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California and the West

Davis Casting Wide Net in Recruiting Advisors

Government: Mix includes Republicans, others who have opposed governor-elect's stands. Skeptics wonder whether he will follow through on their advice.


SACRAMENTO — It appears that, just as he promised during his campaign, Gray Davis really will need a big--no, giant--table in his new office as governor.

He said he wants to hear from everybody. And so far, the Democratic governor-elect has asked nearly 50 prominent Californians, including some skeptical Republicans, to share their views as members of advisory panels on education and agriculture.

In the coming days, many more experts are expected to join two or three similar groups on topics such as health care and the economy, providing Davis with a grand orchestra--or perhaps a cacophony--of ideas on the major issues facing California.

Just what Davis does with all of this advice is hard to tell. But in barely five weeks, the governor-elect will be sworn into office, then deliver a State of the State speech and a budget proposal for the 1999-2000 fiscal year. And he has yet to name a single permanent member to his administration.

Skeptics say there is a danger that the task forces might be perceived as irrelevant, "feel-good" committees if Davis doesn't follow through on at least some of their advice.

Even Davis' aides admit there are risks to the governor-elect's creeping pace.

"There is a time and energy consumption risk and there is a rising expectation risk," conceded Barry Munitz, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust and chairman of the Davis transition team. Munitz nevertheless characterized his temporary boss as a hard-working, patient man "who isn't going to be pressured."

For now, Davis is getting the kind of cooperative honeymoon that would be expected after his landslide election victory--one of the biggest in state history.

Observers say Davis' mandate has given him the authority to challenge some of the powerful Democratic interests that have high hopes for cashing in on his election. At the same time, it has caused traditionally Republican groups, such as agricultural interests, to try to win favor with the governor-elect.

The mix of representation on the advisory panels suggests that Davis wants to take advantage of the current calm. He has seated his strongest supporters from labor at the same table as some of their nemeses in government and corporate management.

This strategy is apparently being well received. Bob Vice, former president of the California Farm Bureau, admits he was worried that Davis' agricultural policy might tilt unfairly toward environmentalists and labor.

"I'm beginning to think that is not going to be the case," said Vice, who was named to the agriculture panel. "I'm beginning to believe there is really something to all of this talk about moderation."

The peace pipe approach seemed to work in its first test on Tuesday.

'Not a Need to Achieve Consensus'

Davis met for five hours in Los Angeles with the 13 members of his education task force--a group that included representatives from the state's two largest teacher unions as well as legislators, school administrators, university presidents and corporate executives.

"In the eight years I have been in this state, and the hundreds and hundreds of education meetings I've attended in my lifetime, this was the single most creative and long exchange with a top official that I've ever had," said Munitz, former chancellor of the California State University system.

Munitz said the group did not discuss hot-button topics such as teacher salaries, although it did address Davis' campaign promise to take over the state's poorest-performing schools. And Davis said there was "general condemnation" of his plan to require parents to sign contracts stating they will participate in their child's schooling.

Munitz said the panel's advice might help shape the proposals Davis will submit to a special education-focused session of the Legislature scheduled to convene in January.

But he also said the group is not being asked to reach a consensus. Instead, Munitz described the group as a forum to display for Davis the marketplace of ideas on key topics.

"There is not a need to achieve consensus," Munitz said. "Having said that, it would be nice if there were some things on which everybody agrees."

The agricultural panel has designed itself a bit differently.

Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres), co-chairman of the group, said he hopes to produce recommendations that Davis can act on within the first 100 days of his administration.

"We are a consensus group," Condit said. "We want to end up with a constructive document that will be helpful to the governor-elect."

Few topics in state government are historically more contentious or high stakes than agriculture and water.

All sides agree that a water crisis looms unless there is rapid agreement among environmentalists, farmers and cities on a comprehensive new water policy. Meanwhile, farming has threatened endangered species, and rapid housing development has threatened farming.

Davis also comes to the issue of agriculture with a controversial reputation from his days as chief of staff for Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr.

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