Editorial: The Incremental Governor

Published on

The San Francisco Chronicle

He helped the downtrodden, he hurt the downtrodden. He protected public health in some ways and neglected it in others. He was bold and he was wimpy.

In the hours leading up to a midnight deadline to sign or veto legislation, Gov. Gray Davis lived up to his reputation as an avowed incrementalist.

On the plus side, Davis risked the wrath of the powerful agriculture industry Monday by signing legislation that will give farm laborers a right to mandatory mediation in cases where contract negotiations with growers have stalled. The fact is, many growers’ refusal to negotiate with the United Farm Workers has effectively scuttled the workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages or better working conditions. The signing of SB1156 and AB2596 will impose a level of fair play in the dispute.

However, the governor vetoed another priority for Latino legislators, AB60, which would have set up a program for some illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Proponents argued, quite sensibly, that our roadways would be safer if immigrants in the process of applying for legal residency were required to undergo driving tests and carry insurance. But Davis was not satisfied with the security protections in the bill, even though it was amended heavily to meet his concerns: He wanted even stronger checks on employment status and criminal background.

While taking bows for his approval of the UFW bill, Davis gave a hard slap to the concept of basic civil rights in his veto of SB1538, by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco. The bill would have prohibited employers from forcing their workers to take any civil-rights grievances to an employer-selected arbitrator — instead of the state Fair Employment and Housing Commission — as a condition of getting a job. These cases typically involve low-paid workers with discrimination cases related to race, gender, disability, age or religion. It was a narrowly drawn bill, designed to protect a modest legal recourse for the powerless.

Davis may have left them angry, but these workers might want to think twice before taking to the streets against the governor. He vetoed a bill that would have dramatically decreased the penalties (to no more than a $100 fine and two days in jail) for nonviolent political protests.

Meanwhile, corporate executives can breathe easier now that Davis has vetoed SB1452, by Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier. Her bill would have set up a hot line for anonymous tips about corporate misbehavior and established fines of up to $100,000 for executives who knowingly fail to report illegal business activity.

The governor vetoed another major arbitration reform bill, by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, that would have allowed individuals to reject an arbitrator that had been handpicked by a corporation involved in a grievance. He did, however, sign a significant reform bill by Assemblywoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, that will require arbitration firms to disclose other cases they handled.

The environment took a double hit with the governor’s veto of legislation to add a $10 surcharge to computers to address the growing burden of tech- related waste and his veto of legislation to ban the disposal of materials with even a trace of radioactivity. His rejection of those measures was a great disappointment, after his earlier signing of a landmark bill to regulate greenhouse gases.

He also vetoed legislation (supported by many respected public health officials) that would have allowed pharmacies to sell clean needles and syringes. And Davis rejected a bill that would have enhanced the ability of Indian tribes to protect sacred sites from development.

Davis saved some of his toughest decisions for the 11th hour. The preceding weeks had been marked by his high-profile signings of widely popular measures, such as paid family leave, a ban on “junk” faxes and forced DNA testing of inmates.

The flurry of last-minute signings and vetoes reduced the chance that any single action would dominate the news. For anyone almost anywhere on the political spectrum, it was a blend of satisfaction and disappointment.

It was almost a microcosm of this governor’s tenure.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdoghttps://consumerwatchdog.org
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