Gray Davis Biography
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Gray Davis Biography  

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Joseph Graham Davis Jr. (born December 26, 1942), better known as Gray Davis, is an United States politician who served as the Chief of Staff to Governor Jerry Brown (1974-1981), a California State Assemblyman (1983-1987), the California State Controller (1987-1995), the Lieutenant Governor of California (1995-1999), and the 37th Governor of California from 1999 to 2003. He was re-elected to a second term in 2002, but on October 7, 2003, he became the second governor to be recalled in American history. Davis, a United States Democratic Party, was succeeded by United States Republican Party Arnold Schwarzenegger on November 17, 2003 after a 2003 California recall.
Personal background

Born in New York City, Davis moved to California with his family as a child in 1954. He graduated from a North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California military academy, the Harvard School for Boys (now part of Harvard-Westlake School). He earned a Bachelor of Arts in history at Stanford University, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, graduating in 1964. He then returned to New York to attend Columbia Law School. After completing the program in 1967 he entered active duty in the United States Army, serving in the Vietnam War until 1969. Davis returned to California and entered politics, serving as Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff to Governor Jerry Brown from 1974 to 1981. He met his future wife, the former Sharon Ryer, while on an airplane tending to official business in 1978. Ryer, a flight attendant for Pacific Southwest Airlines, was miffed when Davis held up the departure of the flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles. Davis apologized and asked her out, and they later married in 1983, with California Supreme Court justice Rose Bird officiating. He was elected to the office of California State Assembly from the 43rd district (Los Angeles County, California) from 1983 to 1987, then as California State Controller until 1995. He was Lieutenant Governor of California until 1999, and won the 1998 election for Governor with 57.9% of the vote, defeating Republican Dan Lungren who had 38.4%.

