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Davis Receives New Endorsements While Continuing Pitch to Latinos

October 19, 2002|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis continued his intense courtship of Latino voters Friday, touting his record before the nation's largest Hispanic business group and scooping up a handful of new endorsements from a constituency crucial to his reelection hopes on Nov. 5.

In a speech before the annual convention of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, Davis again made his case that California Latinos have benefited from his policies and appointments in the last four years.

"We believe the Latino agenda is America's agenda," Davis told the business group. Salting his comments with Spanish words and phrases, the incumbent Democrat talked at length about his efforts to mend relations with Mexico after what many Latinos considered the anti-immigrant policies of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

Davis quipped that, after his latest meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox, his eighth meeting with a Mexican leader in four years, "we've grown from amigos to compadres" -- a standard Davis line that won applause from the chamber members. After his speech, Davis took part in an unveiling ceremony for a new stamp honoring Cesar Chavez, the Latino civil rights leader and late founder of the United Farm Workers union. Davis signed a law making Chavez's birthday a state holiday.

In a separate event afterward, Davis accepted endorsements from the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and groups representing Latino publishers and peace officers -- part of an all-out effort by Davis to solidify his Latino support in the final weeks of the campaign. Davis has lavished attention on California Latinos this week, responding to a rebellion in the Latino Legislative Caucus and negative publicity in Spanish-language media over his last-minute decision on Sept. 30 to veto a bill that would have given driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants.

"It's a damage-control response," said Antonio Gonzales of the nonpartisan Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project.

The Davis veto came after yearlong negotiations with Latino legislators and community leaders to craft a bill acceptable to the governor. The legislation's original author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), has accused the governor of breaking his promise to sign the bill -- something Davis disputes.

Davis and his aides have played down the negative effect of the veto on his support among Latino voters -- 70% of whom cast their ballots for Davis four years ago. But the governor's own internal polling shows a drop in Latino support since the controversy, Davis aides said Friday.

Davis said Friday that he will be willing to sign a bill next year if his concerns about loopholes that might allow criminals or terrorists to acquire licenses are addressed.

"Make that change, I sign the bill, and this issue is behind us," said Davis, flanked by Latino politicians and business leaders at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Standing beside Davis after announcing her group's endorsement, Melinda Guzman Moore, president of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, suggested the driver's license veto wouldn't haunt him on Nov. 5. "This community is not about one issue."

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