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‘Your Day Is Coming,’ Gray Davis Tells Future Policymakers at UCLA Luskin The former governor shares political wisdom from his decades of public service at ‘Today’s Los Angeles,’ an advanced seminar in public policy

By Mary Braswell

Two dozen UCLA Luskin Public Policy students spent just one afternoon with former Gov. Gray Davis, but they came away with nearly half a century’s worth of wisdom and insights gained during his service to California.

The wide-ranging conversation touched on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), cannabis, teacher strikes and those decades — long ago — when California was a red state. To students worried about the role of policymakers in an era when facts are disrespected, Davis had words of encouragement:

“Your day is coming,” he said.

“Every presidential election is a referendum on the incumbent,” he said. Richard Nixon led to Jimmy Carter. George W. Bush led to Barack Obama. And in 2020, Davis predicted, Donald Trump would lead to the anti-Trump — “a more cerebral, more humble and more thoughtful candidate,” quite possibly from the public policy ranks.

“Following Trump, I’m convinced, is one of you sitting in a law library; you’re so modest you don’t even use the word ‘I.’ It’s always ‘we,’ and you’re wearing some cardigan sweater or something,” he said.

Davis’ appearance on April 4, 2018, kicked off “Today’s Los Angeles and the Institutions and Leaders that Make It Work,” an advanced seminar taught by UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs lecturer Zev Yaroslavsky — himself a fixture in Southern California politics. The longtime city councilman and county supervisor is now director of UCLA Luskin’s Los Angeles Initiative, which focuses on the intersection of policy, politics and history in the region.

“You have the opportunity to talk to a governor of California, and there have only been 39 of them,” Yaroslavsky told the class. “He’s had the benefit of governing both in good times and bad times.”

The students took full advantage. One of the budding policymakers sought out Davis’ views on how government can be most effective.

“I believe that the government has to discharge the basic responsibilities of the constitution. They have to keep us safe, they have to keep us together in one union, they have to provide the rules,” Davis said. “But, basically, the dynamism, the excitement, the energy and the money comes from people outside of government.

“Everything that’s ever happened in this country that’s exciting, new, had a big private-sector role.”

With the governor’s race in full swing, one student asked about the most pressing issue California’s next leader will face. Davis’ answer had national scope.

“The biggest problem facing America is disparity of wealth and disparity of opportunity,” he said.

The conundrum that California faces is how to remain at the forefront of innovation without worsening unemployment. The downside of artificial intelligence, robots and other advanced technology is that jobs are put in peril, Davis said.

“What are we going to do with these people who used to have jobs? We need people working,” he said.

“I’m a great believer that we’re all God’s children, we’re all made in his image, and we need to help people reach their potential,” he said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to rise to the same level, but everyone is going to do better.”

Davis posed a challenge to higher education, including the UC system: “Why can’t we take courses online? … This would create more opportunity for people who can’t afford to be in a classroom.”

Davis stepped into the political arena nearly 50 years ago, after a tour in Vietnam. On his journey to the governor’s office, he helped Tom Bradley win election as Los Angeles’ first black mayor in 1973, served as Jerry Brown’s chief of staff during his first term as governor, and was elected state assemblyman, controller and lieutenant governor.

He remains active in the public sphere. As one of four California governors to found the Southern California Leadership Council, Davis advocates for policies focusing on economic vitality, job growth and quality of life in the region.

Davis listed several points of friction between the state and President Trump: “He wants offshore drilling off the California coast. He’s fighting the notion that we’re a sanctuary state. He doesn’t seem to be that enthralled with Dreamers — some days he is, some days he’s not.  He’s very much against the emissions standards and mileage requirements. He wants to build a wall [along the Mexico border].”

Halting offshore drilling in federal waters will be an uphill fight, he said, but he was confident the state’s gasoline emissions standards are bulletproof.

As for the young immigrants who came out of the shadows and registered with DACA, Davis was confident they would be protected. “America has to keep its promises,” he said.

Davis also told the UCLA Luskin students “how proud I am of you for pursuing a career in public policy,” and he urged them to embrace the California promise.

“I want you to know how fortunate you are to live in this state. This is a state of second chances, this is a state where we don’t care who your parents are, we don’t care if they were billionaires or homeless, we don’t care if you were born in this country or some other country. All we care about is whether you can make a contribution to our society,” he said.

“You live in this state; it’s your state now. We’re counting on you to keep it dynamic, keep it vibrant, keep it innovative, keep it open to new ideas. Keep it at the forefront of change.”

