- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (AP) — In yesterday’s first debate of California’s recall election, candidates vying to oust Gov. Gray Davis attacked front-runner Cruz Bustamante for accepting American Indian casino money and connected actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to an adviser’s unpopular remarks on property taxes.

Mr. Bustamante, the Democratic lieutenant governor who leads the most recent poll, was criticized for taking advantage of a loophole in campaign-finance law that allowed a tribe to pledge $2 million to his financially struggling campaign.

Columnist Arianna Huffington, an independent, said Mr. Bustamante had made a mockery of campaign-finance laws, which allowed him to circumvent new-contribution limits by accepting the bulk of the money in an old campaign account.

“This is nothing but legalized bribery,” Mrs. Huffington said.

“Tell me how you really feel,” Mr. Bustamante replied.

He went on to say he has been a longtime supporter of tribes and was proud of the support he had received.

Five candidates participated in the debate: Mr. Bustamante, Mrs. Huffington, state Sen. Tom McClintock and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, both Republicans; and the Green Party’s Peter Camejo.

The skirmish came after a relaxed Mr. Davis told a separate forum with reporters and voters that the recall effort had been an awakening and that he would fight to keep his job and repair the state’s problems.

Mr. Davis said he had not acted soon enough to deal with the state’s energy crisis and pledged to keep in better touch with the people.

“I understand people are angry. I understand that people’s lives are not as good as they were two years ago,” said Mr. Davis, employing a theme he has repeatedly used during the recall campaign.

Mr. Schwarzenegger did not attend the debate.

Mrs. Huffington and Mr. Camejo teamed up to link Mr. Schwarzenegger to remarks his billionaire adviser Warren Buffett made, that Proposition 13 might need to be reworked. Proposition 13 is the voter-approved initiative that limits property tax increases.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he wouldn’t touch the law, and has tried to distance himself from Mr. Buffett’s statements.

Mr. Camejo said Mr. Schwarzenegger did shut Mr. Buffett up, but he said Mr. Buffett did voters a favor.”I say give [Mr. Buffett] a microphone,” Mr. Camejo said.

Mr. Bustamante also said the popular tax initiative should be retooled for commercial property, but Mr. McClintock and Mr. Ueberroth — who were in lockstep on a number of issues — said they would not touch the tax formula.

The debate is the first of three so far scheduled in advance of the Oct. 7 vote.

Candidates qualified for the debate by receiving at least 4 percent support in either a recent poll or the last statewide vote.

Mr. Schwarzenegger opted out, choosing instead to deliver a speech before supporters and students at California State University, Long Beach, where he got pelted with an egg as he waded through a crowd at a college campus.

Unfazed when the egg hit his left shoulder, the actor hero peeled off his coat and went ahead with a 15-minute speech in which he asserted he is running for governor to give something back to a state responsible for his success.

“You have such a fantastic life, Arnold, you make millions of dollars to do movies and all those kinds of things, why do you want to do this?” Schwarzenegger asked rhetorically.

“And you know something, because everything that I’ve gotten — my career, my money, my family — everything that I’ve gotten and achieved is because of California,” he said to cheers.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has agreed to participate in only one debate, on Sept. 24. Questions for that debate will be provided ahead of time — unlike yesterday’s debate. That decision has drawn criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.

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