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The New Ed Davis Shows Some Unexpected Twists and Turns

January 25, 1986|JOHN BALZAR | Times Political Writer

Californians have come to know Ed Davis as two different men.

There's hang-em-at-the-airport Ed, the cop who rose up from the ranks to be the colorful and controversial chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1969 to 1978. So tough was Davis and his department's image during these socially turbulent years that Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" might have been looked upon as merely another plainclothesman trying to meet the mortgage. And the liberal critics be damned.

Then, there's the more mellow, pipe-puffing Davis, the surprisingly flexible Republican state senator who has represented Valencia and parts of the San Fernando Valley since 1980. This is the Davis who champions homosexual rights, who denounces the influence of fundamentalist religion on GOP politics, who listens carefully to almost everyone before casting his vote in the Legislature and who isn't afraid to change his mind. And the conservative critics be damned.

Man of Great Self-Confidence

Up close, Davis--then and now--is a man of great self-confidence, independence and ambition. He also has a flair worthy of Hollywood for using the press and crafting the right image for the task he faces. And, he's a chap of great good wit.

Davis spent 37 years on the LAPD, and as chief his image was as uncorruptible, uncompromising and, well, outrageous.

He took on homosexuals, women, drugs, what he described as the liberal press and a buffet of influences that he felt were tearing his peaceful town apart. He sought to be the first police chief with a submarine in his arsenal (only joking, he says now) and, in his most remembered single pronouncement, offered a novel approach toward the then-new phenomenon of airline hijacking.

"I would recommend we have a portable big bus and a portable gallows, and after we get the death penalty put back in, we conduct a rapid trial for a hijacker out there and then we hang him with due process of law out there at the airport," Davis said in July, 1972.

A former aide said working with Davis was a "heck of an experience . . . like World War II."

Police Morale Was High

But morale among police officers was high, and the department, lionized in film and on television, had a reputation for ruggedness. There was only occasional note of something else beneath the badge. Davis resisted demands by police officers to go to big-bore Magnum pistols, for instance, and at one point in his career stepped between officers and a suspect who were exchanging gunshots to defuse the situation.

"He said he never believed in blowing people away," recalled an officer who was at the scene.

Davis retired from one of the most political of appointive offices and immediately plunged into elective politics. And he aimed right for the top--the governorship in 1978.

Davis now regrets he tried to downplay his police past during that race. His campaign instead was uncharacteristically listless, his conservatism was brittle, and the range and subtleties of issues he confronted seemed to catch him by surprise. He lost.

But then in 1980, his sights lowered, he ran for the state Senate from the San Fernando Valley and won.

Pegged as Right-Winger

He was immediately pegged as a predictable right-winger with a single-minded interest in crime.

Wrong.

Instead, Davis became an approachable legislator who actually read bills before he voted. As his voting record emerged, there were enough unexpected twists and turns that few in the Capitol took him for granted. On the Senate Judiciary Committee this non-lawyer and ex-cop became a favorite of lawyers for his attention to detail and his affability, and he rose to be vice chairman of the panel.

"I wear no man's collar," he explained to an interviewer.

He has not been a prolific author of legislation. As achievements, he claims credit for helping develop sweeping educational reform legislation three years ago and for his stand against a bill that would have stripped local officials of key planning prerogatives.

The Homosexual Matter

Then came the matter of homosexuals. Once in his past, gays had marched on his house and hired a private eye to investigate his daughter as ways of getting back at him for his strong anti-homosexual stance as police chief. Who would have guessed that this would be the same man who turned around and voted for a bill in 1982 to prohibit job discrimination against homosexuals in California? He said he became convinced that it was the right thing to do. And now he denounces as bigots other Republicans with less compassion.

He was divorced from his wife in 1983 and married Bobbie Trueblood, a field deputy, in 1984.

Then last year, Davis again announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. This time he was trying to capitalize on both images, policeman and legislator. Davis' immodest campaign slogan proclaims: "One tough cop; one great senator."

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