Thursday, August 28, 2003

From combined dispatches

FRESNO, Calif. — Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to broaden his appeal yesterday in the state’s ethnically diverse heartland, as a Hispanic advocacy group criticized the Austrian-born actor for supporting English as America’s official language.

His leading rival in the gubernatorial-recall campaign, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, touched on an issue dear to Californians — gas prices — as he accused oil companies of price gouging leading into Labor Day weekend.

Mr. Bustamante, a Democrat, vowed to bring the companies under state regulatory control, as he began what shaped up as a frenetic day of campaigning by gubernatorial candidates.

Before Mr. Schwarzenegger arrived in the state’s farm belt, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) called on him to step down from the advisory board of U.S. English, a group that seeks to make English the official language of the United States.

“It just seems like all the issues that we support, he doesn’t,” said Gabriela Lemus, the league’s director of policy and legislation. The league said it is not taking a position on whether Gov. Gray Davis should be recalled and will not endorse a replacement candidate.

Mr. Bustamante, meanwhile, defended his membership in the radical group the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan (MECHA, from the Spanish acronym) while he was a student at California State University at Fresno in the 1970s, and said he still supports the group.

MECHA calls California and the rest of the American Southwest “Aztlan” and says it needs to be “liberated” and revert to Mexico. The group’s motto is “For the race, everything; for those outside the race, nothing.”

“The students who are MECHA today are just like the students when I was there,” Mr. Bustamante said yesterday. “Pretty much, they are trying to get an education. Most of the friends I went to school with are now either graduates from college or raising families.”

At a July 4 celebration in 1996, members of the group, who call themselves Mechistas, attacked black and white Americans protesting illegal immigration. In 1993, Mechista protesters caused $500,000 worth of damage at UCLA to demand a Chicano studies department. MECHA has also been associated with anti-Semitic groups, such as the Nation of Aztlan.

Meanwhile, LULAC’s Miss Lemus said Mr. Schwarzenegger’s membership on the board of U.S. English “does not bode well for Hispanics.”

“So many of us support bilingualism and bilingual education and maintaining our culture, and he’s essentially saying it’s not valid by being part of this board that has got this whole anti-immigrant, underlying racist mentality,” she said.

Spokesman Sean Walsh said Mr. Schwarzenegger, whose native language is German, believes English should be the official language as a boost to immigrant success.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger came to this country with a few dollars in his pocket and not speaking the English language, and he realized the importance of learning to speak English as quickly as possible to achieve your American dreams,” Mr. Walsh said.

The other front-running candidates in the race to replace Mr. Davis if he is recalled Oct. 7 were also busy around the state.

Former baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth held a town hall-style meeting in San Diego, telling about 75 people that if elected he would convene a special legislative session on his first day in office to address the state’s budget.

He also said he would ask lawmakers to place a measure on the March ballot asking voters for a constitutional amendment to impose spending caps. The spending limits would be tied to inflation and population changes.

“I’m going to be a mad dog chasing a meat truck to make sure we get spending in line and get jobs back in the state,” he said.

Republican state Sen. Sen. Tom McClintock also was in San Diego, serving as guest host on an afternoon radio show on KOGO.

Mr. Davis, Mr. Bustamante and Mr. McClintock also met with the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, which represents 57 tribal governments. The group will not endorse a candidate, but its members have become an influential political force capable of boosting campaign coffers.

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