California Race Hits Fast Lane

California recall. Story is about splits within both parties, involving Bill Simon vs. Arnie and Gray Davis vs. Cruz Bustamante..
Some of the top contenders in the California gubernatorial recall election are taking their cases to the voters – including the man at the center of the political storm.

Gov. Gray Davis will give a speech Tuesday night at UCLA, his first major address on the recall. His aides say the governor will compare the recall drive with former President Clinton's impeachment and the 2000 Florida presidential deadlock.

"He will speak candidly and from the heart. He will take responsibility, set the record straight and explain his upcoming plans," said Gabriel Sanchez, spokesman for Californians Against the Costly Recall.

Another leading Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, was detailing his economic plan at a Tuesday news conference.

Bustamante, who says he opposes the recall but wants to replace Davis if the governor is ousted, calls his plan "Tough Love for California." It would include nearly $8 billion in new taxes or fees and $4.5 billion in cuts or savings, Bustamante said.

And the man who's perhaps the highest-profile candidate, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, plans to talk about his economic policies on Wednesday. The actor-turned-politician is also set to start airing TV ads.

Last week, a slate of 135 candidates was certified by the secretary of state, and the Oct. 7 recall election is just seven weeks away.

In coming weeks, Davis will travel the state to make his case directly to voters, said Peter Ragone, communications director for the organization.

"He knows the buck stops with him," Ragone said.

Schwarzenegger, who has been criticized for not offering a specific agenda, planned to discuss his economic policies after a private meeting Wednesday with advisers who include billionaire investor Warren Buffett and former Secretary of State George Shultz, spokesman Rob Stutzman said Monday.

Also Wednesday, Schwarzenegger plans to begin airing television ads, and fellow moderate Republican Peter Ueberroth, the former baseball commissioner, plans to make his first campaign appearances.

Meanwhile, campaign correspondents noted that Schwarzenegger has promoted several products on the campaign trail: his movie, "Terminator 3," his Lifecycle exerciser, Indian Chief motorcycles and Hummer sport utility vehicles.

The flurry of planned appearances was matched by activity in the legal system.

On Monday, the Justice Department said the compressed schedule of the special election would not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The issue has been raised by civil rights lawsuits seeking to postpone the election.

"This is plain vanilla, black and white, setting the election date. This is not a problem," said Jorge Martinez, a Justice Department spokesman.

Elsewhere, a federal judge in Los Angeles said he would rule Wednesday on separate arguments to postpone the election because some counties will use old punch-card voting machines. The American Civil Liberties Union claims the machines used in six counties have error rates up to 3 percent.

In more bad news for Gray Davis, a number of labor unions announced they were backing Bustamante on Monday. The California State Employees Association, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and the California Conference of Carpenters were all rallying behind Bustamante's mixed message campaign intended to keep a Democrat in the governor's office if Davis is recalled.

And the influential Latino Legislative Caucus — which includes 15 members of the state Assembly and nine state senators — voted unanimously against the recall but in support of Bustamante, the state's highest ranking Hispanic official. The vote came after two of Davis' chief aides urged them to endorse a no vote on the recall.

The debate has sharpened as the latest polls show support for Davis continues to fall while support for Bustamante as his replacement is rising.

Next week, the state's largest labor group — the California Federation of Labor — will hold its election convention. The federation, which is an umbrella group of AFL-CIO unions in California, has so far backed the governor.

The election, just 49 days away, is forcing some counties to make a number of moneysaving changes that until Monday lacked approval from the Justice Department. The legal dispute focused on Monterey County, which plans to cut costs by reducing its usual 190 polling places to 86 and hiring fewer Spanish-speaking poll workers.

Such changes must be cleared by the Justice Department in places like Monterey and three other California counties, which have a history of low voter participation, particularly among minorities. The other California counties subject to the requirement are Merced, Kings and Yuba.

"This is not a problem," Jorge Martinez, a Justice Department spokesman, said late Monday.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose ordered Monterey County not to send absentee ballots overseas as he considers postponing the election. It was not immediately clear how the Justice Department decision on Monday would affect Fogel's order.

In the Los Angeles case, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California says voters in six counties would still be using the error-prone ballots if the recall were staged Oct. 7.

The suit seeks a delay until the next regular election in March, when touch-screen or written ballots will be in place as part of separate litigation arising from the Bush-Gore voting debacle in Florida in 2000.