy there to make it easier to rezone?

In my estimation, the Board of Forestry has been dominated by the timber industry for at least 16 years. We have an opportunity now, with the appointment of the director of Forestry and Fire Protection, the secretary of the Resources Agency, which is over that, and the appointments to the Board of Forestry to have a balance.

Is everyone out and a whole new crew in, or are there terms that you have to wait out?

There will be some terms that have to be waited out. But the governor is going to have an enormous, immediate impact on every part of state government, including forestry and timber harvesting.

The timber industry is enormously powerful in California. In the past, well-intentioned, even liberal governors have found it very difficult to buck the timber industry.

Or worse, or worse: Which is that Jerry Brown signed the bill that took away local control.

How will Gray Davis be different?

What I'm hoping is that Gray Davis will do what he said he would do on most issues, which is in this case: govern in the mainstream. The Board of Forestry has not been in the mainstream for a very, very long time. It has been in the pocket of the timber industry for 16 years. If the governor is good on his word, that he's going to govern in the mainstream, and would merely balance the Board of Forestry, there would be significant changes, as far as I'm concerned, that would be very positive.

Personally, are you still in favor of more local control?

Absolutely. For me it's a fundamental philosophical issue. It's the only area of land use in California that the state has pre-empted. And they've done so by arguing that there's overriding need to have a feed stock for forest products, for wood products, in California--from the table we're eating at to the newspapers you publish to whatever it may be, and we can't have that interrupted. So we need to have the state pre-empt these local folks from simply responding to every cry to saving a tree.

Well, you could extend that argument to every enterprise, if you wanted to. You could say, for example, that the state as an overwhelming interest in seeing housing equally distributed throughout the state of California, so you don't have too much someplace and too little someplace somewhere else. And therefore all decisions about subdivisions are going to be made at the Department of Housing and Community Development, not at city councils and the board of supervisors.

Or you could say the state has an overriding interest, in terms of economic development, in seeing that you don't have some impoverished areas of the state and some wealthy areas of the state--instead there's some reasonable distribution of jobs and so on. And therefore, if you want to put in an industrial park or a strip mall or whatever, you don't any longer go through the city council or the board of supervisors, you go to the Department of Business and Commerce. Nobody would argue that case because there's be a revolution in California.

Now why can you get away with it in forestry? You can get away with it with forestry because timber harvesting [in concentrated in just a few districts].

There are a few.

And they for the most part like it. The rural northern California counties, those elected officials like it. The real question is to me, is when the conflict exists.

I've always thought it [state control] was a very anti-Republican idea.

That's the great irony of it of course. These are the folks that believe in home rule, and local control and all of that and espouse it at every opportunity except for one.

Except when it's not convenient. Let me ask you about another environmental question. A lot of people think the Coastal Act that created the Coastal Commission has become a paper tiger, nothing more than a pass-through organization for developers. Do you feel that way? Does it need to be fixed?

I think the Coastal Act was the single most important environmental law enacted in California. It was done by citizen initiative. It really did do something significantly different on the West Coast of the United States than what was done back east. Essentially back east the coast of the United States has been privatized. In California, through the Coastal Act, voters said that the coast of California is a public trust that belongs to everyone.

Where the conflict exists of course is the interface between that public trust, which belongs to everyone, and private property that belongs to individuals. The Coastal Act, I think, is very strong and very clear on public access, view-shed protection, on resource management protection. And I think that the implementation of the Coastal Act has turned on who's on the Coastal Commission.

Here's what happened: the Coastal Act said that the Coastal Commission was going to be essentially the planning and decision-making body unless and until local governments individually adopted local coastal plans that were certified by the Coastal Commission. They took many years to do that.

In fact, the County of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles still haven't done theirs, which is why the Coastal Commission serves like a giant city council in those areas. But for the most part, the rest of California has local coastal plans adopted. And that's why the city councils and board of supervisors in this area make decisions, not the Coastal Commission. I think that, for the most part, the decisions have been fairly good because for the most part there have been strong defenders of the coast on the Coastal Commission.

That was not the case when the Republicans had control of the Assembly for two years from 1984 to 1986. Then-speaker Curt Pringle appointed four people--certainly two people who were avowedly opposed to the enforcement of the Coastal Act, and two people who, shall we say, did not have strong environmental credentials. He had four appointments, not one of which could be considered an environmentalist in any stretch of the definition of that term.

