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California and the West

In Campaign Mode, Davis Goes to Bat for Gore, Public Schools

Politics: Governor plans nine intense days on the stump, pushing Prop. 39 and mending strained relations with educators.

October 30, 2000|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis entered campaign mode Sunday, beginning nine days on the stump for Al Gore, pushing a key education initiative and renewing strained relations with the powerful California Teachers Assn.

The Democratic governor, sounding themes that helped him win election in 1998, told a small rally in Westwood that, like him, Gore is a Vietnam veteran who supports abortion rights and gun control, unlike Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"On the issues central to California, Al Gore agrees with Californians; George Bush does not," Davis said, appearing alongside Gore's daughter Kristin and actors Harry Hamlin and Teri Garr.

Gore's daughter, Garr and Hamlin took swipes at Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, who is cutting into Gore's support in several states. After his talk, Davis urged that people think twice before voting for Nader on Nov. 7.

"It's one thing to cast a protest vote when you are certain your vote will not affect the presidential arithmetic," said Davis, Gore's California campaign chairman. "It is another thing to cast a protest vote when you know it will affect the arithmetic."

Davis recalled the recession and massive job losses in the early 1990s in California, and lauded the Clinton-Gore administration's handling of the economy, which he called "the best . . . ever known."

"If you have to change horses in midstream," Davis said, "make sure you get on one going in the same direction."

Although polls show Gore leading in California, Bush is airing television spots and making campaign appearances in the state. Garry South, Davis' chief political strategist and a top Gore advisor in California, recently criticized the vice president for failing to answer Bush's attacks. Davis said South's comments reflected some of his own frustration with the Gore campaign, saying, "In general terms, he expressed my views on the subject."

Davis has urged Gore not to take California for granted. Gore's campaign visits to California have been primarily to raise money. Gore has announced he will attend a Tuesday afternoon rally in Westwood. Clinton, also at Davis' urging, plans to campaign for Gore in California later in the week.

Davis intends to appear with Gore and Clinton. He also plans to stump for Gore in the San Joaquin Valley, Riverside and San Bernardino, swing areas of the state that Davis carried in 1998.

Davis does not face the electorate until 2002. But he faces a midterm test Nov. 7. Gore's fate here is only part of that test. Davis is the most prominent backer of Proposition 39, which would lower the requirement for voter approval of local school construction bonds to a 55% majority, from the current two-thirds.

Davis has not put any of the $21.4 million he has amassed for his reelection into the Yes-on-39 effort. But South is running the campaign, and Davis' pollster and media consultants are working for it.

Davis appeared earlier Sunday at a California Teachers Assn. convention in Los Angeles. He urged that the union use its extensive phone bank and get-out-the-vote operations to help campaign for Proposition 39.

It was the first time Davis had appeared before the teachers since his 1998 election. The teachers union was his biggest donor, spending $1.9 million on his campaign. In the governor's first year in office, however, the administration and union clashed over legislation that Davis pushed to increase classroom accountability.

The dispute reached its height earlier this year when the CTA gathered more than a million signatures for an initiative that would have forced the state to increase annual spending on public schools by about $5 billion.

After 10,000 teachers rallied at the Capitol, and as union leaders prepared to submit the petitions, Davis agreed to shift $1.8 billion in state tax money to schools for teacher raises, prompting the union to drop its initiative. With the $1.8-billion infusion, several local districts have granted raises of 10% or more to teachers.

CTA President Wayne Johnson called the past friction a "family argument." That argument ended with the $1.8-billion boost, along with legislation raising teacher retirement by $11.5 billion and last week's agreement by Davis to pay more than $500 million to school districts to settle a decade-old lawsuit over special education funding.

Johnson lauded Davis for his high-profile opposition to another measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, Proposition 38, which would provide tax-supported vouchers for parents to use for private school tuition. The union has spent almost $20 million to defeat the voucher measure.

"Obviously, you've got a governor who supports public education and teachers," Johnson said. "It's a relationship based on the power of both sides. He's a very powerful man, and we're a relatively powerful organization."

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