PROFILE: Straight-shooting Maviglio takes hits for Gov. Davis

Serving as press secretary for California's unpopular Governor Gray Davis is not easy. But Steve Maviglio is able to maintain his relationship with the press by providing accurate information.

Serving as press secretary for California's unpopular Governor Gray Davis is not easy. But Steve Maviglio is able to maintain his relationship with the press by providing accurate information.

A good political spokesperson won't sacrifice his or her credibility to spin something that is patently false, asserts Dan Walters, columnist for the Sacramento Bee. That said, Steve Maviglio has one of the toughest jobs around, as press secretary for California Governor Gray Davis - "the most unpopular governor in California history," according to Walters. Maviglio became Davis' press secretary in July 2000, and in the spring of 2001, when the energy crisis consumed California, Maviglio quickly donned his flak jacket. Davis' popularity has plummeted ever since, with the latest Field Poll showing that 67% of respondents hold an unfavorable opinion of Davis, the worst performance rating of any sitting governor in the poll's 55 years. "The governor is faced with making difficult, and often unpopular decisions," says Maviglio, "which makes it easy for the media and others to throw rocks. My job is to provide accurate information and help the media meet their deadlines. I'm not always providing good news. But my reputation hinges on being straight with people." Despite Davis' unpopularity, Maviglio feels he has a good relationship with the press. Walters praises Maviglio for doing a good job under "extremely difficult circumstances," caught between an administration that doesn't believe it has done anything wrong and a media that often replaces its pens and pencils for torches and pitchforks. "I think my relationship with the media has been pretty steady," says Maviglio, who graduated with a degree in PR from Boston University's College of Communication. "I came in at a time when the governor was popular, even though his relationship with the media was frosty. He wasn't available for long periods of time - the access wasn't what it should have been, and I've tried to make him more accessible. My job is to help the press write an accurate story while communicating our priorities and values. But there are days when I'd like to go into a bunker." Many have criticized Davis' handling of the energy crisis as too cautious - so much so, that even when it was revealed that energy companies had manipulated the market, the media and others still blamed Davis for making a bad situation worse. And it hasn't gotten any easier. With California facing a $35 billion deficit, Davis is routinely blamed for the state's problems. A recent piece in Time magazine focused on the fact that many governors are seeing their popularity fade during bad times. "That article is a good example of how I put the governor's popularity into perspective," says Maviglio. "The most popular governor in the US is at 45% approval rating." But more often than not, Maviglio is playing defense when he'd rather play offense. During the energy crisis, he spent "99%" of his time reacting to news, and it hasn't gotten much better. "Every day is a new challenge," says Maviglio. "You wake up, and something has gone wrong, or there's a story you didn't expect. The governor is responsible for everything that goes right or wrong, and right now, there's a hundred cannons pointed at him. "My approach," he continues, "is to deal with the media the best I can. It doesn't make sense to scream at them one day and then pitch them the next. But I don't hesitate to call someone on the carpet when something is wrong or unjustified. They've got their job and I have mine, and I think they understand that." What Maviglio brings to the job is a wide range of experience, says Roger Salazar, a senior counselor at Porter Novelli in Sacramento. "It's what makes him so good, and allows him to wear quite a thick flak jacket that takes all kinds of hits for his boss." Salazar was Davis' press secretary for last year's reelection campaign, and worked with Maviglio in the White House during the Clinton administration. Maviglio's first taste of politics came at the age of 14, when he licked envelopes for Richard Nixon's Presidential campaign. But he went to college, where he "smartened up, and became a Democrat." His career began as New Hampshire assemblyman because, Maviglio says, "I went to go vote for the first time, and there were no Democrats on the ballot. So after spending $400 to run, I was the first Democrat from that part of the state elected. And even though there was a three-to-one Republican majority, I got a lot accomplished. Plus, we got a $100-a-year mileage allowance and a ski pass, so you can guess at 26 what my interest was." Maviglio believes the political media is under-resourced. "From my perspective, every outlet is grossly understaffed, particularly in TV. I came from Washington, where life is politics, and that's not the case here. To cover the fifth-largest government in the world, you can't do that with three reporters. "We have some of the best reporters I've ever seen here," he concedes, though adds, "and then we have those who cover state government every two weeks, and only cover something controversial. I'm not always providing good news, but my job is to provide accurate information. My reputation hinges on being straight with people, even if they don't like what they hear." ----- Steve Maviglio 2000-present CA Gov. Gray Davis' press secretary 1999-2000 Comms director for Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) 1998-1999 US Dept. of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing, assistant director of public and congressional affairs 1997-1998 US House of Representatives' Democratic Caucus, executive and comms director 1995-1997 US Trade and Development Agency, special assistant for policy and public affairs; PR director for The Student Conservation Association 1993-1995 Public affairs/political consultant in NH 1992-1994 NH Senate, senior legislative assistant 1986-1992 State rep., NH House of Representatives

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