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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

Schwarzenegger Defends His Hummer

He would retrofit the vehicle to run on hydrogen, he tells environmental voters.

September 22, 2003|Joe Mathews | Times Staff Writer

CARPINTERIA, Calif. — Arnold Schwarzenegger came to this breezy beach town south of Santa Barbara on Sunday to raise campaign money and to reach out to environmentally conscious voters -- only to find himself confronted by protesters and ensnared by questions about a piece of his personal iconography: the Hummer.

As an actor, Schwarzenegger publicly embraced the Hummer, a gas-guzzling military vehicle, as part of his larger-than-life image, and helped transform it into a popular civilian vehicle. But as a candidate, he argued Sunday, he would be an environmentally friendly governor, opposing off-shore oil drilling, calling for more aggressive enforcement of environmental laws -- and even retrofitting his Hummer to run on hydrogen instead of gasoline.

As he pledged to sign an executive order to build a network of hydrogen fueling stations along the state's highways by 2010, about two dozen protesters chanted, "A Hummer Isn't Green," so loud that it was difficult to hear Schwarzenegger's speech. Michael Warnken, 28, of Santa Barbara, a Schwarzenegger supporter who tried to rip a megaphone out of the hands of a protester, was arrested and was being held in the county jail, said Sgt. Chris Pappas.

Three major environmental groups -- Sierra Club California, the California League of Conservation Voters and Vote the Coast -- issued a joint statement saying that Schwarzenegger's environmental proposals could not be trusted because of his promotion of the Hummer.

Pressed by reporters about why he had not converted his Hummer to cleaner fuel before he became a candidate, Schwarzenegger said: "Because I'm not perfect."

Schwarzenegger seemed undeterred by the opposition. Standing between a Toyota truck and a Ford Ranger that run on hydrogen, the candidate argued that new businesses could be created by embracing new technologies.

"We do not have to choose between protecting our economy and protecting our jobs," he said. "We do can both."

Schwarzenegger's appearance was the latest in a series of campaign events designed to show off the candidate's commitment to issues that are thought to have broad appeal outside his Republican Party.

Sunday's setting -- on the Carpinteria Bluffs above the Pacific -- was supposed to provide a television-friendly backdrop. But neither the protesters nor the weather -- fog obscured the offshore oil rigs he criticized in his speech -- would cooperate.

In a statement, Rico Mastrodonato, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters, suggested Schwarzenegger was an unknown quantity as an environmentalist and thus could not be trusted.

"Schwarzenegger is not the environmental candidate in this race," Mastrodonato said. "He has no record, no experience making tough choices."

On Sunday, Schwarzenegger recited much of his environmental plan. In addition to embracing hydrogen, he pledged to cut statewide air pollution through incentives to get more polluting cars off the roads and varying toll prices to discourage driving at peak hours. Schwarzenegger also called for the cleanup of watersheds and Lake Tahoe, more solar power in new homes and better state park maintenance, among other things.

He did not say, however, how he would finance such moves. He has yet to outline a plan to fill the multibillion-dollar budget shortfall projected for next year, let alone the new programs.

After the event, Schwarzenegger attended two local fund-raisers. One was a $250-per-person cocktail reception at the home of Republican Beth Rogers in Carpinteria. After that, he moved to a $5,000-per-person event at the Montecito estate of director Ivan Reitman.

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