The Davis administration focused on balancing the state budget and education reform--the state had slipped to near the level of Mississippi and Alabama in per-capita per-student spending under the previous governor Pete Wilson. Davis' first act as Governor was to order a special session of the legislature, in which he successfully passed four of his educational initiatives. AB 1X established the Teacher Peer Assistance and Review program. AB 2X created an intensive reading instruction program for students in kindergarten through 4th grade. SB 1X created the Academic Performance Index to measure the academic performance of students. SB 2X required students to pass an exit exam in order to graduate from high school. As part of these four measures, his administration created Reading Academies for elementary school students and Professional Development Institutes to train the state's teachers. By the end of his administration, over 100,000 teachers were being trained by the institutes, which included a curiculum designed by the University of California and California State University systems. Davis' initiatives were triggering great improvements in the elementary and high school levels, but not in the state's middle schools; consequently, he proposed extending the school year for middle school an additional 30 days. This proposal was voluntary, however he provided financial incentives to those school districts which abided by the proposal. The efforts of his administration also resulted in 15,000 new teachers, improved test scores, training for over 100,000 educators, national board certification for 1300 more teachers, and increased incentives, grants, and financial aid opportunities for students seeking a college education at UC, CSU, or community college campuses. In addition to education, his administration passed major HMO reform, creating the Department of Managed Health Care, worked to protect senior citizens by training conservators, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and improving the conditions of nursing homes, and increased the amount of children being insured by the state's Healthy Families program from 30,000 when he took office to over 375,000 children. He also worked to enable parents to be covered by the Healthy Families program. His administration worked to provide services to the state's veterans and built five more veterans' homes. In the area of environmental protection, Gray Davis signed the Headwaters Agreement to save the 7,500-acre ancient redwood forest in Humboldt County, an agreement largely negotiated by United States Senator Dianne Feinstein. He issued an executive order directing state agencies to begin the process of phasing out the fuel additive MTBE from California's gasoline supply by December 31, 2002, was opposed to offshore oil drilling, and claimed to have protected over 500,000 acres of open land. Davis invested funds in transportation and the state's infrastructure and supported the idea of a state-wide high speed rail network, yet to be built. Gray Davis viewed public safety as a pivotal issue, and at the end of his administration, could claim an additional 3000 police officers and a general state-wide decline in crime. He was a major proponent of gun control, enacting legislation to limit the number of handguns an individual can purchase to one per month, ban the manufacture, importation, or sale of unsafe handguns that do not meet basic safety standards similar to those set by national standards, often called "Saturday Night Specials," require all firearms sold or manufactured in California to be accompanied by a childproof safety device, or "trigger lock," and legislation that strengthens gun-show promotion and licensing regulations. He also signed into law a major Assualt Weapons Ban, similar to the federal ban passed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and issued an Executive Order prohibiting state agencies from selling or transferring guns, taking California out of the gun business. Gray Davis embarked on trade missions to Israel, the Middle East, and all throughout Europe. He also renewed and greatly improved California's relationship with Mexico, making Mexico California's largest trade partner. During Davis' administration, California's economy moved from being the seventh largest in the world to the fifth largest in the world, bypassing the nations of Italy and France, and added 900,000 new jobs to the state. With successes in education, health care, the environment and infrastructure, public safety, and economic expansion, Davis was strongly viewed as a possible Democratic candidate for President of the United States in either 2000 or 2004. However, the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001 and budget deficit of 2003 hurt his reputation, and talk of his putative Presidential candidacy quickly evaporated. Energy problems soon came to dominate his agenda. As a result of bipartisan energy deregulation signed into law by Pete Wilson, electrical power companies were no longer responsible for meeting the overall electricity needs of the state; instead, they would act as independent players in a newly created energy trading market. The law also eliminated the long term power contracts that utilities used to hedge the long term costs of power plant construction. Soon after taking office, Davis was able to fast-track the first power plant construction in twelve years in April 1999, but the plant did not come on line in time to avert a crisis--if, indeed, lack of in-state production capacity was at all responsible for the crisis. California's power companies were bankrupted by the unusual provisions of the law which required them to buy power at unregulated wholesale prices while selling it at regulated retail prices to consumers. Significant energy price increases began in May 2000. Rolling blackouts affecting 97,000 customers hit the San Francisco Bay area on June 14, 2000, and San Diego Gas & Electric Company filed a complaint alleging market manipulation in August 2000. On December 7, 2000, suffering from low supply and idled power plants, the California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the California power grid, declared the first statewide Stage 3 power alert, meaning power reserves were below 3 percent. Rolling blackouts were avoided when the state halted two large state and federal water pumps to conserve electricity. On December 15, 2000, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejected a wholesale rate cap for California, instead approving a "flexible cap" plan of $150 per megawatt-hour. That day, California was paying wholesale prices of over $1400 per megawatt, compared to $45 per megawatt average one year earlier. By January 2001, speculators, led by Enron Corporation, were collectively making large profits while the state teetered on the edge for weeks, and finally suffered rolling blackouts January 17-18. Davis was forced to step in to buy power at highly unfavorable terms on the open market, since the California power companies were technically bankruptcy and had no buying power. In addition, some of Davis' energy advisors were formerly employed by the same energy speculators who made millions from the crisis. The resulting massive long term debt obligations added to the state budget crisis and led to widespread grumbling about Davis' administration. Davis' popularity recovered somewhat months later as the crisis subsided and popular blame for the shortage was assigned in part to market manipulation by companies such as Enron, though his buckling to the resultant price-gouging remained a negative factor in his 2002 re-election bid. Davis was also criticized for allowing state spending to increase, taking advantage of a temporary surge in revenues associated with the short-lived dot-com boom. When the dot-com boom turned to bust, state revenues fell while ongoing spending commitments created deficits that still trouble California's state budget. Davis had claimed that he would remove MTBE (a toxic gasoline additive) from the state's gas. A year later he said, "Well, we'll wait a couple of years before we remove it." However, this never happened.
Re-Election Campaign

During the 2002 election campaign, Davis took the unusual step of taking out campaign ads during the Republican primary election questioning the conservative credentials of Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan. Davis theorized that, as a moderate, Riordan could be a more formidable challenger in the general election than a conservative candidate and sought to eliminate him in the primaries. The ads pointed out that Riordan held positions on issues such as gun control and abortion that were similar to Davis'. The ads even pointed out Riordan's undecided stance on the death penalty as being to the left of Gray Davis, who strongly supported it. This strategy succeeded as planned. Riordan was in fact defeated in the Republican primary by the more staunchly conservative candidate Bill Simon. And then Davis was re-elected in the November 2002 general election following a long and bitter campaign against Simon, marked by accusations of ethical lapses on both sides and widespread voter apathy. Davis gained re-election with 47.4% of the vote to Simon's 42.4%. However, the Simon-Davis race led in the lowest turnout percentage in modern gubernatorial history, allowing a lower than normal amount of signatures required for a recall. A memorable footnote to the race was that both Davis and Simon were brothers of the Zeta Psi fraternity (Davis at Stanford, Simon at Williams) and that Davis followed the gubernatorial term of another Zeta Psi brother Pete Wilson of the Yale chapter.
Job approval history

