The Coastal Post - June, 1998

Changing Attitudes In Governor's Race

By Karen Nakamura

California is at a crossroads. Are we going to go forward with democratic diversity, or will the multi-national corporations' mindset rule our lives?

Using the May 12 governor's debate as a basis, let's look at how the candidates for governor responded to issues affecting the average citizen. This was a Democrat debate that tacked on Republican Dan Lungren. The point is, answers were geared to a Democrat constituency.

One attitude change was the candidates spoke passionately about the need for children to be bilingual. That benefit was rarely mentioned a couple of months ago, but is now a must-mention.

This issue is directly related to Prop. 227, the "one size fits all," "sink or swim" immersion initiative that could lock children into poverty and unrealized potential by throwing them unprepared into an incomprehensible system.

Other signs that signal political change:

Vouchers were basically seen as a drain on a school system that needs rebuilding. Supporting the public school system is also a recent broad-based development. People are starting to see that sending 20,000 kids to private schools isn't going to help the other million or so.

Grey Davis wants big pay hikes for teachers, saying salaries aren't enough to attract qualified teachers. He suggested scholarships and forgiving of college loans to those entering the teaching profession.

He wanted a guarantee that the top 10 percent of graduates from every high school would be assured of college placement in the California system. The other candidates appeared to side with the current consensus of four percent. That there's even a consensus is a heartening development. It seems to be the Democrats way around Prop. 209, which has caused such devastation in minority education. A percent of kids graduating from schools in East LA would get in just like kids from Tiburon.

Jane Harmon wanted renter tax credits revived along with child care credits. Al Checchi would appoint regents who consider diversity a quality education. Davis mentioned Brown several times, obviously reaching for the usually ignored liberal voters.

In contrast, and as the reader would expect, when the subject turned to crime and prisons, Lungren went into his tough-cop stance, one not always in step with current community policing techniques.

Harmon said, yes, she was for Three Strikes, and the entire tough-on-crime package, but at the same time wondered if the state could build enough prisons to house a generation of children.

All of this was standard Democrat fare. Each candidate merely voiced much-discussed positions as if they were his/her own invention. For example, Checchi spoke of the need for drug courts (maybe original), early intervention, lengthening the school day and increasing after-school programs. That all the Democrat candidates basically agreed on these points says something.

An insightful moment came when candidates were asked about using the office as a stepping-stone to Washington.

Harmon replied she was leaving Washington to come back home and send her children to a public school (thrown in like a good trooper). Lungren said he could have gone in that direction, but choose to stay in California. Davis said it's taken him 23 years to move 15 feet from the Chief of Staff's desk to the Governor's, and he wasn't going anywhere.

Checchi tried to avoid the question, hedging and hawing. When called on it by a panel member, "So, we take it your answer is Yes?" Checchi answered, "I never leave a job uncompleted."

In closing, Davis thanked Delores Huerta and the unions for backing him. Jane Harmon went personal and said taking 23 years to move 15 feet was too long and the state needed a "bolder approach." Then she threw in a plug for the woman's vote, which fell flat. The state needed a change from the old macho approach to the more measured, sensible approach of women. Checchi plugged his "rich guy with a soul" stance.

Most amazing was Lungren who pleaded, "Why can't we just say who we are and what we stand for... Why don't we... march together...'cause that's what California is all about." How Rodney King.

One factor became clear when Davis mentioned Dolores Huerta. On all the subjects covered, Grey Davis had the backing of the majority of those directly affected.

True, he and Dan Lungren share the backing of law enforcement organizations, but Davis' years of coalition building may be paying off. Only Dan Lungren comes even close.

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