SACRAMENTO — Gov.-elect Gray Davis is hoping this week to step formally--perhaps boldly--where no Democrat has gone before.
He is cast by many as the latest version of a "new Democrat," preaching the centrist political philosophy that President Clinton helped establish for his party.
But the Davis model is broader--reaching further into old Democratic groups like labor and boosting the role of newer groups that reflect California's increasingly diverse population.
Today, as Davis is sworn into office and gives his first major policy speech, aides say he takes up a formidable challenge in forging a new direction for his Democratic allies.
"The challenge for Gray Davis is to say that it is possible to govern from the center--to take from the left and the right and not be caught in the wings of ideology," said Phil Trounstine, Davis' director of communications. "It is going to be a huge challenge--but he does have a 20-point mandate."
Davis won almost 3 in 5 voters in November, so his advisors contend that he has already attracted a coalition of support that spans the Democratic Party and beyond.
But as the first Democratic governor in 16 years, Davis still faces significant pressure from traditional elements in his own party to expand government's role in health care, environmental protection, worker rights and salaries, assistance for the poor and attention to the disenfranchised.
Davis' advisors hope the resounding election victory will give him the authority to scale back his party's wish lists and persuade those traditional elements to accept his "new Democrat"-style platform of limited government and support for business, as well as his campaign call for tax cuts.
"I don't want to sound too grandiose, but I believe . . . Gray Davis does have the capability of fusing together a very unusual--for a Democrat--coalition," said Garry South, Davis' political advisor.
"Some of our [Democratic] constituency groups are not very reasonable, and on the Republican side you can say the same thing," he said. "This victory was a coming together."
In addition to the election mandate, Davis is counting on the fact that many groups in the Democratic Party have known him to be a strong ally throughout his 23-year political career in Sacramento. He is hoping the groups will trust that he won't forget them even if he does not move as fast as they might like.
Michael Paparian, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said environmental groups are uncertain what Davis' plan for a moderate government means for their issues. "If anybody claims to know how he's going to act, they are fibbing," he said.
But Paparian also said Davis had a strong environmental record when he served in the Assembly, and he is willing to be patient. "We really could use a major resource bond, and when the time is right, we are hopeful that he will be supportive of such a bond," he said.
Davis' formal effort at coalition-building will begin this week when he is sworn into office and delivers his inaugural address today, followed by his State of the State speech Wednesday and his first release of a budget proposal Friday.
And in contrast to the sweeping changes that often follow a turnover to a new party, aides say the Davis agenda will be marked by its modesty. They said Davis' theme during the week will echo his election-night declaration that "voters want to take a moderate path."
"That is who I am, that is how I ran, and that is how I will govern," Davis said in November. "I will be a governor for all the people in this state, not just the people who voted for me."
Davis will reiterate that education is his administration's top priority--particularly programs for improving teacher quality.
And in the early days of his administration, Davis is expected to distinguish himself from the outgoing administration by passing a handful of landmark bills that are popular with voters but were vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson and have since been reintroduced.
At the top of the list are a pair of gun-control laws, one expanding a ban on assault weapons and another that would halt the manufacture of cheap handguns, so-called Saturday night specials.
Davis is also expected to approve tighter regulations for health maintenance organizations that never made it past Wilson's desk.
But he is not planning to usher in the kind of sweeping changes that have followed previous political transitions--like President Clinton's attempt at universal health care after his 1992 election, and the Republican Party's Contract With America that followed its 1994 takeover of the House.
Aides say Davis has taken a cue from both efforts and decided to make a comparatively modest entrance as governor.
Davis has not even said whether he will repeal the highly controversial executive orders and litigation that Wilson launched in recent years to enforce a ban on affirmative action and benefits for illegal immigrants.