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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Prop. 54 Sponsor Concedes Passage Is Now Unlikely

Connerly says he can't match Bustamante's money. Schwarzenegger also weighs in against it.

September 07, 2003|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Ward Connerly all but conceded defeat Saturday on Proposition 54, his ballot measure to restrict the government collection of racial and ethnic data, after Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante said he would spend nearly $4 million to defeat it and Arnold Schwarzenegger also indicated his opposition.

Bustamante's move is the result of a strategic shift in his campaign for governor. Hoping to defuse an issue that has dogged him on the campaign trail, his chief strategist said, the lieutenant governor is abandoning plans to advertise his candidacy using the nearly $4 million from labor unions and casino-owning Indian tribes.

Instead, he will spend the campaign cash on television commercials featuring himself denouncing Proposition 54, which will share the Oct. 7 ballot with the recall.

"Gulp," Connerly said when informed of the decision. A nearly $4-million campaign against his measure, he said, "probably dooms" it. "I'm never throwing in the towel. But I've been around the block. There is no way we can match that."

After weeks of refusing to state a position, Schwarzenegger said Saturday that he has decided to oppose the initiative. That leaves only state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) supporting the measure among the prominent candidates for governor and underscores again the ideological split between the two leading GOP candidates.

Schwarzenegger did not address Proposition 54 in an afternoon speech and news conference in Sacramento, where he picked up the endorsement of the boards of the California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents 88,000 farming and ranching families, and the Western Growers Assn., whose members grow, pack or ship most of the state's fresh fruit and vegetables.

But he told an aide to Connerly that he opposes the initiative, and he mentioned his position in interviews the campaign granted exclusively to two Sacramento-area reporters.

The disclosure came at the end of a week when race and ethnicity emerged as key issues. As Davis signed legislation granting illegal immigrants the right to get driver's licenses, Schwarzenegger criticized the measure as a threat to national security and came under criticism from Bustamante as being anti-immigrant. On Saturday, the actor learned that an invitation to join today's Mexican Independence Day parade in East Los Angeles had been revoked by organizers.

Opposed by top Democrats, health care groups and liberal advocates for minorities, Proposition 54 would limit the ability of government to collect and use racial and ethnic data.

"Free country," Connerly said when asked about Schwarzenegger's opposition to the measure. "All I can do is make my case that I think this state is becoming very fragmented with people of color on the one hand, and whites on the other. I don't think that is good for the state. With people marrying across lines of race and having children, this whole system of categorizing people by race is going to crush under its own weight."

Still, Connerly, a Republican, was glum about the initiative's chances. Noting that the state GOP is giving the campaign no money, he said, "The microphone has been taken away."

His campaign message, he added, is getting "drowned out" by the intense attention being paid to the recall campaign.

Bustamante's decision on campaign finances, in one sense, will change that: It will be the newly flush anti-Proposition 54 effort, not just the recall campaign, drowning Connerly out.

Bustamante is scheduled to make his announcement about the tribal and labor contributions during a rally today at the Fresno Convention Center.

A campaign camera crew will tape his speech and use it in the television spots against the initiative scheduled to begin airing the week of Sept. 15.

Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), who sued Bustamante last week to bar him from using the $3.8 million in contributions on his gubernatorial campaign, said he intends to press the suit, charging that Bustamante's latest plan is "still making a mockery" of the campaign finance law Johnson helped write.

"It stinks to high heaven," he said. "If the commercials feature the lieutenant governor, then the money is being used to support Bustamante for governor."

In today's speech, a text of which was provided to The Times, Bustamante says Proposition 54 is "an attack on our public health system, and it must defeated."

"No matter how you vote on the recall please join me and the California nurses and doctors in voting no on Proposition 54. It's more important than politics."

Bustamante will also say that he has "decided to resolve the questions raised by the Republicans about my campaign finances" by devoting the bulk of his contributions from unions and tribes to defeat the initiative rather than in his gubernatorial effort. He has been criticized for using a loophole in campaign law to accept contributions well in excess of the $21,200 limit.

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