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Gray Davis

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Gray Davis
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Gray Davis

Joseph Graham Davis Jr. (born December 26, 1942), best known as Gray Davis, was an American politician who served as 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. He was succeeded by Republican Arnold A. Schwarzenegger on November 17, 2003 (see 2003 California recall). He is a member of the Democratic Party.

Contents

Personal background

Born in New York, New York, Davis moved to California with his family as a child in 1954. He graduated from a North Hollywood military academy, the Harvard School for Boys (now part of Harvard-Westlake School). He earned a A.B. in history at Stanford University in 1964, 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 Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. from 1974 to 1981, as Assemblyman from the 43rd district (Los Angeles County) from 1983 to 1987, then as State Controller until 1995. He was Lieutenant Governor until 1999, after winning the 1998 election for Governor with 57.97% of the vote, defeating Republican Dan Lungren who had 38.4%.

Governorship

With his political successes, he was strongly viewed as a possible Democratic candidate for President in either 2000 or 2004. The energy crisis of 2001 and budget deficit of 2003 hurt his reputation, and any talk of Presidential candidacy completely evaporated.

His early administration focused on balancing the state budget and education reform. An electricity shortage and rolling blackouts in the summer of 2001 contributed to massive state debt — and widespread grumbling about Davis's administration — as California chose to negotiate unfavorable long-term contracts with power suppliers in neighboring states. Few other solutions were available to the state during the blackouts other than to let electricity rates continue to rise. In areas where this occurred consumer electricity rates rose up to 300%. To his credit though, the Davis administration licensed the first power plant construction in 12 years in April 1999 shortly after assuming office. That plant came online in June 2001.

Davis's popularity recovered somewhat months later as the crisis subsided and popular blame for the shortage was assigned in part to alleged 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 continuing to raise spending in the state budget while revenues were dropping.

Davis had claimed that he would remove MTBE (a toxic gasoline additive) from the state's gas. A year later he said, "Well, we wait a couple of years before we remove it." It never happened. Oil companies paid much of his re-election expenses.

During the 2002 election campaign, Davis took the unusual step of taking out campaign ads during the Republican primaries questioning the conservative credentials of Los Angeles mayor, Richard Riordan. Davis knew that, as a moderate, Riordan would 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's.

This strategy succeeded, and Davis was re-elected in November 2002 following a long and bitter campaign against Republican candidate Bill Simon, marked by accusations of ethical lapses on both sides and widespread voter apathy. He gained re-election with 47.4% of the vote to Simon's 42.4%.

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, at the start 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 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.

Recall

Missing image
BushCAGovs.jpg
Governor-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, President 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. While other California governors, including Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Sr., Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and Pete Wilson, had faced recall attempts, none of those attempts was successful at forcing a recall election. The recall of Davis was successful at forcing a special election and also at making 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 U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican 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. On October 7, 2003, Davis was recalled with 55.4% of the votes in favoring of the recall, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected to replace him as governor.

For more information see: 2003 California recall

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 as himself on CBS sitcom Yes, Dear. In December 2004 he announced that he was joining the law firm of Loeb & Loeb. He seemed to have put politics behind him. In his words: "A lot of positive things happened, but that chapter of my life is over."

External links

News articles


Preceded by:
Peter B. Wilson
Governor of California
19992003
Succeeded by:
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Preceded by:
Leo T. McCarthy
Lieutenant Governor of California
19951999
Succeeded by:
Cruz Bustamante
Preceded by:
Kenneth Cory
California State Controller
19871995
Succeeded by:
Kathleen Connell

Template:End boxde:Gray Davis fr:Gray Davis

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