I think certainly the four people that current speaker, the four people that the current president pro tem put on there, and I hope the four people Gov. [Gray] will put on there are going to be strong defenders of the coast. I know that the eight people on there currently by legislative appointment are strong defenders of the coast. I guess the long and the short of this answer is, I think the Coastal Act doesn't need more fathers and mothers, what it needs is people willing to enforce it and abide by it. And that's a matter of the appointments to the commission.

The Long View

Let's take a longer view of the incoming Legislature and the governor. We've talked about the immediate goals. Could you describe how the longer term plan might be distinct?

I think what we're likely to see is the Davis administration and the new Democratic majorities in both houses doing some crawling during the first few months, then some walking during the budget, then next year some running. I think that's how it's going to work.

Isn't that the opposite of conventional wisdom? You run first, because that's when you can get the most done.

Well, I think one of the things I'm hoping that I learned and that my colleagues learned from the early days of the Clinton administration is, No. 1 to not outrun the constituencies that elected you. They were so heady with the new power that they had that they went running off in all directions, most of which in the early days were not directions that the mainstream voters had sent them there to work on.

Then they overreached on health care, both procedurally and substantively. And I think the lesson from all of that--both the early issues that they worked on perhaps weren't entirely in the mainstream--I think the lesson from that is this: the issues that Democrats ran on, both legislatively and in terms of the governor, really were education, health care, trying to reduce gun violence, doing some work on the environment--mainstream issues, that's where the electorate is at.

These are quality-of-life issues and people want to see some action on those. We can work on those quickly and effectively. The second stage of that is, what is the shape of the budget, because the budget is the single most important thing that the Legislature and the governor do. Everything else is background noise compared to the budget. Because frankly if it isn't in the budget, it's not a real priority.

But talk about long term. Are there any distinctions between the short-term ideas that people ran on--environment, schools, guns, health care--and a long-term agenda? What do you plan to do later on after you've accomplished some of these early things?

Well, first of all, I think for example in the area of education and the environment, let's take two issues that I do a fair amount of work in, and I think are very much high-priority issues, not only on the Central Coast but in California--there's a thousand good ideas out there about what to do to improve the quality of public education.

Name two.

Well certainly, continuing to invest in class-size reduction. The second is to develop was is called "Compact 2" between the three legs of higher education in California and the governor and the Legislature.

What does that mean?

What it means is this: Time has run out on the compact that the Legislature and the governor and higher education worked out several years ago in California on how to fully fund enrollment growth in California in higher education, how to deal with its capital outlay needs, how to deal with the 21st-century infrastructure ideas, like distance-learning concepts.

Those commitments that the Legislature and the governor made and that higher education wanted have now run out, and there is now a need to develop Compact 2. We have to do that in the context of what's called the eco-boom, working its way through higher education, which is this population boom which is going to go through. It's a huge, important public policy matter.

What will that public policy consist of?

Let's go through some of them. In the era of post-Prop. 209, the challenge is: How do you have the University of California and the CSU [California State University] system in particular reflect the diversity of California when you can't use affirmative action anymore to do that. How do you from a policy point of view make sure that those public institutions, those public universities, that have the word "public" in them for a reason, because they belong to everybody, are affordable and accessible to everybody.

That is a challenge, because in the recent past what's happened is that on the one hand you had affirmative action, and on the other hand you had raises in student fees and no raise in student aid. As a consequence, the only way that you actually kept diversity in the University of California and the CSU system is that you used affirmative action to do it. Now, absent affirmative action, you better reduce fees and you better increase student aid or we're not going to have diversity in the institution. That has huge budgetary implications to do that. That's a big policy question: How in the era of not having affirmative action as a tool for diversity, how do you in fact achieve diversity. You have to do it through an investment.

You're not just talking about making it more affordable, you're talking about making it more accessible in terms of physically allowing more students in. One way of getting beyond affirmative action limitations is simply by admitting more students.

Right. Which is U.C. Merced, which is growth on all the campuses.

So that means building more colleges?

Absolutely.

So these are huge budget problems.

Absolutely.

