Evidently, Bill Lockyer is serious about becoming chancellor of the California State University system, the nation's largest four-year institution of higher education.
When my colleague David Siders first reported that Lockyer wanted the job, I thought it was too weird to take seriously. Lockyer is one of the shrewdest politicians ever to set foot in the Capitol, and he is a very smart guy. But he is hardly an academic. Silly me. Having watched Lockyer operate for 20 years, I should have known this was no feint.
At age 71, Lockyer has been a fixture in California politics since he won his first Assembly race almost 40 years ago. He became Senate leader and attorney general, is the current treasurer and has $2.5 million in the bank for what was to be his next campaign, a run in 2014 for state controller. But that would be a step down, and he still has ambitions.
His marriage to Nadia Davis, a woman 30 years his junior, has disintegrated amid sordid details of her infidelity and drug abuse, and she quit the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, a post she won after Lockyer raised more than $1 million for her. All that unpleasantness would come up in any campaign.
Lockyer and his supporters won't talk publicly about his latest pursuit. But multiple sources say he has been calling trustees soliciting their advice and support, not unlike how he went about campaigning to become Senate president pro tem.
What works in the Legislature doesn't sit well on the 25-seat board of trustees for CSU. Trustees see themselves as insulated from politics. The search for a new chancellor to replace Charles Reed, who is retiring after 14 years, is perhaps the trustees' most important role. Trustee William Hauck, who is chairing the search, said he hopes to have it wrapped up by October.
Lockyer isn't operating on his own. He and Gov. Jerry Brown are longtime allies, though Brown's spokesman, Gil Duran, said in a statement that Brown "has not recommended any candidates for the position of chancellor."
"I don't think Bill would do this if he thought the governor wasn't positive about it," said Lockyer's longtime political adviser, Bill Carrick.
Brown could use his clout to push for Lockyer. Brown's political adviser, Steve Glazer, is a trustee, and Brown has nominated three other trustees in recent weeks.
Lockyer would bring skills to the university system. Although he has been out of the Legislature for 14 years, he works with legislators and regularly gets measures passed. That ability could serve the state university system come budget time. Additionally, Lockyer, long a friend of labor, could help salve wounds with the California Faculty Association, which represents professors.
However, Cecil Canton, a Sacramento State criminology professor and faculty association board member, is skeptical that a politician with little background teaching at a university is equipped to lead the state university system with its 427,000 students.
"I would like to see someone who knows what we do," Canton told me. "Our mission is to teach and help students learn. It is important to have someone who has done that."
Lockyer, a UC Berkeley graduate, started out as a schoolteacher. But he gave that up early, having won his Assembly seat when he was 32. He got his law degree from McGeorge School of Law while serving full time in the Legislature.
Lockyer did deal with universities during his time as Senate leader in the mid-1990s, confronting student protests, affirmative action and pressure to raise tuition.
With Lockyer as its leader, the Senate in 1994 confirmed Gov. Pete Wilson's nomination of Ward Connerly to the University of California Board of Regents, a step Democrats came to regret.
Connerly pushed to bar UC from using race as a factor in admissions in 1995, and in 1996 sponsored Proposition 209, which banned all other state operations from considering race in admission, hiring and promotion.
The Senate under Lockyer also rejected other Wilson appointees to the regents, something the Senate never had done until Lockyer became its leader. The Senate also repeatedly blocked tuition increases, equating them with back-door tax increases. But that happened long ago, when today's entering college freshmen were still in diapers.
Because of term limits, old pols don't hang around the Legislature forever. But they don't fade away. Some win statewide offices. Some get sweet appointments. Former Sen. Jack Scott headed the community college system after his time in the Legislature. But unlike Lockyer, Scott had come from the community college system, where he served as president of Pasadena City College.
Lockyer's appointment would take the concept to a new level. He would bring political savvy and knowledge to the job, but no academic training, and that would be a problem. Maybe he should serve out his time as treasurer and step off the stage.