>From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro
The other resume of Governor-elect Gray Davis' transition team leader,
[photo] Transition Team Player: Barry Munitz' stints as vice-chairman at
Maxxam and controversial CSU Chancellor has angered some environmentalists
By Cecily Barnes
THREE WEEKS AGO, California's governor-elect, Gray Davis, made his first
appointment since being elected governor. In a hurried conference call with
reporters less than one week after the election, he announced that former
California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz would direct his
For Davis, who had clearly trumpeted education throughout his campaign,
Munitz appeared to be the perfect choice. First, there was his former role
as CSU chancellor and second, his current position as CEO of the J. Paul
Getty Trust. What seemed less perfect, however, were some of the other
qualifications spattered across Barry Munitz's résumé, which Davis decided
not to tout.
Munitz was the man who toiled for nine years as vice chairman of Pacific
Lumber's vilified parent company, Maxxam Corp., blamed by environmentalists
for illegally clearcutting in the Headwaters region of California's north
coast. In his educational endeavors, Munitz was also the man who oversaw
substantial fee hikes in the California State University system and who has
been accused by faculty of attempting to "corporatize" the CSU campuses.
Munitz's third untouted accomplishment surfaces on a Web site titled "Jail
Hurwitz." The man who will usher in 100 new gubernatorial staff
appointments and offer advice on allocations in the state budget is
currently a co-respondent in federal Justice Department hearings with
Maxxam president Charles Hurwitz over the crash of a Texas savings and
loan, which bombed after Hurwitz and others allegedly invested in high-risk
junk bonds. According to attorneys in the U.S. Treasury's Office of Thrift
Supervision, Munitz has been charged with unsafe and unsound banking
practices and certain regulatory violations associated with the United
Savings Association of Texas, which failed at the end of 1988.
WHILE THE mainstream media have scarcely scratched the surface of Munitz's
record, environmentalists have been quick to dredge up his past, openly
criticizing Gray Davis' decision to make Munitz his first appointment.
Still stinging from the contentious Headwaters deal, in which the
California Legislature agreed to pay some $495 million in state and federal
money to buy at least 7,500 acres of the old growth forest,
environmentalists say the newly elected governor seems to be arming his
camp with a former buddy of the timber trade.
"This means that many of Davis' appointments are going to be screened,
selected and approved by Maaxam's former vice president," lamented Earth
First activist Darryl Cherney, who has tracked Maxxam president Charles
Hurwitz for more than a decade. "It's an insult to the voters of
California, and I think Gray Davis is a traitor for appointing him. "
Defeated Green Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg, who has been
griping with environmental buddies via the Internet, sings a similar tune.
"My first thought was to wonder whether this was arrogance or stupidity on
the part of Gray Davis," Hamburg says about the appointment. "I sincerely
hope it's the latter. Either way I think this appointment really confirms
that Gray Davis is not appreciably different than the two governors who
preceded him. This is the new Democratic Party. You wouldn't see Barry
Munitz appointed to that position by the traditional Democratic Party."
Chris Campana, a Davis spokesman, responds that Munitz's function as
transition team director is to bring organizational skills and management
savvy to the process, not to undercut a strong foundation of environmental
"Gray Davis has a 25-year record in the state of California of protecting
and preserving environmental causes. He will be no less dedicated to the
protection and preservation of the environment no matter who is on his
transition team," Campana says. "Mr. Munitz has exceptional credentials and
has experience dealing with bureaucracy. We see him as one of the strengths
of the transition team."
Besides, Campana points out, the position lasts only two months and comes
with no salary.
Despite the concerns of Headwaters die-hards, the Sierra Club, which
endorsed Davis, has shrugged its shoulders over the appointment.
"As far as I can tell, he hasn't done anything environmental [whether good
or bad] since he left Maxxam," Sierra Club spokesman Mike Paparian says.
"Davis when he appointed him really emphasized the education issues, having
Munitz emphasize education. If he were to move into other positions, I
might have a stronger concern."
However, given that Sierra Club president Carl Pope was pied just a few
weeks ago for his support of the Headwaters deal (criticized by some
environmentalists as too little forest for too much taxpayer money), Sierra
Clubbers may be weary of judging anyone else's environmental stance on the
Indifferent mumblings about the Munitz appointment were also heard from
Sen. Byron Sher's office, although the tree-friendly senator would not
return repeated calls. Finally staffer Jeff Shellito was tracked down, only
to offer the official "no comment" response.
BUT MUNITZ HAS been criticized for more than sharing a redwood frame bed
with Hurwitz. Hamburg points out that he hiked student fees, chopped
enrollments and faithfully phased out affirmative action as CSU chancellor.
He also flirted with big business, a fan of swap deals between high-tech
companies and the university system--whereby companies would donate money
or technology in exchange for exclusive rights to provide services on CSU
Shortly before Munitz left for the Getty Trust in 1998, he moved to wrap up
his legacy as chancellor with an unprecedented deal between GTE, Hughes
Communications, Fujitsu, Microsoft and CSU. The specifics of this deal,
deemed the California Education Technologies Initiative, were never fully
uncovered, since they fell apart after the California Faculty Association
offered strong opposition. However, according to CFA president Terry Jones,
the corporations would have brought the CSU system up to speed
technologically in exchange for some sort of product monopoly or property
rights on the CSU campuses.
"Private corporations would do the wiring, provide software and hardware,
and in exchange we would use their products," says Jones. "Our concerns
were that it could possibly have some impact on the terms and conditions of
employment, or that there could have been instances of farming out labor.
And the ultimate concern was that it should have required consultation with
MUNITZ, HOWEVER, was disliked long before he rubbed elbows with big
business in his chancellor's robe. He has been deemed the "Texas Chainsaw
Chancellor" by environmentalists because of his involvement with the
crashed Texas bank and Pacific Lumber. When Munitz first came on board with
CSU in 1991, a small group of SJSU students forged a special election and
overwhelmingly gave Chancellor Munitz a no-confidence vote. Barry Munitz
failed to return repeated phone calls from Metro.
The past of this key Davis appointee has received little prominent
exposure. The argument stands that his involvement with Maxxam was long
ago, and the stain of that affiliation should be well worn away. However,
Hamburg and other environmentalists think otherwise.
"Gray Davis supported a moratorium on the logging of ancient trees," Earth
First's Cherney says. "Now he's choosing someone who is so corporate and
high-profile that he's currently on trial."
As the transition-team leader for Davis, Munitz will help crunch the new
state budget, as well as recommend and help interview more than 100
appointees. However, Davis always has the final say, Campana notes. "No one
is making decisions for Gray Davis in a vacuum," he says.
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