SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis and President Bush have pledged respect during their first face-to-face meeting since their administrations began trading attacks over the California energy crisis.
Bush will travel Tuesday to California, where he has been the target of criticism by the Democratic governor and where polls show residents have little faith in his handling of the power crunch.
Still, White House counselor Karen Hughes said Bush “welcomes the idea” of talking to Davis and directed his staff to set up the meeting.
“President Bush has always worked hard to treat all people, including his fellow elected officials, with respect and he will certainly treat Governor Davis with respect,” she said.
Davis recently launched a national offensive against Bush, criticizing the president’s long-term energy plan and opposition to price controls on wholesale electricity.
The Democrat has appeared on national news programs suggesting that Bush has ignored price-gouging by Texas-based electricity generators.
And Davis has been mentioned as a possible White House challenger to Bush in 2004.
Hughes, in a conference call with California reporters Friday, sought to assure that Bush and the federal government want to ease the possibility of blackouts in the state.
“President Bush feels very strongly that this is a good time to visit California because he knows that it is going to be a difficult summer for many of its citizens,” Hughes said.
Davis aides said they expect the meeting, scheduled for Tuesday in Los Angeles, to be cordial.
“The governor has the greatest respect for the president, but he also is going to fight for Californians,” said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio.
Maviglio said Davis plans to “seek some assistance from the president to come up with a short-term solution on California’s energy crisis.”
The governor has called for federal price limits on the electricity that generators sell to California utilities.
Bush has rejected the request because he says it would do nothing to increase energy supplies or reduce demand.
While Hughes said Bush will listen to the governor’s concerns, she said he feels strongly that imposing price caps “is exactly the wrong policy to pursue.”
During the two-day trip, Bush will discuss energy conservation at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego, deliver an address on the nation’s economy in Los Angeles and launch a national park improvement program on Wednesday at Sequoia National Park.
Bush has visited 28 states but not California, the most populous, which Democrat Al Gore won by 12 percentage points in November.
Since he took office, Democrats have criticized Bush for waiting more than four months to travel to the state and polls have shown residents disapprove of his handling of the electricity crisis.
“It’s a very big moment. I think people will be looking for some signs that the president really does care about California,” said California Public Policy Institute pollster Mark Baldassare.