Just after Davis entered office he enjoyed a 54% approval rating and just 15% disapproval (in March 1999). His numbers peaked in February 2000 with 62% approval and 20% disapproval, coinciding with the peak of the dot-com boom in California. By January 2001, his numbers continued well, but slipped slightly with 57% approval, 34% disapproval. In May 2001, in the middle of the energy crisis, his numbers plunged to 36% approval, 55% disapproval. His numbers recovered slightly over the next year, peaking again in July 2002, this time with 41% approval, 49% disapproval. His numbers remained fairly flat until April 2003 when he had only 24% approval, 65% disapproval. All data was taken from the California Field Poll.
Widespread disapproval

On April 14, 2003, the California Field Poll reported that Davis had a record-low job approval rating of just 24%, the lowest ever recorded in the 55 years of the poll. Voters cited disapproval of the state's record $34.6 billion budget shortfall, growing unemployment, and dubious campaign contributor connections. Davis had tried to maintain a middle-of-the-road approach, but ultimately alienated many of the state's liberals who viewed him as too conservative, and many conservatives who viewed him as too liberal. Many were upset that in trying to balance the budget, Davis cut spending for schools while increasing spending for prisons. Many attributed the proposal to the prison guard union's generous donations to Davis' re-election campaign. Californians were also upset that he did not announce the record budget deficit until after his re-election. Some critics accused Davis of overstating the budget deficit, so he could cut spending and raise taxes beyond what was necessary and then claim victory as California's savior when the deficit cleared up. Additionally, there was widespread angst among his constituency when he granted illegal immigrants driver’s licenses. Widespread negative sentiment was also brewing on talk radio. The top-rated John and Ken Show in Los Angeles called Davis Gumby in response to his changing positions on issues, while Mr. KABC and Al Rantel (also in Los Angeles) coined the term Governor Lowbeam as a reference to his mishandling of the electricity crisis and his term as Chief of Staff for Jerry Brown, who was often mocked as Governor Moonbeam. At the start of 2003, calls began to start a recall petition drive to oust Davis.

image:BushCAGovs.jpg, President of the United States George W. Bush, and Governor Gray Davis speak to firefighters on November 4, 2003. In July 2003, his unpopularity became so great that a campaign to gather a sufficient number of citizen signatures for a recall election of Davis was successful. This constituted the first gubernatorial recall in Californian history, and only the second in U.S. history. The first occurred in North Dakota in 1921. Although other California governors, including Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson, had faced recall attempts, none were successful at forcing a recall election. This effort led to a special election and made Davis the first governor in California history to be recalled. The initial drive for the recall was fueled by funds from the personal fortune of United States House of Representatives Darrell Issa, a United States Republican Party who hoped to replace Davis himself. However, once Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy, the actor's fame forced Issa to give up his hopes and he withdrew his name from the race. Faced with a challenger with formidable name recognition, Davis signed into law several controversial measures, including one granting drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. His efforts were to be futile; on October 7, 2003, Davis was recalled with 55.4% of the votes in favor of the recall, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to replace him as governor.
Life after politics

After leaving public office, Davis appeared on several shows, such as The Tonight Show and The Late Show with David Letterman, as well as a Cameo appearance as himself on CBS sitcom Yes, Dear. In December 2004 he announced that he was joining the law firm of Loeb & Loeb. Davis has also been in the media since being recalled. Aside from the aforementioned television cameos, he has done many news media interviews about his legacy. The debate remains about his legacy and role regarding the energy woes that proved to be his downfall. According to CNN, Davis feels complete vindication because of the revelation that Enron manipulated the California energy market and because of Schwarzenegger's low approval ratings. An August 5, 2005 CNN interview with Davis notes that although Davis has been urged by some Democrats to run for Governor of California again, he says he has no interest in running. Asked about these Democrats' "draft" movement, he told CNN jokingly that, "I'm not running for Governor," he continued, "If I did, my wife would divorce me."

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