So I can hear Republicans screaming right now, "You see, we told you so. Those Democrats, all they want to do is raise taxes and spend the money." What're the alternatives?

Well, what your going to do is two things. One is, we just passed a $9.5 billion state bond measure. We're talking about building UC-Merced. We're talking about funding the long-range development plans for the existing CSUs and UCs. Not everything that they've got in mind. That's one thing to do. The other thing we've got to do is in the budget this year, and the year after that and the year after that, I think we need to continue to invest in class-size reduction in K-12, we need to continue to invest in reducing student fees and increasing state aid in higher education. That's the only way to get diversity. So it's a budget issue.

Labor Notes

Davis has been a friend of labor for many years, yourself as well. The Agriculture Labor Relations Board has been hostile to farm workers for the past 16 years. Apart from appointing new members to that board, do you see any legislative remedies for farm workers?

Most people I know who work the farm labor side of the ALRB see two things. One, the appointments are enormously important. They are the governing body, they are like the judges of disputes over the enforcement of the Agriculture Labor Relations Act in California. Cesar Chavez and Fred Ross and the folks who were founders of the United Farm Workers were instrumental in the development of that.

And Dolores Huerta of course.

What I have heard from Dolores and others is that the appointments are critical. But the issues around farm labor are many. There's housing issues. But the ones that concern the ALRB are how to organize, how to negotiate a contract, how to enforce its provisions once its there. There's a whole range of issues. They're labor-relations issues, not the ancillary issues about housing and other concerns.

I think the appointments are critical by the governor, and if the governor-elect does what he said he's going to do, in the area of the ALRB there will be enormous change. It's much like the Board of Forestry, which has been in the pocket of the timber industry for 16 years. The ALRB has not been a balanced body for 16 years.

You're not willing to say that it's been in the pocket of the growers for 16 years?

I'm willing to say that. I don't think there's much doubt about that. If Gov. Davis appoints a balanced ALRB, that's an enormous change of course and direction for that institution. Again, I don't this is a matter where more law is needed. The underlying law is actually fairly good. It's the enforcement of the law through the administrative arm that I think has been awful. It can and should get a lot better.

Could you tell me exactly how these legislative suggestions are being made, formulated for the governor. You've been asked to put your thoughts together and make some recommendations. Is there a formal [legislative] committee of some kind, or is the governor sort of going to individual members and asking them? What's your role in the larger picture?

The governor-elect is consulting with the leadership in both houses. I'm currently the Democratic Caucus chair. In the Assembly, the Democratic leadership has five positions: speaker, speaker pro tem, majority leader, caucus chair, and the majority whip. This particular speaker, Villaraigosa, his leadership team is a very balanced team in terms of the skill sets that people take to it.

The role I played for him, in addition to being an individual legislator representing my district, in terms of my leadership role, he has relied on me for a couple of things. One is the kind of work product I'm producing now, which is the medium-term to long-term planning and strategizing. Secondly, he asked me to play on several occasions, one was during the budget and then on a couple of other issues, a role of crisis manager for individual issues that were going on.

But largely, the role I play in the leadership team is trying to look out in front of things, as far as you can, reasonably, in a legislative context, so that, for example on the budget, where do we want to end up was the question that I posed to him, early in his speakership on the two days that really matter on the budget: When there's impasse, and when there's a budget. Where do you want to be on those two days.

Meaning where the real serious negotiating begins and where it ends.

Right. If we say we're at impasse, why are we at impasse? And then, when the budget is adopted, what did we hold out for and what did we get? Those are the two important questions. If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there.

So, the important issue is the budget is, where are you going? And where we were going this year was, we wanted significant new investments in public education. And therefore, we knew, once we had made that determination, that that's where we were going, we knew how to get there, and we knew it would be OK when we reached impasse and when we got the final budget, because that was a value worth holding out for. That was a value worth having an impasse over.

So are you doing the same sort of thing this year then?

Right now, my task is to strategize the first few months, make an outline. And then, keep in mind, this sounds probably more structured than it actually is. What I mean by that is, there are 120 members of the Legislature, there's 80 in the Assembly, we have 48 of those, the governor plays an important role, the minority on any bill that has an urgency, an appropriation or is a budget matter it takes a two-thirds vote. So, saying here's our plan, everybody get in line we're going to make it happen isn't exactly how it works.

