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Gray Davis

Governor Apologizes for Remark About Accent

September 11, 2003|Gregg Jones | Times Staff Writer

FRESNO — Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday bowed to growing pressure and apologized for poking fun at Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's Austrian accent.

The controversy has been dogging Davis as he campaigns for the support of disgruntled Democrats and independents in an Oct. 7 special recall election.

Davis triggered the flap at a union picnic Saturday when he responded to a comment from the crowd by saying that someone who couldn't pronounce "California" shouldn't be governor.

"I was joking around with someone in the crowd after a speech," Davis said during an interview with KGO-AM radio in San Francisco. "It was a poor joke. I shouldn't have done it."

Davis said he wants people "to know that I'm doing this [apologizing] because I feel so strongly that this is a state that welcomes all people."

Pressed further by KGO's Ed Baxter, Davis said that the remark "was made to one individual in a crowd on the way out. I guess a reporter overheard it. I regret saying it, because I'd rather eat humble pie than have one Californian think that I don't fully appreciate, which I do, the role that immigrants have played in our society."

After Schwarzenegger campaign officials denounced his words as a slur on immigrants, Davis on Sunday said his comment was a "joke" but refused to apologize.

Davis and his campaign officials instead said Schwarzenegger should apologize for his support of Proposition 187, which would have denied some services to illegal immigrants, and for other positions that Davis and his supporters criticized as anti-immigrant.

Later Wednesday, at a town hall-style meeting here, Davis pledged to work to improve the state's business environment and said he would look for ways to roll back the recent tripling of the vehicle license fee if he survives the recall.

He also defended his decision to sign a controversial bill giving driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants, disputing a suggestion by the moderator that he was pandering to Latino voters.

"I'm clearly not pandering to people if most people are against it," said Davis, after the moderator noted that 59% of the people surveyed in a statewide poll opposed the legislation and 34% supported it.

Dianne Coolidge, a Fresno child care worker, asked Davis why he had signed the driver's license legislation after having vetoed it twice previously. She also asked "how it will help me or the state of California."

Davis said the two previous bills he had vetoed had been too complicated and too flawed.

"This is a much simpler bill," he said. "We can work out the details in the regulatory process." He said Californians would benefit by having qualified drivers on the road.

"I believe I was elected as governor to do what I think is right," he said.

"I think you have to be honest about how dependent we are in this economy on immigrant workers."

Davis continued to take the high road in his comments on the campaign of Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is one of 135 candidates on the ballot to replace Davis. Bustamante had initially taken pains to urge his supporters to vote "no" on the question of whether to recall Davis and "yes" on Bustamante as a replacement should Davis be recalled.

But in the past week, Bustamante has all but dropped his emphasis on the "no" vote to keep Davis in office.

Under questioning by the moderator of the Fresno meeting and afterward by reporters about whether he viewed Bustamante's shift as a betrayal, Davis offered nothing but praise for the lieutenant governor.

"I think the lieutenant governor is a good and decent person," he said. "I consider him a friend, and we've worked together, campaigned together.

"Almost every Democrat in California, and in America for that matter, who holds office is against this recall."

Davis once again predicted that the recall would harm business confidence in California, spawn more recalls and distract public officials from doing the work they were elected to do.

"Once there's blood in the water there's no telling who's going to be recalled," he said.

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