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Riordan Starts State Bus Tour, Criticizes Davis

Campaign: The ex-L.A. mayor blames the governor for the state's fiscal problems.

January 17, 2002|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Richard Riordan cast himself as a rescuer of California's ailing economy on Wednesday as he set off on a statewide bus tour to promote his campaign for governor.

On a daylong swing through San Diego, the Republican candidate painted a dark picture of California under Democratic incumbent Gray Davis, who plans to counter months of GOP attacks by launching his first TV advertising today.

Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles, cited troubles with traffic, housing, water, health care, energy and education, but most of all the economy. Overall, he lamented what he called "a total vacuum of leadership in California."

"I personally feel I have to fill that vacuum," he told GOP business leaders at a San Diego Lincoln Club breakfast in La Jolla.

The event was the first of six Riordan campaign stops Wednesday in San Diego, the first city on a bus tour that also has stops scheduled this week in Orange and Riverside counties.

Riordan visited two high-tech corporations, greeted voters at a mall, hit a few golf balls and rode a bicycle around the UC San Diego campus.

For months, Riordan, 71, has made a point of demonstrating his physical vigor on the campaign trail. At the breakfast, he joked that he loved the hotel where he had spent the night because he was the "the youngest person in the gym."

"There was a woman about 97 on a crawler lifting weights," he said.

After breakfast, Riordan boarded the huge black bus rented by his campaign--a former home-on-the-road for basketball star Dennis Rodman and singers Chaka Khan, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Andrea Bocelli and Lenny Kravitz.

"My God, I've never seen a bus like this," Riordan said as he settled into a black leather sofa in the rear lounge.

The bus has a granite tile floor, mirrored ceiling, three large-screen TVs with DVD players and VCRs, microwave oven, and a refrigerator and freezer. It also features "a flushing ceramic toilet, not the Greyhound thing," said owner Vince Moroney of Encinitas.

From La Jolla, Riordan traveled to the headquarters of Titan Corp., a high-tech company. Among Titan's products is machinery that bombards mail with radiation to kill anthrax spores. It also sells equipment that irradiates fruit, vegetables and meat to kill bacteria.

Titan Chief Executive Gene Ray told Riordan the radiation does not change the taste or texture of a hamburger. But Riordan joked, "I'm never going to eat again."

On the bus, Riordan was asked whether irradiated food should be labeled as such in grocery stores. He responded with an expletive, saying it was the sort of "gotcha" question that turns him off.

"I'm not an expert," he said.

In his speeches, Riordan outlined his plans to stimulate the economy. He promised to streamline regulations to speed approval of new factories, power plants and housing developments. He said he would build cargo-only airports to create jobs, but did not say where. Riordan also said he would build highways between Silicon Valley and the Central Valley to encourage high-tech manufacturers to expand operations within the state.

"If you're the most liberal person in the world, you should want businesses to thrive," he told executives over lunch at HNC Software.

But Davis, Riordan charged, has scared businesses away from California with excessive red tape.

Riordan also criticized the governor for increasing public spending and adding 34,000 employees to the state payroll.

"We need somebody who is fiscally tough," Riordan said.

At breakfast, Riordan said Davis had turned the largest surplus in California history into "what looks like it could be the largest deficit"--projected at more than $12 billion.

"Did he put a penny away for a rainy day? No," Riordan said.

"How are we going to get out of this quicksand?"

Riordan declined to specify what programs he would cut to close the budget gap.

Riordan faces two rivals in the March 5 GOP primary, Secretary of State Bill Jones and Los Angeles investment banker Bill Simon Jr., but he limited his attacks to Davis.

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the Davis reelection campaign, said California has gained nearly a million jobs during the governor's three years in office and grown from the world's seventh-largest economy to the fifth-largest.

"You don't get that way from not being business friendly," he said.

Salazar said Davis set aside $2.6 billion in reserves last year, the state's largest rainy day fund in 23 years.

Meantime, Davis today starts broadcasting the first TV advertisements of his reelection campaign.

The upbeat ads tout Davis' record on education, the environment, energy and law enforcement and end with the slogan, "Effectiveness you can count on."

The spots also emphasize both his support for abortion rights and enforcement of the death penalty, reflecting the Democratic incumbent's strategy of straddling the political center.

The 30-second spots will air heavily statewide over the next four days, with a particular emphasis on the weekend's major sporting events.

*

Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.

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