New Davis liaison brings Jewish involvement to job

Recently, she watched as Davis "signed some very tough gun legislation and appointed a special panel to study hate crime."

The measures pleased but did not surprise Smooke, a longtime Jewish community lay leader and activist. Appointed to serve as a pipeline between the Democratic governor and the state's million-member Jewish community, Smooke said Davis has always had an instinctive grasp of Jewish concerns.

"Including the kinds of things that don't have the word 'Jewish' in the title — like gun control and hate crime," she said.

The Beverly Hills resident, who works out of the governor's Los Angeles office, monitors legislation in Sacramento and Washington, conveys special messages from the governor and represents him at Jewish functions.

"My mission is to carry his message out and to bring a message back to the governor," she said. Because of her long involvement in Jewish affairs, with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and nationally with the former United Jewish Appeal, "I can listen to the community and see what the hot-button issues are."

They are, as she sees it now, Holocaust restitution, health, education and welfare issues, and trade between California and Israel. But "my job is evolving even the moment we speak."

Minutes after a legislative session on a bill known as the Holocaust Victim Insurance Relief Act of 1999, Smooke phoned from her office to report on its progress. Sponsored by Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles) the legislation requires the state insurance commissioner to establish and maintain a registry containing records about policies issued by insurers to "persons in Europe which were in effect between 1920 and 1945."

"The governor signed it," she said.

And she watches as bills percolate through the nation's legislative houses and come home to the state. In particular, she said, "It's important to make sure resources get to our seniors."

Smooke said the state appointment caught her off guard. She met Sharon and Gray Davis during a UJA mission to Israel in 1992, but unlike most of the governor's appointees, she has not played an active role in Democratic Party affairs.

"I haven't done that," she said. "But through leadership in the Jewish community I have Jewish community knowledge."

In the Los Angeles federation, she recently completed four-year terms as both vice president and chair of the human resources department. She has also served as vice president of finance and resource development of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. She has been honored with leadership awards in the Los Angeles area from both the federation and the Hillcrest Country Club.

Nationally, she has filled a number of major positions with UJA.

Moving to state politics, she said her learning curve has been "huge."

"It's like with anything. You have to learn the culture of an organization. It's like going to junior high school and learning how to go from class to class." To boot, each day is different. The one common denominator is a lot of community-based meetings and affairs, and "a lot of listening."

Some days when Smooke gets home, her face hurts from smiling.

"But that feels good to me," she said. "My husband says I could make friends with a tree."

The soft-spoken but energetic Smooke makes for a striking contrast with Rosalie Zalis, who, as Gov. Pete Wilson's liaison, created some controversy as an outspoken advocate for the Republican chief of state. Zalis began as a policy adviser but was later asked to connect with women's groups, the entertainment industry and California-Israel trade relations. She chaired the California-Israel Exchange, a public-private partnership corporation founded by Wilson in 1992. And she served as state protocol officer.

But "Rosalie Zalis was working out of the Department of Trade and Commerce and I am working directly under the governor," Smooke said. "So the way our assignments are structured is quite different."

In addition to her work on behalf of Jewish organizations, Smooke has been a fund-raiser and council member for the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. She has been an owner since 1974 of TRS Designs, an interior design company. She and husband Michael, an attorney, are the parents of two daughters, one at Stanford Law School and the other at UCLA School of Medicine.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.