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Candidates' Debate Strikes Conciliatory Tone

Bustamante, Camejo and McClintock praise one another. Schwarzenegger skips the gathering and Davis sends Huffington.

October 03, 2003|Matea Gold And Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writers

There was no shouting this time -- no theatrics, no zingers and no European accents.

In marked contrast to their last debate, dominated by the linguistic collision of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arianna Huffington, three other leading candidates to replace Gov. Gray Davis held a debate Thursday that was notably genteel.

Green Party candidate Peter Camejo thanked Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante for letting him take part. Bustamante praised state Sen. Tom McClintock as "a strong advocate for his views." McClintock called Bustamante "decent" and "gentle."

About the only discordant notes were sounded when Bustamante was repeatedly asked to denounce a motto associated with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan), a Latino college group to which he once belonged.

As he has consistently throughout the campaign, he refused to denounce the motto: "For the race, everything; for those outside the race, nothing."

"You know," Bustamante said when debate moderator Paul Moyer demanded an answer, "now it's getting to the point where it's a little offensive the way the question is being asked."

In the next-to-last debate of the campaign, held at the Museum of Tolerance, the candidates mostly recited now-familiar views on a variety of topics that have been central to the recall race.

Bustamante argued for his "tough love" fiscal plan, which would balance the budget with an $8-billion tax increase and restore money that has been cut from education, particularly for community colleges.

McClintock repeated that he would balance the budget without tax cuts, and pleaded with conservative voters to support him rather than cast votes for Schwarzenegger based purely on pragmatism.

Camejo called again for a fair tax on the rich, balanced by tax cuts for the poor and the middle class, and he called for large investments in solar energy to help further the development of hydrogen as a feasible energy source. The conversion of hydrogen into energy relies heavily on electricity.

The debate was cosponsored by the League of Women Voters of California and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and organized by KNBC-TV, Channel 4 and Telemundo, the Spanish-language TV network.

Before the debate began, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who bankrolled the petition drive that led to the election, and Huffington, who dropped out of the race earlier this week to campaign solely against the recall, briefly offered their arguments to voters.

In his opening and closing remarks, Bustamante delivered some of his strongest statements against the recall.

Although he has said he wants voters to oppose the recall but vote for him as a replacement candidate, the anti-recall theme had all but disappeared from his campaign in recent weeks.

Bustamante supplied the only real rancor of the debate when he was grilled about the Latino student group.

Although supporters say the group has largely cast off its radical roots, critics say its founding documents preach separatism and say parts of the Southwestern United States should, essentially, be returned to Mexico.

Asked about his refusal to distance himself from it, Bustamante said: "This group, MEChA, which I was a member of, is a group that tried to provide opportunity for Latino students.... I'm not a racial separatist. That's outrageous to say that. I've never involved myself with anything that was anti-Semitic or that was racist in any way, shape or form."

The motto, "Everything for the race ...," comes from a document called "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan."

While leaders say it is not the group's motto, several of its Web sites contain links to the document.

Asked about the motto, Bustamante reiterated that he is not a racial separatist, and expressed annoyance at the question.

Asked a third time, he said: "I think I've answered the question. I think it's important that you look at my work and who I am."

Camejo congratulated Bustamante for having been a member of the group. McClintock said Bustamante "is a decent man, and I think he is a gentle man and he has my respect as a legislator." But he called the group "an overtly racist organization" and called on the lieutenant governor to denounce the motto.

Schwarzenegger did not respond to an invitation to participate in the debate.

Davis, who was invited to deliver an anti-recall message, sent Huffington in his place.

On Thursday morning, Davis appeared at the Santa Monica Pier, where he signed four environmental bills, looking and acting tired after days of campaign events.

Two bills he signed would incorporate environmental education into school curriculums.

Another would develop criteria to evaluate state environmental programs, and the last would limit the locations of schools near environmental hazards.

Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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