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Governor, Democrats--an Election-Year Thaw

August 25, 1986|JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — With only one week left in the 1986 legislative session, there is a cordial but wary working relationship between Republican Gov. George Deukmejian and Democratic leaders, but no one is willing to predict how much longer it might last.

At any moment, the fragile relationship could be shattered as the lawmakers work out sensitive issues like selling off public employee pension fund investments and those of the University of California in companies doing business in South Africa, building a new prison in Los Angeles and abolishing the unitary tax system for multinational corporations.

In general, however, there seems to be an underlying desire to end the session and start campaigning for the fall elections without the hard feelings that existed between the governor and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) at the time of last year's adjournment.

It's Election Time

Deukmejian is seeking reelection against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley; all 80 Assembly and 20 of the 40 Senate seats are on the line in November. The Democrats currently hold majorities of 47 to 33 in the Assembly and 26 to 14 in the Senate.

Both Brown and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said the governor is getting easier to get along with these days. And Deukmejian said he feels that his relationship with them is "fine."

But Senate GOP Leader James W. Nielsen (R-Woodland) said he believes the real reason that Brown and Roberti are getting along better with the governor is that they realize that he probably will win reelection and Democrats will have to deal with him for another four years.

"There is no question in their minds about it," Nielsen said. "The governor is a winner. They won't say that, of course. They can't and they shouldn't as party leaders. But it is a reality. He's done a darn good job and the polls show it."

The improved relations this session are a far cry from the early years of the governor's first term when communications were all but non-existent (even among some GOP leaders) and he was nicknamed the "Iron Duke" by Democrat lawmakers for his refusal to bend on critical issues.

In an assessment of Deukmejian's current relationship with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, Brown said: "In the last several months, it has been far more meaningful than it has been in previous months. He's really trying to work matters out."

Brown's main reason for being particularly pleased with the governor's recent performance was Deukmejian's shift in position that public employee pension systems and the University of California fully divest themselves of investments in corporations that do business in racially segregated South Africa. Previously, he had supported a go-slow approach.

This is the same stand that Brown, who is black, has been advocating for several years as a lever to pressure South Africa into abolishing apartheid.

"That made me very happy. I even think that made him happy," Brown said. "He got some great positive (news) stories because of it."

But the governor's change in position on divestiture did not delight Brown enough to persuade him to attend the governor's Aug. 12 barbecue for members of the Legislature.

"The governor has had several social events of that nature," Brown said. (The governor has had four in the last two years.) "I've never attended one. I don't like social events. Fund-raisers are different. I go to 600 fund-raisers a year. That's two a day. That's enough for anybody."

Previously Scheduled

In fact, only 40 out of the 120 state legislators, and they were mostly Republicans, showed up at the country-and-western-style event, held at the Nut Tree Restaurant about 30 miles west of the capital.

About 130 guests, including top Administration officials, ate barbecued ribs and chicken, salad and apple pie a la mode. A country-western band belted out tunes like "Orange Blossom Special" and "Okie From Muskogee."

Brown said he had a previously scheduled private dinner with some Assembly colleagues and that is the reason he did not go.

Senate leader Roberti also was a no-show. Instead, he attended a Senate Democratic caucus fund-raising dinner that doubled as a retirement tribute for Sen. John F. Foran (D-San Francisco). "I just couldn't make it; it should not be construed as me not wanting to break bread with the governor," Roberti said.

The Senate leader also said that his relationship with Deukmejian has improved. "We have a businesslike working relationship," he said. "It could be better, but it has been worse. It certainly is better than it was during his first year."

Michael R. Frost, Deukmejian's legislative secretary, said he was hopeful that the "good and cordial" relationship between the three principals will continue until the end of the session.

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