SACRAMENTO — Obviously confident of beating Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley again in the gubernatorial election, Gov. George Deukmejian said Wednesday that he may even run for a third term in 1990--but conceded there is no realistic chance of his ever being nominated on a presidential ticket.
Unlike practically every other California governor for the last 40 years, Deukmejian said he has neither the personal inclination nor the political capability to run for President.
Interviewed in the governor's traditional "corner office" at the state Capitol, Deukmejian seemed relaxed, perfectly content to stay in his present job far into the foreseeable future and very pleased with the shape of his reelection campaign.
He said with a wide grin that he is "happy" that Bradley, his Democratic opponent for the second consecutive election, has made "a lot of major political mistakes" already. "We're going to feed on that opportunity and make the most of it," he said.
An elected state officeholder for 23 years, Deukmejian confessed to being "a little surprised" that the voters would choose someone of Armenian ancestry, with a "foreign-type name," as governor in the first place.
"I always had a wonder, I always had a thought, as to whether or not someone with a name like mine could get elected as governor of California," he said somberly. "I think it speaks very, very well for this state. It may not have been possible in some other states. Apparently, the majority of the people (in California) are willing to take a person based upon their abilities, their policies, their positions and make a judgment not solely based upon their ethnic, national heritage background."
Deukmejian became slightly irritated, however, when asked whether he thought Californians were also ready to elect a black as governor. "We've never talked about that issue, and we won't," he said.
But, responding hesitantly to the question, Deukmejian noted that two blacks in the 1970s were elected to statewide office--Mervyn Dymally as lieutenant governor and Wilson Riles as superintendent of public instruction (both also were later defeated as incumbents)--and he observed: "So just because someone is black doesn't mean they can't get elected in a statewide election."
Bradley in 4th Term
Bradley is in his fourth term as Los Angeles' first black mayor.
As a campaigner and public figure, Deukmejian basically is regarded as steady and stable--some say dull--and nothing like his charismatic predecessors, Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Ronald Reagan. "How many people in the country are?" he remarked.
Asked whether his shortage of communicative skill has been a political handicap, particularly in such a media-oriented state, Deukmejian said proudly: "It hasn't been so far. You know, I've just about done it all in California politics--the Assembly, and (state) Senate and attorney general and governor. So it hasn't been a problem for me."
Deukmejian illustrated throughout the interview that, while he cannot match President Reagan's skills in front of a microphone while reading from a Teleprompter, he is much more articulate in private conversation than the President--discussing detailed issues adroitly and at length in unbroken sentences, without the tortured syntax that frequently punctuates Reagan's ad-libbing.
There is no indication, either from Deukmejian or any of his advisers, that this governor ever sits and dreams of one day sitting where Reagan now sits--as almost any chief executive from the nation's most populous state might, and historically has.
Not in His Future
"I just realistically don't see it in my future," he said after a long discussion of his political career.
Deukmejian, 57, said he had always longed to be California's governor and after he was elected in 1982 decided to "address all of my energies and abilities" to the office. "I certainly have never felt I could do this job justice and at the same time take all the necessary steps one would have to take if they were going to run for the presidency," he said. "I have always had in mind that I would like to serve at least two terms as governor. . . .
"Also, I am a pretty realistic person. I think that realistically, at this particular stage, there are many other individuals who obviously are in a much stronger position to get the (presidential) nomination, such as the vice president, George Bush. . . . Even if I were to be interested in running, it would seem to me that there would be little possibility of being able to be successful at it. . . .
"There's one other comment I'd make. I feel that Californians at this point in our history would just as soon that their governor not be off running for the presidency, because the last two governors we had did do that. I think that Californians would prefer that their governors stay on the job."