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A Golden Glow on the Banks of the Sacramento

January 13, 1985|WILLIAM ENDICOTT | William Endicott is chief of The Times' Sacramento Bureau.

SACRAMENTO — When the Democratic-dominated California Legislature and Republican Gov. George Deukmejian start talking about peace and harmony--passing symbolic olive branches back and forth to one another--one is reminded of Neville Chamberlain's famous line about "peace in our time" just before the outbreak of World War II.

But the governor's State of the State address and subsequent budget message last week, and the Democratic reaction to both of them, are a clear indication that the two sides have finally grown weary of the fractious nature of political debate here the last two years and would like to get along.

It is a recognition of reality by both the Democrats and the governor.

The governor and the Democrats have finally grown weary of the fractious nature of political debate over two years and would like to get along. Deukmejian, at midterm and aglow with a full treasury after inheriting a state government on the verge of bankruptcy in 1983, has certainly stayed on course with the priorities he set for himself when he took office--a balanced budget with no general tax increase, more money for education, more money to fight crime, more money to combat toxic waste.

He has successfully resisted any efforts by the right wing of his party to force its own agenda on him at the expense of diverting attention away from the nuts and bolts of state government. He has been a solid bookkeeper and caretaker.

But there was a sense in his State of the State speech that he recognizes the need to do more than continue to point to a balanced budget as his most significant achievement, impressive though that might be, as he prepares for a reelection campaign next year. And he seemed to acknowledge that to build more of a record will require the cooperation--i.e., the votes--of legislative Democrats.

Toward that end, he may have made them an offer they can't refuse by artfully emphasizing his willingness to spend more on favorite Democratic beneficiaries such as schools and social programs. The $33.6 billion budget for 1985-86 that he unveiled Thursday reflects that commitment. Indeed, a booming, revenue-producing economy makes political accommodation much easier.

The only red flag he waved at Democrats was his not-unexpected attack on the state Supreme Court for refusing to implement the state's death penalty law. That has been, and continues to be, the one thing that seems to be a preoccupation with him. He avoided any mention of such controversial subjects as water development, an issue on which he was badly beaten by the Legislature last year.

"Today," he said, "California is steady and strong. So, together, isn't it about time we climbed the peak of excellence once again?" The emphasis was on the word together.

Democrats, while not overly effusive in their praise, found little to criticize, either with his assessment of the state of the state or his budget. Still reeling from the public-relations drubbing they have taken over the past year, they indicated that while they wanted to reserve the right to disagree with Deukmejian in the months to come, they'd like to restore civil discourse to the inevitable philosophical and political differences that will arise.

"Efforts to make peace are real," Assembly Majority Floor Leader Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) told reporters. "The Legislature has an image problem. We have to do something. We have probably gone beyond anyone's tolerance with our attacks on one another. The Legislature, as a whole, has a problem, but particularly Democrats, because we control both houses."

There also are signs that Deukmejian is not alone in wanting to build a record.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), apparently after looking closely at his own list of skimpy legislative accomplishments, said last month he intends to be actively involved as an author of major bills this session, perhaps his last as Speaker. He wants to leave more of a legacy than a reputation as a good fund-raiser.

The legislative score card of Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) is also less than noteworthy for someone who has indicated he might one day be interested in running for statewide office. And Republican leaders in both houses, Pat Nolan of Glendale in the Assembly and James W. Nielsen of Woodland in the Senate, would like to be thought of as more than obstructionists.

Meantime, concern is mounting within the Deukmejian Administration that the governor, who is showing no inclination to move in bold new directions, might be spending too much time as bookkeeper and not enough as a politician grooming his image and cultivating new support.

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