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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Hopefuls' Views Vary Widely on Social Issues

Differences over illegal immigration and gun control could be key factors, experts say.

August 25, 2003|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

California's prominent gubernatorial candidates have widely divergent views on a host of social issues like abortion and gay rights, topics that trigger strong sentiments throughout an electorate that is often less engaged with fiscal matters.

In a campaign that has already taken on sharp partisan tones, differences over illegal immigration and gun control could be used to frame the various candidates seeking to replace Gov. Gray Davis -- especially in the crowded GOP field, experts said.

"The question is, 'How much social liberalism are Republican voters willing to swallow in order to get a Republican in office?' " said Raphael Sonenshein, a political science professor at Cal State Fullerton.

According to a survey by The Times, the field is bracketed by Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock on the right and Green Party candidate Peter Camejo and columnist Arianna Huffington on the left, while actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former baseball commissioner Peter V. Ueberroth, both Republicans, attempt to carve out a middle path and appeal to a cross-section of the electorate. Gov. Gray Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, meanwhile, reflect positions backed by many of their Democratic constituents.

By voicing support for some stalwart liberal ideals, such as gay rights and gun control, even as he backs some abortion restrictions, Ueberroth showcased his efforts to pull bipartisan support.

Some of Schwarzenegger's views remain murky, however. He was the only candidate who balked at responding to every query on a Times questionnaire, refraining from staking out a position on specific gun control legislation or benefits for domestic partners, even though he has expressed support for both in the past. His campaign, which did not respond to the previous Times questionnaire about the state budget, provided answers about the actor's social views in part by quoting from Schwarzenegger's public statements.

So far, the movie star has spoken mostly in generalities, touting himself as an independent outsider who will upend the status quo. Schwarzenegger's reluctance to focus on social matters underscores his attempt to downplay his more liberal social views for anxious Republicans worried about his GOP credentials, Sonenshein said.

In the survey, Schwarzenegger reaffirmed that he backs abortion rights, a position that rankles many conservatives. But he declared he is against a bill that would allow some illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses, a proposal many Latino leaders have fought to get approved.

That measure has already emerged as a prominent wedge issue. While critics have denounced it as a move that would extend privileges to illegal immigrants, supporters -- including many law enforcement agencies -- say it would make the roads safer by testing all drivers.

Davis angered many Latinos when he did not sign a version of the measure last year. Soon after the recall qualified for the ballot, Davis quickly pledged he would sign the bill, which is currently pending in the state Senate.

"This state is filled with hard-working people who contribute to our economy, bring food to our tables and spend a good deal of time and money here," Davis wrote in his Times questionnaire. "I believe they must be able to get to and from their jobs safely, every day."

Camejo, Bustamante, Huffington and Ueberroth agreed, all vowing to sign the bill. Only Schwarzenegger and McClintock said they would veto it.

Proposition 54, an initiative on the Oct. 7 ballot that would ban the state from collecting some racial data, drew mixed responses. McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) is the only candidate who supports the initiative, saying he does not believe "race should determine how people are treated by their government." Ueberroth and Schwarzenegger said they remain undecided, while Davis, Bustamante, Camejo and Huffington said they oppose it, arguing that it could impede the state's effort to track public health and hate crime statistics.

The initiative "is a thinly veiled attempt to allow racial discrimination without leaving a paper trial," wrote Huffington, running as an independent.

The question of extending broader rights to gay couples exposed the wide ideological swing between the candidates.

McClintock said he is staunchly opposed to legislation that would grant domestic partners many of the rights currently reserved for married couples, calling marriage "a unique institution ... through which we perpetuate our species."

Camejo vowed to work to pass a law allowing gay marriage. Ueberroth called marriage "a union rightly reserved to a man with a woman," but he said domestic partners should have the same rights as "other committed couples."

Huffington stated that she supports same-sex marriages, while Bustamante and Davis simply said they would sign a bill pending in the state Senate that would give domestic partners many of the rights currently reserved for married couples.

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