MANILA — Gov. George Deukmejian left California 10 days ago to promote trade between the state and its principal trading partners in Asia and the Pacific. But there was another, equally important reason, the governor quipped in a suburban Manila hotel ballroom packed with more than 1,000 American and Filipino businessmen Tuesday afternoon.
When asked by the president of Manila's American Chamber of Commerce whether he would accept the Republican vice presidential nomination, Deukmejian smiled and replied: "You know, one of the reasons I left California is I thought I'd be able to get away from answering that question."
He hasn't. Far from it.
Day after day, from Australia to Hong Kong to the Philippines, the question has dominated the governor's public appearances, press conferences and private meetings with national leaders in the region.
Consistent, Categorical Answer
Deukmejian's answer has been consistent and categorical.
"I honestly do not expect to be asked to be on the ticket," Deukmejian insisted in a typical denial here Tuesday. "But, even if I were asked, I would have to turn it down."
Explaining that he would have to turn the state over to his Democratic lieutenant governor if he became Vice President George Bush's running mate, Deukmejian said: "I really cannot accept that position even if it is offered."
And, as if that and his dozens of previous statements made in Australia and Hong Kong in recent days were not enough, the governor later observed as he left Manila to tour the historic World War II site on Corregidor Island: "It's just not in the cards for me."
Despite such denials, though, Deukmejian has used his Asian tour, which ends Friday after three days in South Korea, to promote Republican Party planks on free international trade and opposition to protectionist legislation. That, and to insult the Democratic Party presidential nominee whenever possible.
Joking Comparison to Dukakis
In another quip during an open forum Tuesday, Deukmejian jokingly compared himself to Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis: "We're both governors. Our names are similar, and we share the same nickname. We both have large noses, but, let me tell you, I am the only one who has charisma."
During his prepared speech to the businessmen who attended the Tuesday luncheon, Deukmejian took a more positive tone on the issues.
"I believe in tearing down barriers to trade and replacing them with bridges of opportunity," he said.
Noting that half a million Filipinos live in California and that the $1.7 billion in annual trade between California and the Philippines has made the country California's 14th-largest trading partner, Deukmejian called for increased California investment here.
After the lunch, the governor donated to Philippine health officials a solar-powered refrigeration unit, which is desperately needed to preserve vaccines that must be kept cool while en route to remote regions of the country, where children are dying of curable diseases such as measles and typhoid.
The unit, manufactured by Arco Solar Inc. of California, is one of 256 vaccine refrigerators the state is donating to the Philippines and is "a symbol of our friendship and our lasting cooperation," the governor said.