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Add Fiery Regent and Stir the Board

Labor icon Dolores Huerta, named by Gov. Davis, will stand out in a staid group.

September 12, 2003|Rebecca Trounson, Carl Ingram and Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writers

In July 1995, Dolores Huerta stood alongside Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders before the University of California's Board of Regents, singing protest songs and loudly denouncing the board's decision to abolish affirmative action.

Next week, Huerta, the well-known farm worker activist and Cesar Chavez associate, will take her place on the other side of the velvet ropes that separate the prestigious board from the occasionally raucous public they serve. Huerta confessed laughingly that she might sometimes be tempted to rejoin the protesters, rather than remain in her comfortable seat at the table.

"I'm an activist, right?" she said. "That's what I do."

The presence of Huerta, a 73-year-old Latina with a commanding presence and take-no-prisoners style, is likely to send a jolt through a body that has been largely dominated by wealthy white men and deep-pockets political contributors to sitting governors.

This week, Huerta was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to a six-month term. She could be reappointed to a full 12-year term by Davis or a successor if Davis loses the recall election Oct 7.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 13, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
UC regent -- An article in Friday's California section about the appointment of farm labor activist Dolores Huerta as a University of California regent misstated the party affiliation of former regent Bill Bagley. A former state legislator, Bagley is a Republican, not a Democrat.

The sudden appointment came about only after a political showdown engineered by state Sen. Gloria Romero. Romero objected to the reappointment of a generous Davis political donor, Norman J. Pattiz, saying she had repeatedly urged the governor to appoint more members of minority groups and women.

Romero (D-Los Angeles) had threatened to derail Davis' renomination of Pattiz, a Los Angeles broadcast executive, but on Tuesday dropped her opposition when the governor also agreed to name Huerta, an international hero of the labor movement and the mother of 11 children. Huerta is to complete the term of Pattiz, who, in turn, was appointed to a full 12-year term on the board -- a post that had been vacant for more than a year.

Supporters are anticipating Huerta's tenure with delight, saying the fiery labor leader will shake up the board and provide a strong voice for low-income students and unionized workers.

Some, like longtime friend and fellow activist Fred Ross Jr., were relishing the thought of meetings featuring both Huerta and Ward Connerly, an outspoken opponent of affirmative action.

"She will be an outstanding representative for the disenfranchised, the sons and daughters of farm workers and the urban poor, and a tireless advocate for diversity in the university," said Ross, who worked with Huerta in the early years of the United Farm Workers of America union. "Ward Connerly isn't going to know what hit him."

Connerly chuckled a little at the thought of going toe-to-toe with Huerta but said he thought he could hold his own. Referring to a liberal Democrat who was a regent previously, he said, "If I can survive Bill Bagley, I can certainly survive her."

He said he welcomed the union leader's selection but considered it "unconventional." "Regents are typically people who have a history of working within the system," he said. "Regent Huerta ... throughout her history has stood outside, throwing rocks at the system."

Connerly said he identified with Huerta to the extent that he sometimes likes to "shake up" the system as well -- from the conservative side. He is, for example, the sponsor of a controversial initiative on the Oct. 7 ballot that would limit the state's collection and use of racial or ethnic data.

Connerly took aim at Davis, however, saying Huerta's appointment had been strongly influenced by political considerations, as the embattled governor seeks to strengthen his support among key Democratic constituencies -- especially Latinos. While Connerly acknowledged that governors are often influenced by politics in making appointments, he said Huerta's selection "is probably more heavily influenced by those considerations than most."

Some analysts had a similar take, particularly since one of those vying to replace Davis, should he be recalled, is Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a Latino from the agricultural Central Valley.

"This is an election in which Gray Davis needs to mobilize organized labor, and make sure that Latino voters vote 'no' on recall," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "An appointment such as this is a signal to Latinos that they have an ally in the current governor."

On Thursday, after Huerta and Pattiz were rapidly confirmed by a 25-5 party-line vote in the state Senate, Republicans were careful to avoid criticizing Huerta but privately complained about the governor's decision to appoint her at the 11th hour, for what they deemed political reasons.

They also charged that Pattiz's appointment appeared to be a reward for the broadcast executive's donations. Pattiz, chairman of Westwood One, the nation's largest radio network, is a major donor to national and California Democrats. He has given Davis at least $220,000 since 1999, including a recent donation of $100,000 to the governor's campaign to fight the recall effort.

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