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California and the West

Gray Davis Unreachable, Virtually

Technology: Governor has a Web site but no official e-mail address. Administration officials fret over potential logjam of online messages.

November 22, 1999|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The governor of South Dakota has one. So do the governors of New York, Hawaii and Mississippi. The mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bakersfield and Hemet all have them. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has toyed with the notion of a possible run for governor in 2002, has one.

But forget about putting your two cents' worth into an electronic message to Gray Davis, governor of California, cradle of the Cyber Age. He has no official e-mail address.

"He wants one. It's been worked on for quite some time," said Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante. So far, he said, figuring out a way for the governor to quickly answer Californians' e-mail has eluded his technicians.

"The worst thing [we] could do would be to not respond to people in a timely manner," Bustamante said.

Davis, fond of touting California as "Home of the dot economy," does host an official Web site, where a visitor can view a photograph of the governor and his wife, Sharon.

It also includes a sampler of Davis' first 100 days in office, speeches, state budget, education bills, executive orders and an employment application for prospective judges. As of Sunday, the site had not been updated since Aug. 26.

The governor's Web site (www.ca.gov/s/governor) receives tens of thousands of hits each week and recorded more than 5 million visits in one recent six-month period, Bustamante said.

But if folks want to complain to Davis about their government, give advice or ask for help, e-mail is not an option. Instead, viewers are advised to write to him at the Capitol, send a fax or call.

Callers reaching a recorded message in the governor's office are advised in English and Spanish to contact a member of his staff.

Davis and his wife do share a private e-mail address for personal use, Bustamante said: "The governor knows how to use a computer. The first lady knows how to use a computer."

Davis' predecessor, Republican Pete Wilson, operated an e-mail box for incoming communications, but mailed his responses through the postal system, said Sean Walsh, Wilson's former press secretary.

He said Wilson constituents could expect a reply from the governor's office or a state agency "pretty quickly."

Virtually every California legislator, elected state official, member of Congress and U.S. senator has access to e-mail, as do President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Mayor Richard Riordan of Los Angeles receives about 20 pieces of electronic mail a week, his staff said, and has been known to occasionally tap out a response personally. "We usually respond that day or in two days at a maximum," said spokeswoman Jessica Copen.

In San Francisco, the City Hall e-mail box of Mayor Willie Brown, who is in the midst of a tough reelection fight, is very active, spokeswoman Stephanie Mendez said. Typically, some locals want to know "what have you done for my area" or ask for the mayor's photo, she said.

A high-level state government expert in information technology, who asked not to be named, indicated that there are other concerns besides devising a rapid response system that have slowed progress on an electronic mail system for Davis.

The expert said that e-mail connections, equipment and software are already in place in Davis' office, but the governor must guard against being overwhelmed by the enormous flow of information when the e-mail tap is turned on.

"When you hook yourself up to a fire hose, do you drink it all?" he asked rhetorically.

He also cited security issues, noting that "highly qualified hackers tend to take prominent private and public individuals as challenges. We have to be prepared that someone would put great effort into breaking into the governor's office Web site. Opening up e-mail does open a significant new path of exposure," he said.

Similar concerns were examined when Wilson activated his e-mail system, said Walsh, but were overcome. "You hire good information systems individuals to prevent [hacking] from occurring," he said.

When will Californians be able to e-mail their governor with their suggestions, questions, appeals or pieces of their minds? "I don't know. Hopefully, sooner than later," Bustamante said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Making Contact

You can reach these individuals at these addresses:

*

* Mayor Richard J. Riordan, Los Angeles: Rriordan@mayor.ci.la.ca.us

* Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano, Hawaii: gov@gov.state.hi.us

* Gov. William J. Janklow, South Dakota: sdgov@state.sd.us

* Gov. George E. Pataki, New York: gov.pataki@chamber.state.ny.us

* Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger: feedback@schwarzenegger.com

* Gov. Gray Davis, California -- no e-mail

State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814

Telephone (916) 445-2841

Fax (916) 445-4633

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