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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Governor Davis and Civics 101

It is remarkable how someone like Gray Davis can be elected Governor of California without knowing the basic elements of Civics 101.

Yes, Governor, our state and federal governments are divided into three branches — the legislative, executive and judicial branches. They were designed both to balance one another’s excesses and to perform functions unique to their design, according to state and federal constitutions.
Now comes Gray Davis’ Civics 101. Last year, in a typical fit of public temper, he told the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board that the state legislature’s job is “to implement my vision.” Davis declared he was elected on a platform and the legislative should take his marching orders, because only he was elected on a statewide basis. Davis was roundly criticized for this imperviousness by commentators and in editorials around the state.

No matter. A few days ago, at a meeting of state governors, Davis turned his attention to the judges. He said that the judges he appoints “should reflect my views. They are not there to be independent agents — they are there to reflect the sentiments that I expressed during the campaign.”

And what if they arrive at an opposite position, he was asked? Davis quickly replied: “they shouldn’t be a judge. They should resign.” The “sentiments” that Governor Davis mentioned were his position in favor of abortion rights and individual (not corporate) capital punishment and his opposition to same-sex civil partnerships.

Reporters, listening to Davis demand that all three branches of government come under the Governor’s domain, rushed to their phones for scholarly comments. University of Southern California, Erwin Chemerinsky, declared: “That’s outrageous. A judge is not a Cabinet member who is there to carry out a governor’s or a president’s policies.”

The Associated Press also called Berkeley Law Professor, Stephen Barrett, who described Gray Davis’ comments as “bizarre,” adding that judges frequently must rule against majorities and on the facts of specific cases.

Senate President John Burton (D) told AP that the Governor “doesn’t support an independent legislature, so why should he support an independent Judiciary. It’s consistent with his view that the other two branches are irrelevant.”

Davis is no novice. He was chief of staff for Governor Jerry Brown in the Seventies where, according to his colleagues, he began laying the groundwork for his political career. Later he was elected to the statelegislature and then won the Lt. Governorship under Republican Governor Pete Wilson.

As Governor, he immediately started shaking the business money tree. In a frenzy of political fundraising right after he was elected, the money poured into his coffers at the rate of $1 million a month!

Recently, he stepped up his conference calls urging powerful corporate interest groups in the insurance, utility and banking circles to contribute big dollars to oppose Proposition 25 which would set some limits on the “skies the limit” cash register politics that now prevails. It did not seem to bother the Governor that some of these same corporate interests were funding a campaign against Propositions 30 and 31 to overturn auto insurance reforms he signed last year.

During his telephone calls, the Governor warned the business lobbyists that if Prop 25 passes, it will make it easier for consumer and other citizen groups to win ballot initiatives against them. Yuk! For this, Democrats waited sixteen years to elect one of their own as Governor.

There was once a report on a poll of high school students which found that more of them knew the names of the Three Stooges then of the three branches of government. It is an open question whether Governor Davis of California knows more about stooges than about the historic separation of powers within our state governments.