Thursday, September 04, 2003
THE RECALL DEBATE
Davis takes blame, others take aim By John Simerman and Jessica Guynn CONTRA COSTA TIMES WALNUT CREEK - In a nationally televised forum, five top-tier candidates to replace Gov. Gray Davis mixed policy visions Wednesday with glib jabs as they laid out sharply contrasting views on social and economic issues ranging from abortion to property taxes to immigration rights. It was the first chance for voters to size up the major candidates side by side, except for Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose conspicuous absence was largely ignored during the forum but later drew fire from rival candidates. Even Davis, who never mentioned the other candidates by name, took a swipe at Schwarzenegger after the forum. "It seems to me that the minimal requirement is that you show up and answer questions," he said. Davis, who faces political extinction in the Oct. 7 recall vote, took the stage first. Making his plea for three more years in office, he pledged to spend more time listening to real people. "The biggest thing I will change is to stay connected to the people of this state," he said. While most of the replacement candidates slammed the governor's track record, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante steered a wide berth around the question of recalling Davis, even though he has run on the slogan: "No on recall. Yes on Bustamante." Instead he painted himself as the governor-in-waiting, trained and ready to take over. That, his opponents said, is just the problem. Political commentator Arianna Huffington and Republican Sen. Tom McClintock both took aim at Bustamante, the Democratic fallback candidate who leads in most polls. They accused him of circumventing new contribution limits when he took $2 million from American Indian gaming tribes. "This is nothing but legalized bribery. You have made a mockery of campaign finance laws," said Huffington, who sat next to Bustamante. "Tell me how you really feel," replied the lieutenant governor in jest. Throughout the forum, the candidates differed on every issue except the state's medicinal marijuana law, which even the conservative McClintock found cause to support. "The people of California spoke very clearly and the federal government has no right to intervene," he said. All five backed a repeal of the recent tripling of vehicle license fees, but differed widely on how to make up the $4 billion in lost revenue. The issue drew out what most candidates view as the crux of the recall campaign: how to rescue the state from an historic budget crisis that has jeopardized Davis' political career. McClintock repeated his pledge not to raise taxes. Republican businessman Peter Ueberroth also dismissed the need for higher taxes, calling for policies to help businesses create jobs and stay in the state. Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, though, called for higher taxes on the wealthiest. Camejo and Huffington both demanded reforms to Proposition 13's property-tax limits. Camejo invoked the opinions of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, a Schwarzenegger adviser who suggested revamping the 1978 voter initiative. "Arnold Schwarzenegger told him to shut up. I say give the man a microphone," said Camejo. Bustamante also questioned inequities in property taxes, saying homeowners pay an inordinate share. McClintock scoffed at the idea that raising corporate taxes will take the burden off residents. "Businesses don't pay taxes. Businesses pay their taxes through you as a consumer through higher prices, through you as an employee through lower wages or you as an investor through lower earnings," he said. Ueberroth, the former baseball commissioner, sidestepped most questions on social issues, steering his answers toward job creation. He said he would leave most social concerns on the shelf and later said he was "angry" at the direction of the forum. "We're not going to have any money for social issues," he said. While the candidates took questions from reporters and selected voters, Schwarzenegger was 400 miles away attending a parent-teacher conference. His spokesman, Rob Stutzman, dismissed the forum, saying the actor would engage in a single debate on Sept. 24 in Sacramento. "Do we want three weeks of NBA playoffs or do we want the Super Bowl?" he said. On the abortion issue, every candidate but McClintock pledged support for legal abortion. Asked about a state law that may protect abortion rights regardless of a Supreme Court shift, McClintock issued a stern rebuke of the late-term procedure that opponents call "partial-birth" abortion. "I think we can all agree. ... The process of stabbing an infant as it's being born in the back of the head is simply barbaric and ought to be stopped," he said. Bustamante and McClintock disagreed on a bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate and sent to the governor's desk that would grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Davis has pledged to sign it. McClintock said it would undermine immigration laws, while Bustamante drew on his Central Valley upbringing to argue for it. "I picked cotton. I picked peaches. I've done the kind of hard labor that's out there in the fields," he said. "I'm glad I'm out, but I respect the work they do." Outside the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, Davis said he watched part of the candidate forum and gave it a lukewarm review. "Each (candidate) had some good moments," he said. "But I don't think anyone made the case that people should vote (yes) on the recall." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- © 2003 Contra Costa Times and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.bayarea.com
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