Cal Recall Election May Be Delayed

Gray Davis Arnold Schwarzenegger california governor race California Recall CBS/AP

The timing of the state's election to recall Gov. Gray Davis was thrown into doubt when a federal judge ordered Monterey County not to send absentee ballots overseas until issues raised by civil rights groups are resolved.

U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel said Friday the ballots may not go out until the Justice Department determines that minorities will not be alienated at the ballot box on Oct. 7.

The court challenge is one of several that have attempted to thwart or stall the effort to recall Davis and it appeared to have better luck than previous tries, including a similar one Thursday that failed in state court.

Because election clerks plan to save money by opening fewer polling places and hiring fewer Spanish-speaking poll workers, voting by Hispanics and other groups with a history of low turnout could be limited, the plaintiffs argued. In Monterey and three other counties with low turnout, changes in election procedure need federal clearance, which had not been received by Friday.

The judge did not make a final ruling on the timing, which could be delayed until the March primary.

Thomas Saenz, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which brought one of the lawsuits, said the delay in mailing ballots overseas could present further constitutional problems if the election goes ahead as planned and residents abroad can't get their ballots back in time.

"You can't have one group of voters that's not allowed to have their votes count," Saenz said.

The court action came as Arnold Schwarzenegger was rebuked for comments an adviser made that California's property taxes are too low.

Billionaire Warren Buffett, one of the actor's financial advisers, told the Wall Street Journal that the landmark Proposition 13 tax initiative may need reforms that include higher property taxes. He said he pays $14,401 in annual property taxes on his $500,000 home in Omaha, Neb., but only $2,264 on his $4 million Laguna Beach home.

Proposition 13, which limits property tax hikes to no more than 2 percent a year, is considered politically untouchable in California, and Davis and well-known Republicans in the field of 135 candidates quickly responded.

"Lord knows we have some things in California that cost a lot, but property taxes are not one of them and nobody is going to change this," the governor said at a Los Angeles elementary school.

State Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican candidate, criticized Buffett's comments.

"My message to Mr. Buffett and Mr. Schwarzenegger is this: That property tax bill is a suggested minimum. They are more than welcome to send in as much more as makes them happy. I only ask that they leave the rest of us alone."

Schwarzenegger supports the anti-tax initiative and was a keynote speaker at its silver anniversary gala earlier this summer, said spokesman Rob Stutzman.

But the situation demonstrated a campaign danger faced by the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-candidate, who has little or no record of public policy positions. Political analysts say advisers' opinions can easily become grafted onto the candidate.

"He takes the risk of being perceived as an empty vessel, a smart but empty vessel, into which Warren Buffett, George Shultz and Pete Wilson can pour their ideas," said Mark Petracca, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine.

In other developments:

  • Former ``West Wing'' star Rob Lowe said he will coordinate a coalition of entertainers for Schwarzenegger, ``Celebrities for Arnold.'' Lowe is a longtime Democrat and a friend of Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver.

  • A new Field Poll showed Davis' approval ratings falling to an all-time low of 22 percent, with 58 percent of likely voters wanting him out and 68 percent believing he will be ousted.

  • Republican leaders were reportedly trying to muscle Republicans Bill Simon, Tom McClintock and Peter Ueberroth out of the race to clear the way for actor Schwarzenegger. Party leaders fear a four-way split could elevate Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the best-known Democrat in the field of 135 candidates, to the governor's office if Davis gets recalled. Spokesmen for Simon and McClintock said both are staying in. A spokesman for Uberroth would not comment, but Ueberroth filed campaign disclosure reports showing he has given his campaign $1 million.

  • The poll shows Bustamante edging ahead of a now second-place Schwarzenegger, 25-to-22 percent.

  • President Bush said little about the recall during a two-day fund-raising swing through Southern California. He shoveled dirt, instead, into a washed-out trail rut in the Santa Monica Mountains to highlight his campaign to spruce up national parks. California Democrats used the Bush visit to compare the federal deficit to California's budget gap and suggested that the White House is helping mastermind Davis's possible ouster.
    • Dan Collins

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