Bustamante campaign: Gov. Davis is sabotaging Democrats’ hopes
SAN FRANCISCO — Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the lone high-level Democrat running to replace Gov. Gray Davis should he be recalled on Oct. 7, went on national TV Sunday to accuse Davis’s aides of sabotaging his effort to offer a Democratic alternative to California voters.
“If some of the governor’s minions would stop trying to undercut my efforts, I think we could have a very coalesced opportunity for Democrats … and we have a possibility of having a win-win position on the ballot,” Bustamante said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Bustamante’s chief strategist, Richie Ross, went further, saying Democratic donors and activists were being pressured by the Davis camp to withhold support from Bustamante.
“He’s run into a pretty wide range of people as he’s been making his phone calls, finding that many of them are being visited or called from the governor’s campaign in an effort to shut him down,” Ross said in an interview Sunday. “They are saying, ‘Do not help the Bustamante effort.”‘
The words exposed the tension that has existed between the state’s top Democrats, who have never been close friends, since Bustamante joined the field of possible replacement candidates. Top party operatives had urged leading Democrats to stay off the ballot and rally around the embattled governor; Bustamante bucked that call, arguing that Democratic voters deserve a choice if the recall effort is successful.
The recall ballot will have two parts — a yes-or-no vote on whether to recall Davis, and a list of 135 replacement candidates for voters to consider should Davis lose.
Steve Smith, campaign manager for Californians Against the Costly Recall, said his team was not trying to cripple the Bustamante effort, even though it is at odds with the governor’s Davis-or-nobody strategy.
“As far as I know, and I think I would know, we’re not engaged in that,” Smith said. “From the Governor on down, I think we’ve been fairly complimentary of the Lt. Governor.”
Bustamante’s presence on the ballot also won’t ruin the governor’s survival odds, Smith said.
“As long as the Lt. Governor is supporting ‘no’ on the recall, I don’t believe that completely undercuts our campaign,” Smith said. “Does it make our campaign more difficult? Maybe. But I believe he has taken a principled position and is pursuing it.”
The latest polling suggests Davis is likely to be recalled, and that Bustamante is topping the field of replacement candidates. The nonpartisan Field Poll showed Bustamante had the support of 25 percent of likely voters, and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger 22 percent, with a 5 percentage-point margin of error. Other candidates all got single-digit support.
While Bustamante has long said he opposes the recall and will urge voters to vote against it, his televised appearance Sunday had the feel of a candidate stepping out on his own.
“Well clearly, we have a different style and I think that you’ll find that the two people have a different way of doings things,” Bustamante said. He noted his opposition to a Davis-backed measure to triple the state’s car tax as a way to help close the state’s $38 billion deficit. Bustamante has called the tax an unfair burden on working families.
“But I didn’t just talk about it in some kind of a concept, I didn’t just say I was opposed,” Bustamante said. “I offered a specific proposal to deal with the issue.”
Ross said Bustamante will deliver a speech Tuesday outlining a detailed package of proposals to tackle the state’s budget crisis. Asked why Bustamante was offering the proposals now, rather than during budget talks throughout the legislative session, Ross bristled.
“He has suggested quite a few ideas over the last few months,” Ross said. “The governor has never been interested in talking to him on this or any other subject.”
Bustamante’s greatest challenge is to avoid the appearance of betraying his party as he distinguishes himself from Davis, said Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.
“He has to walk a fine line,” Pachon said. “He has to be seen as his own man and at the same time not to appear as if he has abandoned ship.”
Representatives of organized labor said they did not know of any pressure on their members to stay out of the Bustamante effort, but reiterated their pledge to oppose the recall and support Davis.
“The question of Cruz Bustamante is not a question that we’ve answered yet,” said Steve Trossman, a spokesman for the Service Employees International Union. “We’ll have meetings in the next few weeks as to whether there will be any change in our strategy. It stays the same for now, we’re opposed to the recall and believe that Gray Davis should remain the governor of California.”