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Bustamante Opts Out of Recall Ballot

The lieutenant governor joins two other leading Democratic contenders in refusing to run to replace Gov. Davis in a special election.

June 20, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis scored another victory Thursday in his effort to unify Democrats against the campaign to throw him out of office when Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante announced that he would not run to replace him in a recall election.

With Bustamante stepping aside, the three leading Democrats preparing to run for governor in 2006 have all agreed this week to keep their names off the ballot if a recall election occurs. The others are state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.

In a statement released by his state Capitol office, Bustamante cast the proposed recall as an attempt by Republican "sore losers" to overturn the results of the election they lost last year.

"I will not participate in any way other than to urge voters to reject this expensive perversion of the recall process," he said. "I will not attempt to advance my career at the expense of the people I was elected to serve. I do not intend to put my name on that ballot."

Also announcing this week that they do not plan to run on a recall ballot were state Controller Steve Westly and state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

The one top Democrat who has not ruled out running to replace Davis on a recall ballot is U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is far more popular than the governor and would pose the toughest challenge to potential Republican rivals.

But Feinstein, who survived the ordeal of a recall election when she was mayor of San Francisco, has spoken out against the attempt to dump Davis. She has called Lockyer, Angelides, Bustamante and California mayors and county supervisors in recent days and urged them to denounce the Davis recall attempt.

"Her focus is on getting the message out to the people of California that the recall would be detrimental to the state's best interests," said Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman.

Angelides, who got a call from Feinstein on Monday, the day before he bowed out of the potential recall race, said: "She was very forceful, and said she hoped I would do as much as possible."

Bustamante's stand on the recall drew wide interest because of his rocky relationship with Davis and the possibility that a special election provided his best opportunity to win the governorship.

While Angelides and Lockyer each reported roughly $10 million in their campaign accounts at the end of last year, Bustamante had less than $300,000 on hand. But in a special election -- particularly one with multiple candidates -- political strategists said Bustamante would be well-placed to solidify Latino voters behind his candidacy.

For his part, Davis issued a statement thanking the Democrats "who have denounced this $40-million waste of taxpayer money for an unneeded special election." (Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, a Democrat, said Thursday that a special recall election would cost between $25 million and $30 million.)

"This effort, fueled by one rich man's personal ambitions, will not create one new job, educate a single child, or keep one cop on the beat," the statement said.

His reference was to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, a millionaire who plans to run for governor on the recall ballot and has donated $800,000 to the effort to secure a special election.

If a recall election occurs, Californians would vote yes or no on whether to dump Davis, then pick a replacement from a list of candidates on the same ballot. The winner would become governor if Davis was recalled.

California has never held a statewide recall election. But Davis strategists believe he would be best positioned to survive if no Democrat is on the ballot to replace him.

A Democratic Party united against the recall could buttress the governor's argument that the election is an attempt by Republicans to redo the 2002 election they lost.

"I think California Democrats see the recall for what it really is -- a coup attempt by right-wing Republicans -- and they want nothing to do with it," said Davis campaign consultant Roger Salazar.

Still, it remains uncertain whether a Davis recall election will occur. Recall supporters have until Sept. 2 to submit nearly 900,000 valid voter signatures on a petition to qualify for the ballot. Proponents of the recall said they have turned in nearly half that number; elections officials have not yet confirmed the count.

Davis has organized a campaign to discourage Californians from signing the petition, but supporters concede he faces an uphill battle in trying to block the election.

Besides Issa, other Republicans who have hinted at their interest in the race are actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon Jr. and state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).

"Different combinations of candidates produce different outcomes, and it's far too early for anyone to make a decision to enter the race," McClintock said.

McClintock and other recall supporters blame Davis for the state's deep fiscal troubles. They said he misled Californians during his reelection campaign by vastly understating the problem. Davis has denied the charge.

McClintock, who ran unsuccessfully last year for state controller, said voters are "allowed to make mistakes," such as reelecting Davis.

"The recall is there so that they don't have to live with those mistakes for four years," he said. "The governor's policies have brought the state to the brink of bankruptcy."

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