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Governor Questioned by Univision Audience

In an hourlong TV session to talk about his initiatives, he is asked about immigration, licenses and other issues.

October 26, 2005|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stood before a Spanish-language television audience Tuesday to sell his package of special election initiatives, but instead faced questions about such issues as driver's licenses, relations with Mexico and the cost of a college education.

The governor's critics quickly denounced the hourlong appearance, which will air Saturday morning on Univision stations statewide, as a "gift" from the network's chairman, who is Schwarzenegger's largest single campaign donor.

At Univision's Sacramento studio, Schwarzenegger answered questions from an audience of 60 people selected by the station for an episode of the public affairs show "Voz y Voto."

"During the recall, you all recalled the governor, but not the broken system," Schwarzenegger told the audience, referring to the 2003 ouster of Gov. Gray Davis. "Now on Nov. 8, you have the chance to recall the broken system."

But no more than six of the 17 questions the governor fielded dealt with propositions on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Audience members asked about a range of topics, including the cost of public university tuition, why he has not signed legislation authorizing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and why he has not visited Mexican President Vicente Fox. He promised to try to arrange a meeting soon.

Schwarzenegger said more than once that immigration and related topics are a federal concern.

"The federal government has just too long looked the other way, and has lived in denial," the governor said. "It is a federal issue. It is not a state issue. If it was a state issue, believe me, I would be on top of this issue."

One pointed question came from attorney Gabriel Vivas, who asked about the fairness of Proposition 77, which would strip legislators of the power to draw district boundaries and turn the task over to retired judges.

Vivas, a Democrat who works for the state Department of Education, noted that few retired judges are Latino and that the governor has appointed two Latinos among the 94 judicial appointments he has made.

Schwarzenegger answered by saying that if judges were empowered to redraw districts, Latinos could pick up one or more congressional seats, particularly in the Los Angeles area. He also said he has tried to be bipartisan in his judicial picks. An aide later said his judicial appointments include 45 Republicans, 36 Democrats and 13 who declined to state a party affiliation.

Foes of the governor's initiatives requested that the network provide equal time to them, though Univision is under no legal obligation to do so. Univision spokeswoman Tanya Pushkine Rojas could not be reached for comment.

"To me, it smacks of preferential treatment," said Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles.

During the 2003 recall campaign, Univision granted Davis air time to defend himself. But former aides to Davis said there was a difference: Davis did not ask for the recall, whereas Schwarzenegger ordered the special election and is promoting the initiatives.

Garry South, who was Davis' main political advisor, said that by giving the free time to Schwarzenegger, Univision runs the risk of becoming perceived as a "public relations organ."

"It is not neutral when you give one side in a heavily contested campaign a full free hour of time and you don't offer the same time to the other side," said South, who is now aiding Controller Steve Westly, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Arnoldo S. Torres, political analyst and regular co-host of "Voz y Voto," said his boss at the station told him last week that he would not be appearing on the Saturday episode. The show's format was being changed for the occasion from one in which the hosts question the guests to one in which audience members ask the questions.

"At a time when the Hispanic community is growing and all political parties state their interest and desire to appeal to this population," Torres said, "we cannot afford to have any media outlets to have a partisan color."

Rob Stutzman, the governor's campaign spokesman, said Schwarzenegger's campaign requested the different format but did not screen the audience or the questions.

Univision Chairman A. Jerrold Perenchio has given Schwarzenegger's initiative campaigns $3 million this year, and $4.78 million total since 2002, when Schwarzenegger pushed his first ballot initiative.

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