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Huerta Named to UC Board

Farm labor activist gets post in exchange for a key lawmaker's support of a Davis appointee.

September 10, 2003|Carl Ingram | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Dolores Huerta, an agricultural laborer who with Cesar Chavez became an international icon of the movement to unionize farm workers, was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday to the Board of Regents of the University of California.

The action came abruptly after a remarkable political showdown with a fellow Democrat.

Davis agreed to nominate Huerta to a term that will end in March in exchange for assurance that a state senator would not derail his re-nomination of prominent Los Angeles broadcast executive Norman J. Pattiz, a generous campaign contributor, to a full 12-year term on the board.

Huerta, 73, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and trusted confidant of Chavez during the often-violent farm labor strikes in California during the 1970s, has long been an accomplished and effective feminist role model.

Davis agreed to appoint Huerta if Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) would drop her opposition to Pattiz and allow the Senate Rules Committee to approve his appointment to a new term.

As the swing vote on the committee of three Democrats and two Republicans, Romero on Monday had signaled that she intended to block Pattiz's approval, charging that he was a white, wealthy man who did not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of California.

"You look at that list of regents, it's like a who's who of donors in California," Romero told a reporter. "It is like a who's who of wealthy white men in California."

Pattiz lives in Culver City and is chairman of Westwood One, the nation's largest radio network. He is a major donor to national and California Democrats, giving Davis at least $220,000 since 1999, including a recent donation of $100,000 to the governor's campaign to fight the recall election he faces Oct. 7.

Davis first appointed Pattiz in 2001 to an unexpired term that will end in March. It was to this five-month term that Davis appointed Huerta -- who as a lobbyist in a flannel shirt, denims and field boots, aggressively lobbied the Legislature to pass the UFW-backed Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which enabled farm workers to cast secret ballots at union representation elections. For several years, the law was credited with bringing peace to California's fields and orchards.

Huerta suffered a nearly fatal spleen injury in 1988 at a demonstration in San Francisco when police in riot gear clashed with protesters opposed to an appearance by then-Vice President George Bush. More recently, she battled a serious illness from which she has recovered.

"She pulled herself through by inner strength," Romero said after the deal with the governor was assured Tuesday.

After a day of back and forth negotiations with Romero, Davis administration officials issued a news release announcing the appointment shortly after 5 p.m.

The Board of Regents, historically one of the most respected and powerful agencies in California, consists of 26 members, 18 of whom are appointed. Five of the current 18 appointed members are African Americans or Latinos; there is one Asian American.

Romero said Tuesday that she had repeatedly stressed to Davis and to his staff the need to appoint more minority group members to important government positions, but had gotten no satisfaction.

In addition, Romero charged that Davis and Pattiz sought to "game the system" to give Pattiz a term on the UC board that would end in 2014, a term far longer than Davis would have whether he is recalled or not.

Pattiz said he resigned last week from his first term to accept appointment to the full 12-year term in what a Davis spokesman called a "shuffle" that did not merit a public announcement by the governor's office. The spokesman and Pattiz both denied any gaming.

"There was a full term available and I was appointed to it," Pattiz said from Washington. "I don't see how that is gaming the system."

He declined to respond to Romero's charge that he was less qualified because of his gender, race and income. "I am who I am. I've been a supporter of the Democratic Party for 30 years. I make no apologies for being successful."

But he said he was surprised Monday when Romero said she intended not to vote for him, although the two agreed on most issues facing UC. She told him that it was "not personal."

Pattiz said he can continue to serve as an unconfirmed regent until next September, but indicated that he believed that the fight over his appointment was not finished.

Several hours later, Romero let it be known to Davis that she was open to changing her mind about Pattiz, provided the governor gave favorable consideration to Huerta's appointment.

In the interview, Romero suggested that a vote in favor of Pattiz would be "appropriate" at some point in the future if Davis moved to improve the diversity of the regents.

Romero, who Pattiz said had voted to confirm him in 2001, found herself in the position of being able to exert unusual influence on the governor because she represented the swing vote on the five-member Rules Committee. The two GOP members recently announced that they would vote for no Davis appointee to a fixed term that went beyond Oct. 7.

She said that she told Senate leader John Burton of San Francisco, chairman of the committee, of her decisions and that "John said OK. He understood."

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