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THE STATE | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Davis, Kerry Campaign in L.A.

The senator from Massachusetts joins the governor in attacking the recall during a visit to a veterans facility in Westwood.

September 18, 2003|Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writer

Two Vietnam veterans, Gov. Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, appealed to former soldiers Wednesday to rally to Davis' side and against the effort to oust him from office. They also sought to blame President Bush for many of the problems that fuel the recall effort.

Touring a Westwood facility that provides job training, drug treatment and other services for veterans, Davis referred to his tenure in the governor's office as "my tour of duty," one that he said he should be allowed to complete. He reiterated his belief that the recall effort was disruptive to the economy and would usher in a cycle of retaliatory special elections.

Davis also addressed the budget and economic issues that concerned many of those who signed recall petitions. "Those problems are being solved or diminished. The problems are getting better," he said.

He also took aim at the leading Republican replacement candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his suggestion Monday that law enforcement officials like LAPD Chief William J. Bratton backed Davis' signing of a driver's license bill for illegal immigrants because they feared losing state money. Bratton has said he backed the measure because it would allow such drivers to buy insurance and not feel they need to flee the scene of accidents.

"It's a mystery to me how Arnold Schwarzenegger knows why Chief Bratton took the position he did," Davis said.

The governor also criticized the actor's television ads as misleading because they assert that the state is spending $29 million more daily than it is bringing in. That figure is apparently derived by dividing into daily increments the $10.7 billion the state borrowed to close last year's deficit. Under the new budget, state officials said, the state is actually bringing in $6 million more each day than it spends.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger should first learn how to add," said Davis, an Army captain in Vietnam. "Let's deal with the misrepresentations he's already had on the air before we deal with any new ones."

Later Wednesday, in an hourlong town hall meeting in Sacramento sponsored by the California Broadcasters Assn., Davis fielded questions about his positions on education, health care, the environment and other issues.

In his opening remarks, Davis took a shot at Schwarzenegger, noting with a smile, "I don't get the questions in advance, like some other people." Schwarzenegger has agreed to attend only one debate among the recall candidates -- a forum sponsored by the broadcasters association in which the questions will be given to the candidates ahead of time.

Davis sounded themes he has repeated in six previous town hall meetings and campaign appearances around the state, warning that a successful recall would almost certainly "inspire another recall in retaliation" and would "make it tough for politicians to make tough decisions."

Davis declined to say whether he would sign a bill recently passed by the Legislature that would require some California businesses to provide health care to workers or pay into a state insurance fund. He said he supports the concept of universal health care, but had not yet read the bill, SB 2, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco).

After the session, Davis told reporters that he would make a decision on whether to sign the bill, which is strongly opposed by business groups, before the scheduled Oct. 7 date for the recall election.

Asked by one questioner what he would like to be remembered for as governor, Davis talked about funding for public schools.

"That investment has paid very handsome dividends," he said. "Test scores are up five years in a row."

Davis also cited the expansion of health care for children, pointing to the Healthy Families program for the children of working-poor families, which he said had expanded from 50,000 children to 800,000 during his tenure as governor.

Reminded of a comment early in his first term in which he said the job of the Legislature was to implement his vision -- a remark that angered legislators -- he interrupted the question: "Please, I've been paying such a debt for that statement," said Davis. "I plead guilty. That was a mistake. Mea culpa."

During the morning appearance before several dozen veterans, Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate, described his stops in California during his Navy service, and quickly made a transition to the recall.

"This recall is an abuse of the democratic process, and I hope California will reject it," said Kerry, one of a string of Democratic officials to visit California this week in an organized effort to bolster Davis' chances.

He called the recall "a rejection of common sense."

Kerry said Californians do have cause for anger -- and then listed several criticisms of the Bush administration, citing what he called the president's "contribution to the deficit" in California and the administration's favoritism of Enron and other energy companies over electricity users in California. Kerry also criticized the Bush administration's environmental policies and praised Davis' record on veterans' issues.

"Don't let the Republicans monkey with the democracy of California," Kerry said.

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