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Davis Pushes for F-15Cs for Air National Guard

Defense: Governor says the warplanes are needed in the fight on terror. Republicans assail the event after a statement attacking Bill Simon is handed out.

July 18, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Bracketed between jet fighters and cheering National Guard troops, Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday asked the Pentagon to give California faster and more lethal warplanes for terrorist duty in the skies.

But the Democratic governor's appearance at a California National Guard facility where he announced his request for F-15C Eagle fighters was denounced by Republicans as an illegal use of state employees and resources for political purposes.

A top-level member of the governor's personal staff defended Davis' appearance before the Guard members as an appropriate form of official business, but conceded that a prepared statement by the governor attacking Republican challenger Bill Simon Jr. was a mistake and should not have happened.

The governor arranged to announce his request for new aircraft outside an Air National Guard hanger at the former Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento. He spoke from a lectern framed against a background of two jet fighters, an American flag and 50 applauding Guard members in combat fatigues, flight suits and dress uniforms. About 100 others sat on folding chairs in an audience in front of him.

In a letter to Air Force Secretary James G. Roche, Davis said the Guard's current squadron of Fresno-based F-16 Falcons needed "significant upgrades" for terrorist and other defense duties. He said the more powerful, faster and better-armed F-15Cs are "better suited" for homeland defense.

He said he understood that the Air Force intends to reassign 19 F-15Cs to California or North Dakota. "This new airplane should be deployed to California," Davis said.

The Guard members, many of whom had baked in the sun for more than an hour waiting for the governor to arrive, applauded his speech enthusiastically, as did Maj. Gen. Paul D. Monroe, commander of the California Guard.

In a printed statement distributed to reporters by aides at the ceremony, Davis attacked Simon, who last month criticized the readiness of the California National Guard. An Army veteran, Davis said Simon never served in the military but had the "gall to criticize our Guard's readiness."

"All Bill Simon has demonstrated with his outrageous claims is that he is the one person who isn't ready [to be governor]," the document quoted Davis as saying.

The governor did not repeat the criticism of his rival in his actual speech or make any direct reference to Simon.

Later, Press Secretary Steven Maviglio said he did not approve the statement before it was handed out but conceded it was a mistake to include such partisan rhetoric in an official state document.

"It should not be there," Maviglio said.

However, the California Republican Party and the Simon campaign pounced on Davis' event as a violation of state law prohibiting use of state employees, equipment and other resources for political purposes.

"The governor is not content only to shake down the private sector for campaign cash and support, but he also shakes down the National Guard and state employees for that same support. It's wrong," said Sean Walsh, a state GOP spokesman.

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