- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Millions of Californians have elected Gov. Gray Davis to statewide office five times, including twice as governor, but they probably don’t even know that his real name is Joe or where he lives when he isn’t in Sacramento.

Joseph Graham “Gray” Davis has shaped California policy for almost 30 years, but he remains an enigma to voters even as he faces an unprecedented recall election on Oct. 7.

That mystery, created by his detached style and often rigid personality, helps explain why the 60-year-old New York City native could be the nation’s first governor to be recalled in 82 years.

“I don’t know anyone who says they know him well,” said Larry Berg, founding director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. Even political allies say that while they share many goals, they have no real relationship with the governor.

Mr. Davis has said he’s no “rock star” as governor, just someone who would “get the job done.”

But his ability to get the job done was in doubt to the more than 1.3 million voters whose petition signatures put the recall on the ballot.

Analysts say many of Mr. Davis’ problems were caused by forces beyond his control, including the electric-power crisis of 2000-2001, the recession and the implosion of the state’s high-tech industry. All combined to create the nation’s largest state-budget deficit, which could reach $38.2 billion by next July.

Those troubles, his critics said, demand the bold leadership that Mr. Davis lacks.

He’s known as a micromanager, often quibbling over wording deep in a press release, and as a fitness fanatic. Each day he rises to work out on a treadmill or stationary bike and he eats the same midday meal of a turkey sandwich — no mayo — and steamed broccoli.

He developed that personal discipline after a difficult childhood. His late father, an advertising salesman, was an alcoholic and eventually left his mother for another woman.

After serving in the Army during the Vietnam War, winning a Bronze Star, and graduating from Stanford University and Columbia Law School, he lost a bid for the 1974 Democratic nomination for state treasurer and then became Gov. Jerry Brown’s chief of staff.

When Mr. Brown, California’s “Governor Moonbeam,” left office in 1982, Mr. Davis was elected to a state Assembly seat from the Beverly Hills area. He still keeps a 1,000-square-foot condo in nearby West Hollywood. After two terms, he was elected state controller for two terms and then lieutenant governor.

Few believed he could win when he ran for governor in 1998, but then Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, decided not to run. Mr. Davis’ two Democratic rivals spent millions attacking each other while he sailed past them to the nomination. That November he beat Attorney General Dan Lungren, a conservative Republican, with 58 percent of the vote.

When Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a centrist Republican, ran for governor last year, Mr. Davis bought TV ads that attacked Mr. Riordan on abortion and crime. Conservative businessman Bill Simon won the nomination, only to lose to Mr. Davis in November.

Mr. Davis has rarely ignited voter passion, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a USC political scientist.

“He doesn’t feel our pain the way Bill Clinton did,” she said. “Throughout his political career he hasn’t built relationships outside of those he has with his contributors. He doesn’t reach out.”

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