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House Democrats Still Not United on Recall

Some in the California delegation want to urge a no vote on the ouster attempt and a yes on Bustamante. Others fear angering Davis backers.

August 15, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — California's congressional Democrats continued to debate Thursday what public position they should take on the two-part recall ballot.

Some lawmakers said the party should waste no time in urging both a no vote on the recall and a yes vote on Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as a fallback.

"It's very urgent," said Rep. Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), a Bustamante ally. "It's of the utmost importance. We're talking about timing, galvanizing, strategizing and getting people out to vote. If we wait too long, my gosh, too many things can happen."

But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in a conference call with about 15 members of the state's Democratic delegation, counseled patience.

"She's trying to pull this all together and make sure we have a unified message," Baca said.

He said Pelosi was loath to alienate some constituencies, such as organized labor leaders and other allies of Gov. Gray Davis, that are focused almost exclusively on the first part of the recall and not on the 135 replacement candidates.

So far, neither Pelosi nor the 33-member House Democratic delegation has made any explicit endorsement of Bustamante's candidacy.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) said the caution was warranted. He added that his focus was on defeating the recall, not touting an alternative candidate.

"Once the haze has cleared, the public will begin to assess all the elements of this recall election and start to have some real aversion to it," he said. For any constituent who asked, though, Becerra said he would counsel a vote for Bustamante on the second part of the ballot.

The state's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, are of two minds. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has said she plans to skip the second part of the ballot in disgust at what she calls an electoral carnival. Sen. Barbara Boxer, though, was quoted in Thursday's Contra Costa Times as endorsing a two-track strategy of opposing the recall and supporting Bustamante.

The lieutenant governor's "role is to step in if a disaster happens," Boxer said. "And I think this is a disaster."

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