SACRAMENTO (Reuters) – Gray Davis was sworn in as California’s first Democratic governor in 16 years Monday and he promised a new deal for America’s richest and most populous state.
"Today we begin a new chapter in the history of California–the era of higher expectations,” Davis said–giving a victory punch into the air to the applause of hundreds of the state’s Democratic party elite.
"The November elections demonstrated that Californians are essentially moderate–pragmatic people," said Davis. "I will govern neither from the right or the left–but from the center–propelled not by ideology–but by common sense that seeks better results for all of us."
Davis–who easily defeated Republican state Attorney General Dan Lungren in November’s mid-term elections–promised to hold fast to the centrist platform favored by California’s socially liberal but fiscally conservative middle class.
He also declared that he would whip the nation’s largest public school system into shape with a program of "lasting values–new directions" designed to reverse years of financial neglect and sliding test scores.
Davis’ November victory put Democrats firmly in control of a state often described as the world’s seventh largest economy–where Democrats already control the state legislature.
It also will give him a key role when California begins to redraw its political boundaries after the 2000 census – an exercise which could help to determine the balance of power in Washington for years to come.
In electing Davis–California voters knew they were getting something far less flashy than the state’s last Democratic governor – maverick dreamer Jerry Brown–who began a new chapter in his own unusual political career Monday by taking office as mayor of Oakland. They also turned their backs on ultra-rich candidates who had sought to win voters’ hearts by spending millions of dollars of their own money on ill-fated primary campaigns.
Former airline mogul Al Checchi and millionaire congresswoman Jane Harman between them spent close to $60 million on their Democratic gubernatorial bids–but in the end left the field to Davis–a career politician who as lieutenant governor bragged that he had "experience money can’t buy." The centerpiece of Davis’ campaign was education–and in his inaugural address the Vietnam veteran–only the fourth Democrat to occupy the California state house this century–promised to focus his efforts on schools. "I say–enough is enough. The time has come to restore California’s public schools to greatness," Davis said.
Vice President Al Gore–whom the bland Davis once described as "my charisma advisor,” attended the inauguration–possibly hoping for strong California backing for his prospective presidential bid.
On Wednesday–Davis is scheduled to deliver his first State of the State speech which should include blueprints for implementing many of his proposals–and on Friday he will present his first state budget–which is expected to include a $3 billion deficit.
Davis was among candidates endorsed by the Armenian National Committee of America in the 1998 mid-term elections.