California governor is stubborn or resolute, depending on viewer
California's amiable, yet unflinching, governor, George Deukmejian, has wrestled a state deficit of Herculean proportions into the black, just as he said he would.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
He did it by drawing a hard line and not crossing it.
Not a political animal, by all accounts, Mr. Deukmejian has little taste for back-room bargainmaking and horse-trading. He is stubborn or resolute, according to one's viewpoint - either way, an immovable object. And on the big battle of his first year in office, he has triumphed.
Very little backslapping was done in the process.
The pattern was set early. At a major meeting, the governor sat mostly silent behind his desk, letting his aides present his plan for the California budget.
After half an hour, the Democrats in the office grew restless, beginning to conclude they had been seated for a briefing, rather than invited to a parley. State Sen. Alfred Alquist, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, grew so frustrated he stood up and walked out.
That was last January, Deukmejian's first month in office. And that is about how feelings have run ever since between the Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature.
But the soft-spoken governor has, by and large, had his way.
He has drawn a firestorm of epithets in the process. Embittered Democrats in the Legislature call him ideologue, intransigent, arrogant, high-handed, even contemptuous. He has them wistfully singing the praises of his Republican predecessor, Ronald Reagan, by comparison.
''I've never seen an administration come to a quicker impasse with the Legislature than this one,'' says a longtime lobbyist for private industry. ''Nobody won. Everything came to a grinding halt.''
''It's been a rough year for everybody,'' says Margaret Herman, Sacramento lobbyist for the League of Women Voters.
The governor himself - stolid, unflappable - takes it all as a matter of course.
''First, I don't agree that I am stubborn, but if that's the worst that they can say about me, that's not bad,'' he says, adding: ''I don't know what they expected us to do other than to try to achieve what we said we were going to do during the campaign.''
The controversy is natural, he explains in his measured tone. It's the results that count. ''And I would say that even some of our critics probably grudgingly admire the fact that we were able to solve the major fiscal problem that the state confronted, probably the most severe financial problem . . . maybe since World War II . . . without digging deeper into the pockets of the taxpayer.''
California came within hours of insolvency last spring. The state had already printed IOUs to send to employees instead of paychecks, when the Legislature agreed to the governor's financing plan.
Fending off all challengers, he held a hard line against spending, hiring, and adding new taxes. Now the state is paying off a $1.5 billion deficit inherited from last year and is expected to finish this fiscal year in the black.
Governor Deukmejian speaks with the pride of accomplishment. ''For the first time in five years in this state we're going to be living within our means,'' he says. ''For the first time in many, many years - eight years, I guess - the size of government has not increased.''
His only frustration, he says now, was that it all had to be so hard-fought. ''We achieved virtually everything we set out to achieve. I guess the frustrating part was that some people made it extremely difficult to do that.''
California Democrats, Deukmejian explains, had grown accustomed to the loose rule of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. Coping with a goal-oriented Republican in the governor's office has been a hard adjustment for them. Deukmejian's regret is that they couldn't ''appreciate or realize that we were going to do what we said we were going to do.''
The Democrats themselves say they had much more to adjust to than just a new party in the state's executive suite. They found the Deukmejian strategy infuriating. And that, they say, is why the governor didn't get much of what he wanted apart from the budget - and won't.