SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian and state schools Supt. Bill Honig attempted to put their nine-month feud behind them Thursday with a luncheon meeting that both sides described afterward as friendly.
Deukmejian and Honig, who had clashed bitterly over the governor's education budget for the current school year, agreed over a meal of shrimp and chicken to tone down their rhetoric and try to work together, Honig said.
"There seems to be a sincere effort on his part to try and lower the decibel level of this discussion," the superintendent told reporters as he left the governor's office. "We both, I think, had the attitude that this got out of hand and let's each of us do what we can to keep this on a rational, non-personal, nonpolitical level. And I think that's healthy."
Their battle began in January when Honig branded Deukmejian's budget a "disaster" for education and charged that it would mean a net reduction in spending for the public schools, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Deukmejian, contending that education was his highest priority, responded by calling Honig a "demagogue" and a "snake oil salesman."
For six months, Honig continued to challenge the Republican governor at every opportunity and organized parents to oppose the budget. When Deukmejian finally signed the spending plan in July, Honig found his own department budget cut by 10% and the public schools singled out for their smallest budget increase in five years.
Deukmejian, in an apparent attempt to head off another bruising battle next year, invited Honig to lunch Thursday so they could talk over their differences. It was the first time they had met face to face since February.
"He was very gentlemanly about the whole thing," Honig said. "He seemed sincere about the willingness to try to work things through. From my standpoint, I stand willing to talk about these issues in a proper, civil manner, and he seems to be willing to do the same thing."
Deukmejian press secretary Kevin Brett, who did not attend the lunch, told reporters: "The governor stated very early in the discussion that the budget fight is over, it's history, and now we have to move forward. The governor indicated to the superintendent that he hoped they could work together in the coming months and the coming years."
At the same time, Deukmejian made no commitment to increase the education budget, which some school officials say will cause severe hardships in many districts this year, both Brett and Honig said.
"The governor was noncommittal," Brett said.
As a gift for the governor, Honig brought a bottle of wine produced by his family winery. And as a conciliatory gesture, Honig said he "promised not to use the word 'disaster' again and to try to come up with another adjective."
Tax Rebate Didn't Come Up
The two did not discuss one major sore point between them--the planned $1.1-billion tax rebate favored by Deukmejian and strongly opposed by Honig. But the governor agreed to look over the superintendent's plan to loosen the state's constitutional spending limit, Honig said.
The schools chief also said he told Deukmejian that he would cooperate with the governor's new commission that is investigating the performance of the state's public schools.
"The governor expressed an interest in working together on some of these issues that we should cooperate on, and I expressed my interest in working with him," Honig said. "Obviously, there are still some places where we don't agree, but we were looking for places where we do agree."