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Lockyer Broke Ranks, Voted GOP

Democratic attorney general says he opposed the recall of Davis, but chose Schwarzenegger as his replacement because of his message of hope.

October 19, 2003|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

BERKELEY — Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, one of the most partisan Democrats in California, surprised political insiders on Saturday when he revealed that he had broken party ranks in the recall election to vote for Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a speech at UC Berkeley, he said he opposed the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and voted against it. But on the second part of the Oct. 7 ballot, which asked voters to select a replacement for Davis, Lockyer said he chose Schwarzenegger because he was won over by the Republican's message of "hope, change, reform [and] optimism."

"I hope I'm not being conned," Lockyer said. "The people who voted for him hope they are not being conned."

His remarks caused a stir among the audience of about 100 political scientists, consultants and journalists who gathered at a forum analyzing the recall at Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.

"Wow," said Schwarzenegger campaign strategist George Gorton. "Smart politicians are always ahead of the game."

Lockyer's vote -- while noteworthy because of his position and past -- was not uncommon among Democrats. A Times exit poll found that 23% of registered Democrats voted for Schwarzenegger.

Lockyer, 62, briefly considered running to replace Davis himself, but, like most prominent Democrats, ultimately decided to stay out. He has known Schwarzenegger for a dozen years, and supported the actor's 2002 ballot initiative that sought funding for after-school programs.

The attorney general is widely thought to be a probable candidate for governor in 2006. His most likely foe for the Democratic nomination, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, has emerged as a Schwarzenegger critic who has promised to lead Democratic opposition to the new governor. Both Lockyer and Angelides have stockpiled roughly $10 million in campaign funds for the 2006 election.

Lockyer attended Saturday's event with his new wife, Nadia Maria Davis, and infant son, Diego. Noting that having a child at his age has brightened his perspective on life, he wore a tie that quoted from the John Lennon song "Imagine." He cuddled the baby as he waited his turn to speak, seemingly unbothered by a spot of drool dampening his white shirt.

Lockyer shrugged off suggestions that his vote for Schwarzenegger would damage his standing among the Democratic faithful and undermine his support in the 2006 election, saying: "I'm just doing what I think is right. It is a new me."

He opened his speech by quoting at length from Matthew Arnold's 1867 poem "Dover Beach," which evokes a mood hovering between melancholy and hope. It was a marked departure from the partisan rhetoric for which Lockyer is known.

In the mid-1990s, as Democratic leader of the state Senate, he oversaw the fund-raising and operation of Democratic campaigns while keeping up a steady beat of criticism of then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican. Lockyer won his current office in 1998 in a campaign that sharply disparaged his Republican rival's opposition to gun control. He was easily reelected in 2002.

But even as Lockyer described his newfound moderation, he took a swipe at the only major Democrat who had offered himself as a recall candidate, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

"You know the people in your profession really well," Lockyer said, explaining why he couldn't bring himself to vote for Bustamante. "You know who works hard and who doesn't and you know who is honest and who isn't. Cops know that about cops. Doctors know that about doctors. I know that about politicians."

Democratic consultant Richie Ross, who advised Bustamante in the recall campaign and Lockyer in past races, shrugged off the attorney general's remarks, saying, "My candidates have differing points of views."

As the surprise of Lockyer's admission faded, many observers began parsing his remarks for political motives. Perhaps he hoped to clearly differentiate himself from Angelides, some said. Or maybe Lockyer was merely trying to align himself with the broad swath of voters who backed Schwarzenegger, others speculated.

"Vintage Lockyer," Garry South, Davis' longtime political strategist, said with a smirk.

Early in the recall campaign, Lockyer characterized Davis' past campaigns as "puke politics." In his speech Saturday, he said the comment was aimed at discouraging negative campaigning.

"Negative campaigns turn people off," he said. "It is disrespectful to voters. It erodes the fundamental tenets of society."

Lockyer said he viewed the Schwarzenegger campaign, by contrast, as "hopeful and optimistic and positive and problem-solving."

California Democratic Party executive Bob Mulholland said he doubted that Lockyer's announcement would hurt him with Democrats. But Mulholland pledged that the Democratic Party would continue criticizing Schwarzenegger over his policies and allegations that he sexually harassed women on movie sets over the last 30 years.

Lockyer, for his part, said he has no doubt that Schwarzenegger engaged in "frat boy" behavior, but added that "I'm convinced that Arnold didn't understand" that such actions were wrong.

"I give him the benefit of the doubt," Lockyer said.

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