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California and the West | CAPITOL JOURNAL

Using Mirrors to Put Together Transition Team

November 12, 1998|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — If there's one thing we're learning about Gov.-elect Gray Davis, it's this: He doesn't feel the need to be surrounded by clones or sycophants. That does show a degree of self-confidence.

Truth is, anybody who'd caught even a cursory glimpse of his campaign manager knew that already. Garry South is a whirling dervish, a nonstop talker who is the mirror opposite--in their public personas--of dull, deliberate Davis. Moreover, neither South nor any of Davis' top campaign strategists were "yes sir" lackeys. That's usually the mark of a winning candidate.

But Davis and South share one common trait: They're professional pols. Junkies. And South says he wants no part of government.

So enter Barry Munitz, another Davis mirror-opposite, mainly in lifestyle and career. He's also nobody's toady.

Munitz, 57, current president of the J. Paul Getty Trust and former chancellor of the California State University system, was named by Davis on Monday to head his transition team. Raised a poor kid in Brooklyn, Munitz is urbane, erudite and scholarly, with a well-rounded background of corporate hustle. He complements Davis like Pinot Noir does American cheddar.

He's a short-timer with a long reach. Munitz's job with Davis essentially will end on Inauguration Day, Jan. 4. But for now, his power is exceeded only by the next governor's. He has been given the authority to assemble for Davis the candidates for chief of staff, finance director and all the Cabinet slots--plus help develop basic policy that must be reflected in the $80-billion budget to be delivered by Jan. 10.

"The advantage I have is that there's absolutely nothing I want," Munitz says. "So I can be very straight with him. I mean, I don't care if he gets angry.

"I didn't raise a dime for him. I didn't endorse either candidate. I'm a lot closer to Gov. Wilson than I've ever been to Gray."

*

Davis got friendly with Munitz when, as lieutenant governor, he sat on the CSU Board of Trustees.

"At breaks, we'd talk and he'd say, 'Now explain this to me again and tell me why you feel so strongly,' " Munitz recalls. "Frankly, we disagreed more than we agreed. But it was always with great respect."

When Davis asked him to head the transition, Munitz says, the governor-elect told him he wanted an education expert, somebody not seeking a job, and a person of broad background who wasn't tone deaf to politics.

Davis proclaimed in virtually every campaign utterance that education would be his No. 1 priority. Now, one of Munitz's duties will be to help develop a school reform package.

What can the next governor do?

"We have got to put some teeth in standards, accountability, performance and recognition of merit," Munitz says. "A lot of it is a question of testing and teacher training."

Did he say merit pay for teachers? Something their unions traditionally have opposed because they're leery of favoritism? "Yeah, for K-12 and higher education," he replies.

But Munitz also believes all teacher salaries should be raised: "You can't on the one hand say schoolteachers are the most important people for the future of the state and then treat them with the lowest pay and the lowest respect. We have a disconnect in this state and this country between what we say is important and what we actually reward."

Merit pay plus salary hikes: The unions should grab it. Let the Republicans yelp.

*

I asked Davis' old boss, former Gov. Jerry Brown, what he makes of all this. What are the transition traps for his former chief of staff?

"You've got to know where you're going. You can only do a couple of things," Brown says. "Most things in state government run themselves. That's the fact. Either you put people in who screw up or you put people in who do what the civil servants want. And the only exception to that is where the governor has a policy that he wants effectuated. If anybody knows how to do it, Gray does. . . .

"He's raised expectations on education. So he's going to have to demonstrate success. That's where he needs support. And I'm looking forward to working with him on education."

Oakland's mayor-elect working with his former aide? "Oakland has some possibilities to demonstrate education innovation. I'm going to talk to Gray about it."

As for the Munitz pick, Brown sizes it up this way: "Gray's probably trying to get the Establishment. He thinks you have to get an Establishment Cabinet to get maximum approval. And that makes sense. That could be prudent. The way to lead is to get right out in front of the Establishment and make sure they're right behind you."

Brown never did that. Davis learned from his mirror-opposite ex-boss.

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