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Schwarzenegger Hears It From Both Sides Over 'Scripted' Debate

September 19, 2003|Matea Gold and Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writers

In a pincer move, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante teamed up against a common foe Thursday, threatening to boycott the only debate Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to attend.

Both candidates demanded that the format of the debate set for Wednesday in Sacramento be changed, saying it was inappropriate that questions had been provided in advance.

At the same time, Indian tribes stepped up TV advertising and direct-mail campaigns in support of both Bustamante and McClintock, moves that also have the effect of targeting Schwarzenegger.

The actor responded angrily, lashing out for the first time against McClintock, the conservative Republican whose candidacy threatens to split the GOP vote in the recall election.

"I think that as far as Tom McClintock is concerned, the question for him is: What side is he on?" Schwarzenegger said. "Is he on the side of the Republicans? Does he represent the Republicans? Or does he represent Bustamante? Because he's getting money from the same Indian tribes that are financing his commercials and his TV spots."

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians plans to begin airing a TV commercial today in Los Angeles in support of McClintock, featuring him speaking about his experience in government.

John Stoos, McClintock's deputy campaign director, scoffed at the attempt to challenge the Thousand Oaks senator's Republican credentials.

"Tom's been laboring for 20 years in the Republican vineyards," he said. "That's going to be a tough charge to make stick."

He dismissed suggestions that the Indian tribes were backing McClintock merely to torpedo Schwarzenegger and boost Bustamante, noting that the Morongos could have run an ad simply attacking the actor.

"We have been supporters of the Indians and sovereignty longer than Cruz Bustamante has been in office," Stoos said.

"In other developments Thursday in the campaigns to replace Gov. Gray Davis:

* Schwarzenegger, who is spending nearly $3 million a week on a lavish campaign, chose a symbolically rich setting to propose a new political reform package, speaking in front of a locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The scene was meant to evoke the Southern Pacific Railroad barons, whose grip on California's political process in the early 20th century sparked a series of Progressive-era reforms, including the recall.

* Reports filed with the state Thursday show that two Indian tribes spent $454,852 Wednesday for a mailer supporting Bustamante's gubernatorial bid. The Pechanga Band of Mission Indians and the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians made the expenditure through an independent committee, First Americans for a Better California. The committee, formed last week with a $2-million donation from the Pechanga, previously spent $100,000 on printing for Bustamante.

* Breaking from some other Democratic officials, Bustamante voiced hope that the courts will allow the recall election to continue on Oct. 7, as planned, saying voters are suffering from "recall fatigue." The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to decide today whether to reconsider this week's ruling that delayed the election. But the bulk of the action centered on the debate about next week's debate.

McClintock and Bustamante demanded that the California Broadcasters Assn. change the format of a debate set for Wednesday in Sacramento. Schwarzenegger, however, has agreed to appear only at that forum, and has not responded to invitations to appear in several other debates, including one jointly sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times scheduled for Sept. 30.

"This should not be called a debate -- it's a scripted forum," said McClintock campaign director John Feliz. "The only one he is attending, he has to have the answers ahead of time. That's not right."

McClintock and Bustamante plan to send a letter today to the California Broadcasters Assn., which is organizing Wednesday's debate, saying they will not participate unless the format is altered, their campaigns said.

Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said the cooperation between the two candidates is indicative of their mutual interest in beating Schwarzenegger.

"They probably consider Arnold the 400-pound gorilla, so it's probably smart politics on both ends to try to cut away at him," Regalado said.

The Green Party's Peter Camejo and independent candidate Arianna Huffington have also called for an unscripted format, but as of Thursday evening, they had not committed to signing the letter. Stan Statham, president of the broadcasters association, said the group would not change its format, adding that he would be disappointed if some candidates decided not to attend.

Schwarzenegger's campaign, which unsuccessfully sought a change in the format two weeks ago, said the actor would be happy to have the stage to himself.

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