SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Say you’re a former California governor – one so reviled that voters unceremoniously swept you out of office, up-ended your life’s work and replaced you with a superstar-turned-politician.

What on earth would you do now?

That’s the question that former Gov. Gray Davis has lived with daily since Arnold Schwarzenegger assumed office after last year’s recall.

Davis’ answer has been surprising, at least to those who knew him as an aloof politician who spent his whole career vaulting from office to office.

Gray Davis – yes, he of the never-mussed hair and the same bland lunch every day – seems, well, happy.

“He seems more relaxed, to be enjoying life more,” said Daniel Zingale, who served as Davis’ cabinet secretary.

After years of having chauffeurs, Davis re-learned to drive and now tools around Los Angeles in a hybrid Toyota Prius. He and his wife, Sharon, took a romantic trip to California wine country and tobogganed alongside the Great Wall of China. The former governor even dabbled in acting, with cameos on Sundance’s “Tanner on Tanner” and the CBS comedy “Yes, Dear.”

“Obviously, you have to have a sense of humor to be in politics,” Davis said in February. “My wife can tell you I have one.”

With a grace that’s almost unfathomable, Davis never speaks ill of his replacement. Rather, he gushes about Schwarzenegger’s political acumen.

Still engaged by politics, Davis quietly attended the Democratic National Convention in Boston over the summer. (“I’m having a ball,” he said then.) Last month, he campaigned with Schwarzenegger and other former governors against an initiative that would have changed California’s “three strikes” sentencing law.

After all he’s been through – the energy crisis, fundraising controversies and the humiliating recall – Davis seems sanguine.

“He’s adjusting to his fate far better than I ever thought he would,” said Garry South, a former Davis strategist. “I sense in him a certain amount of relief, even.”

Davis’ $105,450 annual pension allowed him a break before returning to work. Associates say he’s now entertaining offers from top-flight law firms. Davis, through an aide, declined to comment.

Administration alumni keep current on Davis’ comings and goings, and their own, through the periodically published Gray-Gram. The last installment included a photo of Davis, his fist aloft, riding the toboggan and another showing a smiling Gray and Sharon at the Great Wall. The former governor also sang karaoke in Taiwan and was called for jury duty (but not picked) in Los Angeles.

Chief speechwriter Jason Kinney suspects Davis eventually might start an education foundation or teach in an inner-city school.

So will he attempt to rehabilitate his image and seek office again?

“Never say never,” Kinney said. “I promise you the people of California have not seen the last of Gray Davis.”



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