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Simon Slams Davis Over the Military

Campaign: GOP gubernatorial candidate says the state's National Guard units need more support and training.

July 09, 2002|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. charged Monday that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has allowed the state's National Guard to deteriorate during the last four years, and said he could do a better job looking out for the units.

Countering, Davis defended his record and suggested that he is better equipped to handle the National Guard's needs, in part because he served in the military while Simon did not.

Standing outside the U.S. Naval Station on Treasure Island, with the steel-girded San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in the background, Simon said that the National Guard's facilities and equipment are inadequate, and that many of the 21,000 troops are insufficiently trained.

"The men and women of the California National Guard have earned our gratitude and our respect for their willingness to serve," Simon said. "While they enjoy the admiration of the public, they have not received the support they deserve in the form of training and equipment from their leadership."

Simon's criticism prompted a sharp rebuttal from the commanding officer of the California National Guard, Gen. Paul D. Monroe Jr., who said that while the state volunteer corps needs twice the federal funding that it currently receives, the troops are in excellent form.

"The National Guard's readiness has gone up over the last four years," said Monroe, who has commanded the state's troops since 1999. "If we were not prepared, the Army and the Air Force would not take our units."

Davis dismissed Simon's remarks, saying his challenger was undermining the work of the National Guard with his comments. And in his own comments as well as a new ad, the governor attempted to turn the military issue to his own favor, calling attention to his own service and contrasting it with Simon's lack of a military record.

"Mr. Simon does a great disservice to the country," the governor said during a visit to the Islamic Center of Southern California. "He did not serve in the Armed Forces himself, as I did, and now he does a disservice to the National Guard."

On Monday, the governor released a new television commercial emphasizing his military experience in Vietnam, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star. The ad, which is being shown in Northern California and the Central Valley, also notes that Simon did not vote in 13 out of 20 elections since he registered in California in 1992, and that he will not release his tax returns.

"It's unfortunate that he's choosing to run a campaign based on negative ads," Simon spokesman Mark Miner said. "He's been in office for four years and he has nothing to show for it."

Simon's news conference Monday was the first in a weeklong series of appearances he plans to make throughout the state talking about homeland security, including a speech scheduled for today in San Diego.

During his appearance at Treasure Island, Simon was joined by retired Maj. Gen. Frank J. Schober Jr., who commanded the National Guard from 1975 to 1984. Schober, who now lives in New Mexico, criticized Davis for ignoring the needs of the Guard.

Simon said Schober's warnings should be heeded.

"During the last four years, there have been plenty of photo opportunities ... but there has been precious little action," Simon said.

The businessman pointed to a state audit released in February showing that 17 out of 29 of the Army National Guard's helicopters in the state were inoperable in December because of delayed maintenance. In addition, the audit found that several Guard units had overstated the number of soldiers available for deployment.

In addition, this spring the National Guard removed some soldiers posted at Bay Area bridges who had failed a basic weapons test.

Monroe said that while the Army has grounded many of the Guard's Vietnam-era helicopters for safety reasons, the majority of its equipment, such as trucks and tanks, were purchased in the last two years. The California National Guard receives nearly all its money from the federal government. Annually, that comes to about $480 million, and the Guard is getting authorization for new helicopters and other needed equipment.

"We are much better than we were, and we're getting better all the time," Monroe said.

Simon said he would be more effective than Davis in getting money for training and maintenance of the Guard from the federal government. He also proposed new incentives to encourage people to join the Guard, including fee waivers at state universities and colleges and better pay for Guard troops on active duty.

Simon did not say how he would pay for the incentives, except to suggest that private businesses could make up the difference in salary when their employees were called to duty in exchange for tax incentives.

"There are lots of employers that I'm quite sure would consider that," said the GOP candidate, who manages an investment firm. "And I would be one of them, myself."

Davis noted that he already signed legislation this year allowing state workers to receive compensation for any salary lost while on active duty.

"As usual," he said, "Mr. Simon is a dollar short and a day late."

*

Times staff writer Kenneth Reich contributed to this report.

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