New Magazine Adds to LA’s Policy Conversation UCLA Blueprint, a new magazine bringing together policy research and civic leadership, debuted at a Wednesday event

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By Cynthia Lee
UCLA Newsroom

UCLA has launched a new magazine that aims to inform ongoing conversations on major public policy issues facing Los Angeles and California, serve as a public resource and highlight relevant campus research.

UCLA Blueprint — written and edited by veteran journalists and astute observers of local and state government — debuted this week with an issue focused on public safety and criminal justice. The magazine is a partnership between the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA External Affairs, whose public outreach programs facilitate the campus’s role in addressing societal challenges.

At a Wednesday night event marking the magazine’s inaugural issue, Chancellor Gene Block said civic engagement has been one of his top priorities since the beginning of his administration. “UCLA engages with the greater Los Angeles community in myriad ways. And I am delighted to say that the launch of UCLA Blueprint is very much in keeping with our ongoing civic engagement efforts…. It’s dazzling in every way.”

Among the guests celebrating the launch of Blueprint was former California Gov. Gray Davis (left), standing with UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Newton.

About 125 guests attended the event at the Chancellor’s Residence, including community and business leaders, UCLA administrators and faculty, journalists and government officials. Among them were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former California Gov. Gray Davis, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, City Controller Ron Galperin and Los Angeles City Councilmembers Gil Cedillo, Paul Krekorian and Bernard Parks.

The event featured a wide-ranging conversation between Garcetti and Blueprint Editor-in-Chief Jim Newton, covering crime, the mayor’s extensive use of real-time data and metrics to monitor the pulse of the city, Los Angeles’ booming tech sector, the recent minimum-wage increase and other topics in the news.

Newton is a former Los Angeles Times writer and editor of 25 years, the author of biographies on Earl Warren and Dwight Eisenhower, and a co-author of a memoir with Leon Panetta.  He said before the event that the magazine is intended to strengthen UCLA’s ties to civic life and share faculty expertise in a way that serves the greater good.

“Much of the work of city, county and state government in California is now done without the benefit of serious research,” said Newton, a senior fellow at the Luskin School and lecturer in communication studies, where he teaches courses on journalism ethics and writing. “Largely, that’s a product of budgets — governments just don’t have the kind of research capacity they used to have. By bringing UCLA research to the attention of policymakers, better policy can be made.”

In the editor’s note in the first issue, Newton wrote that he spent more than two decades “watching sausage being made in city, county and state government (and occasionally the school board), often baffled by the basis for decisions. Why doesn’t the subway go to the airport? Why does the region capture so little rainwater? Why do some drug offenders spend more time in prison than those convicted of violent crimes? The poison in each case is politics. The antidote is research.”

Newton emphasized before Wednesday’s event that Blueprint is not an academic journal. “We’re striving to make it serious and journalistic, a general-interest magazine that’s accessible to people beyond the core policy community,” he said. “This is a region that is famously disengaged on matters of serious government policy, and this magazine is intended to draw people into those conversations and give them the information they need to help them participate.”

Replete with bold, attention-getting graphics, the first issue of Blueprint takes a sweeping look at criminal justice and public safety from a variety of entry points. Beck, the LAPD’s top cop, talks about how policing has changed. UCLA Luskin researcher Michael Stoll reveals what’s behind the surge in the U.S. prison population. UCLA psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff explains how he measures hidden racial bias in law enforcement. And in a Q&A, California Attorney General Kamala Harris talks about the biggest challenge she has faced in fixing the state criminal justice system.

There’s also a profile of a community activist whose call for reform of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has been transformed into a rallying cry among protesters nationwide — “Black lives matter.”

Newton said the debut issue addresses criminal justice and public safety because police use of force is increasingly in the headlines and because the topics are familiar to him — he covered the LAPD as a reporter for five years.

In the discussion Wednesday, Garcetti reflected on the recent unrest in Baltimore and L.A.’s own problems.

“We had Rodney King.… We had the consent decree. We had Ramparts,” he said. “It is through the trauma that we went through that Los Angeles is a more resilient city and [has] a more resilient [police] department.… What a police chief says, what a mayor does, who we collectively are as a city in moments of potential trauma is, first and foremost, what good policing — good public safety — is all about.”

Blueprint’s second issue, due out this fall, will focus on economic and social inequality and include an interview with Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, a Columbia University economist and respected author. Newton said he hopes the magazine will grow into a quarterly publication, and he plans to hold public events to extend the discourse around each new issue.

“Not only are we trying to create a conversation online and in print,” Newton said, “but a literal conversation where we will gather together policymakers, journalists, academics and other thoughtful people and hope that they learn from each other.”