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Gray Davis

The governor avoids the recall at student forum, but later warms to the topic.

October 07, 2003|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Gov. Gray Davis began what may prove to be the final day of his final campaign by flying from Los Angeles to Sacramento, where he held a forum with elementary, high school and college students at the city's historic Guild Theater.

Davis touched only briefly on the recall -- and made no mention of the allegations of sexual misbehavior dogging candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger -- as he spoke to the students and fielded questions for nearly an hour.

Davis related a story that he has told frequently on the campaign trail, about what he described as a pivotal moment in his life when he was an aimless eighth-grader riding the bench of his school baseball team. The team coach -- a history teacher -- took him aside, gently scolded him for his lack of direction and told him that he believed in him and believed that he could make something of his life.

"You actually have some talent, you actually have some ability," Davis recalled the coach and teacher telling him. "That one conversation changed my life."

The conversation inspired him to redirect his life, Davis told the students, and by his senior year he was captain of the baseball team.

"I want you to know I believe in you," Davis said. "There's nothing you can't do. If you put in the effort, if you really want to improve yourself, there's a whole bunch of us who want to help you."

Davis challenged the students to set ambitious goals and work to achieve them, and to seek the guidance of teachers and other adults.

As he strolled across the stage in the old brick theater, in tie and white shirt but without his suit jacket, Davis showed no signs of the extraordinary stakes of his campaign or the potential embarrassment of being removed from office as a result of today's vote. He fielded questions from students about his priorities as governor, his support for education and the subject that has dominated his life for the last two months.

"What do you think of this recall?" a Sacramento High School student asked the governor. Davis laughed and replied, "It is not my favorite subject. And I am not for it."

He repeatedly stressed his accomplishments in public education over the last five years -- more college scholarships, better-trained teachers, more classroom computers and five years of rising test scores.

Davis said that his opponent in the recall -- a reference to Schwarzenegger -- had repeatedly criticized the governor because California ranks 27th in public education spending per pupil. But Davis said California ranked 43rd when he took office from Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a senior Schwarzenegger advisor.

"That's shocking," Davis said. "We spent more money than any governor ever has to improve your educational opportunities. If you allow me to continue to serve, I'll try with all my heart to ensure that every child in our society [has access to] a better educational system."

Davis expressed optimism in a chat with reporters and said he was prepared to accept the verdict of Californians.

"I have great faith in the voters," he said. "They've been very fair to me, and I'll accept whatever their judgment is."

Later, Davis addressed a rally of about 3,000 people in Union Square. The crowd was mostly firefighters, many of whom were in San Francisco for a convention. Some carried signs reading: "Terminate the Grope-inator." A man wearing a Schwarzenegger mask cavorted around the crowd and pretended to grope a woman who was with him.

Each speaker at the rally hammered on the themes that the recall was a partisan power grab and that Schwarzenegger was either unfit to govern or not up to the job.

"Gov. Davis is no Arnold-come-lately," said Dan Terry, president of the California Professional Firefighters union and a Davis supporter. "Let's show the partisan bullies that they can't steal this election. If we stand together, we won't just defeat the recall. We'll terminate it."

San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a Democrat, offered a spirited defense of Davis and scorned the recall as a power grab: "These Republicans are ruthless when they are in the pursuit of power."

From San Francisco, Davis flew to Los Angeles for a rally. Sharon Davis introduced her husband to about 500 supporters, some of whom held signs saying, "No groper for governor" and "Oink oink."

"My husband has never been accused of anything more serious than being dull," she said. "Right now, dull looks pretty good to me."

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