We are talking about Democrats after all.

We are talking about Democrats after all. ... But all that having been said, it is important to have strategic legislative objectives and some kind of course of action for getting there.

Are Democrats in California today looking at Clinton's first two years, 1993 and 1994, and saying to themselves: This is our model for what not to do?

In regards to not having the governorship, you know, Democrats have marched across the desert for 16 years. I think the lesson is, when you get to the oasis, don't dive in. There's the oasis, there's plenty of water, things are going to be fine. Just be intelligent about it, be smart about it. And that's the admonition that I have heard, from Speaker Villaraigosa, Gov.-elect Davis, [Senate] President pro tem Burton, telling any and every Democrat and Democratic constituency that will listen is, we need to be careful and methodical--I don't hear them use the word patient--but it is careful, methodical so that we can in fact hold this together in the 2000 election and accomplish what we need to accomplish. Because if we can hold this together in the 2000 election, we get to redraw the districts in California.

You beat me to my next question. Isn't that the most important sort of medium-term goal here?

Absolutely. The most important.

And it's a secret to no one.

No.

Even the average voter understands the dynamics of why you want to be careful for the next two years. The year 2000 will be your last election, is that right? So in your last term in the Assembly, if you win, you'll be voting on reapportionment.

Let me just say about the "be careful" part: We have to do two things at once, which at first blush appear to be contradictory. One is, be careful, and at the same time achieve a record of accomplishment in two years that positions Democrats well for reelection going into the 2000 election.

So we have to have a substantial record. And that's why I think it's going to be important, education, the environment, HMO reform, guns, that we have early, measurable victories to point to. And in the budget this year. Then go into next year and build on those, so that voters can look at us and say, See, I think voters like the idea of divided government. We'll give one the Legislature and we'll give the other the governorship, or we'll give one the congress and the other the presidency. I think they like it, it creates a sense of balance. But they've given us a unique opportunity: both houses of the Legislature and the governorship. And now it's our opportunity to deliver on those things that we talked about that resonated with them.

In other words, don't betray the trust?

Don't betray the trust, don't go off in directions that the voters don't consider high priorities, work in the priority areas. That doesn't mean we can't have bills that are cutting edge and push the envelope. We're expected to do that. It's a legislature and we should do it. But first and foremost, govern in the mainstream values that this year happen to be good Democratic issues.

Tax and Spend?

Are there some controversial issues that might create tension within the Democratic majority?

I certainly think anything that would deal with new fees and taxes is still a very delicate issue in California. When you look at the election, certain school bonds did well, even those that didn't get the two-thirds majority, most got 60 percent or more. But when you look at ratification votes on utility taxes, business license fees, that kind of thing, voters said we're not going to ratify them, we want them to go away. And that's a big issue, because the hit on Democrats is they're tax-and-spend liberals, and if you give them the keys to the kingdom your taxes will go up.

Another knock on Democrats is that they're in the hip pocket of organized labor.

I think in California there's a lot of work to do to get back to even. Take, for example, the decision by Gov. Wilson to get rid of overtime after eight hours, shifted to overtime after 40 hours a week. That's a very important issue for working women and men, and not just organized labor. I would expect that we'll see that as an issue of getting back to even, to undo some of the things that were done.

How about stronger OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) enforcement of workplace safety laws?

I think you'll see that. Clearly an issue for organized labor is strong enforcement of workplace safety.

Do you see that as a divisive issue, or something that Gov. Davis would be very much in favor of?

Having a bit of a sense of his innate caution, I would think so long as the economy is doing well in California, the governor-elect would probably entertain some bills in that subject matter. I think as soon as the economy starts to stall, or show signs of a recession or slow-down, any kind of concern, I would guess that he's going to want to see the economy continue to roll along. Because I think one of the lessons of the 98 campaign is that peace and prosperity is what was really the success for Democrats, nationally, statewide, locally. When you have peace and prosperity, Democrats do very well electorally. I think this governor will be hypersensitive.

How about another increase in the minimum wage?

My guess is you'll see him put that on the ballot.

Why not just deal with it?

Voters dealt with it on the ballot last time.

But there's nothing to prevent the Legislature from dealing with it.

Nothing at all to prevent it. But I would guess that he would want to see that on the ballot--out of innate caution.

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