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158 File Papers for Recall Election

Huffington steps into the limelight with Schwarzenegger at the registrar's office. Simon casts himself as the conservatives' choice.

August 10, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

A flood of last-minute candidates surged into California's unprecedented gubernatorial recall race Saturday, leaving as many as 158 headed for the ballot. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante emerged as the only well-known Democratic contender, while Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger dominated the Republican field.

Shortly before the 5 p.m. deadline to file candidacy papers for the Oct. 7 special election, state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi dropped out of the race under pressure from union leaders and fellow Democrats. His withdrawal was the final significant step in shaping the ballot for a race that has turned California politics into a bewildering television spectacle to viewers around the globe.

"This recall has become a circus," Garamendi said outside the secretary of state's office in Sacramento. "Every day that goes by, we move toward more chaos and further from serious contemplation of the fundamental reforms necessary to restore our governmental systems and the reputation of the state of California."

Among the last to join a crowd of would-be governors that already featured Hustler magazine boss Larry Flynt and billboard pinup Angelyne were a travel agent, a sitcom writer, a structural engineer, a sumo wrestler and radio personality Jim "Poorman" Trenton, who called his campaign "a good way to meet women."

At stake, however, is a state of 35 million with a stalled economy and deep political dysfunction that, by many accounts, has postponed California's painful reckoning with a severe shortage of money to sustain schools, hospitals and other public services.

On the two-part recall ballot, Californians will first vote yes or no on a proposal to dump Davis, who won a landslide victory in 1998 and was reelected nine months ago.

Regardless of which choice they make on that portion of the ballot, voters can then pick a successor to Davis -- in case he is ousted -- from the candidate list that will be certified Wednesday by the secretary of state.

The ballot's massive size threatens to make the election logistically impossible for a number of counties, elections officials said. "It doesn't matter if it's 115 or 150 -- anything above 100 candidates and there are significant challenges to putting on an election," said Contra Costa County Registrar Steve Weir, who tracked the statewide count.

County elections officials have labored overtime for weeks to certify the 1.6 million signatures that forced the recall effort onto the ballot. They now face a hugely shortened run-up to the election.

According to a tally by county registrars, 158 candidates filed the necessary combination of money and signatures before the deadline. Of those, at least two dozen had yet to be certified by Saturday evening and some could be stricken from the ballot. Two-thirds of the filers submitted their paperwork Saturday.

Although voters added the recall provision to the state Constitution 92 years ago, Californians have never recalled a statewide officeholder. The only governor ever recalled was North Dakota's, in 1921.

The higher-profile Republicans who filed papers to run were state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, Schwarzenegger, Pacific Palisades investment banker Bill Simon Jr. and Peter V. Ueberroth of Laguna Beach, the former major league baseball commissioner who oversaw L.A.'s 1984 Olympics.

With his star power, Schwarzenegger effectively drowned out the rest of the candidates in the first four days of his campaign. He drew a horde of cameras Saturday morning to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office in Norwalk, where his arrival resembled the scene of a red-carpet movie premiere.

He and his wife, NBC News correspondent Maria Shriver, stepped out of a black sport utility vehicle amid shrieks of "Arnold" from fans mingling with the scores of TV cameramen, reporters and photographers lined up behind barricades on each side of the stairs. Schwarzenegger autographed a fan's copy of Flex magazine that had the brawny candidate posing shirtless on the cover.

Another gubernatorial hopeful, newspaper columnist Arianna Huffington, then popped out of the crowd to bask in the media frenzy surrounding Schwarzenegger and Shriver. As the unlikely trio walked up the steps, a TV newsman told a live audience: "We have Arianna-for-Governor people here right in his face with Arianna-for-Governor signs."

"Hasta la vista, baby," a fan shouted.

Huffington talked with reporters more than half an hour while the actor was inside filing his papers; she gave detailed answers to many of the policy questions the "Terminator" star has so far refused to address.

When Schwarzenegger and Shriver emerged again, Huffington brushed past their cluster of microphones on a podium and knocked it to the ground. Once it was reassembled, Schwarzenegger said he never imagined when he immigrated to California from Austria in 1968 that he would run for governor.

"I promise you that I will be the people's governor," he said.

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