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California and the West

Davis Asks Babbitt to Expand Offshore Drilling Ban

Governors race: Aide for Lungren accuses Democratic candidate of pandering on environmental issue.


WASHINGTON — Attempting to draw a starker contrast with his rival for the governor's job, Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Lt. Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday asked Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to help block oil drilling from undeveloped tracts off the California coast.

Though President Clinton last month extended a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling until at least 2005, the ban does not cover as many as 83 existing federal leases for oil platforms, most off Long Beach, Ventura and Santa Barbara.

"Any start-up of new drilling would meet with immediate and intense opposition from the public in California," Davis said at a luncheon Wednesday with Washington reporters. Babbitt, according to Davis, "said he would take that advice very seriously," but was unsure whether he has the authority to prevent drilling from the current leases, on which a suspension is set to expire at year's end.

Davis' electoral foe, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, backs Clinton's 10-year moratorium on new drilling, but says the United States should retain flexibility for national security reasons; he has taken no position on what should happen with the current leases.

Lungren campaign director David Puglia pronounced Davis' initiative as political hair-splitting. "Everybody's for the moratorium," he noted. "Only Gray Davis can go from there to a point beyond that underscores the word 'pander' in a major way."

In calling for a permanent ban on all oil drilling off the coast, Davis finds himself in an unlikely alliance with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, as well as liberal U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Davis swung through the nation's capital for a $500,000 fund-raiser Tuesday night at the home of one of his Democratic primary opponents, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance), which drew Clinton and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). He is also collecting checks in Chicago and New York this week.

Visiting with the national news media in a hotel conference room, Davis attempted to rebut suggestions that his dull demeanor will prove a significant handicap against Lungren's livelier campaign style--which some have compared to Ronald Reagan's.

But Davis was somewhat stilted at the session, standing despite the informal setting, never touching his lunch and offering hesitant answers to questions about what winning would mean to him and which Democrats he most admires. ("I was taught not to use the pronoun 'I,' " he said in explaining his discomfort with such queries.)

"The only thing that would worry me is if the Washington pundits predicted victory," he quipped, noting that he was all but counted out in the three-way primary with Harman and businessman Al Checchi.

"We can win with less resources, because I've been to more bar mitzvahs, more weddings, more Rotary clubs, more union halls," Davis added. "What California proved [in the primary] is paying your dues counts. People just want a solid, substantial citizen to lead them into the next century."

Davis listed abortion, assault weapons, offshore drilling and tobacco as the key issues that distinguish him from Lungren. But he acknowledged that on items that matter most to the electorate--education, crime and the economy--the two candidates share many views.

While Harman hosted a high-profile fund-raiser, Checchi has yet to play a role in the general election campaign. Davis said the two met at Checchi's home for policy discussions several weeks ago, but that they did not discuss financial support.

"I think you'll find him active in the campaign," Davis said Wednesday. "I don't know what form that activism will take."

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