Union Tribune

August 19, 2003

Bustamante endorsed by 3 major labor unions
Government won't act to postpone Oct. 7 vote

By James P. Sweeney and Dana Wilkie

SACRAMENTO Organized labor's attempt to reserve all of its political firepower for Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall campaign began to crumble yesterday when three major unions endorsed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as an alternative candidate.

The California State Employees Association and the Association of Highway Patrolmen said they will embrace Bustamante's campaign theme, urging their members and the public to oppose the recall but vote for Bustamante should Davis be removed. The carpenters' union simply endorsed Bustamante.

They are the first unions to abandon labor's call to coalesce behind the embattled Democratic governor as the best strategy against the recall. Several other powerful unions also are openly pondering whether to spread their support around.

Also, Justice Department officials said they will avert a voting rights challenge that threatens to postpone the election until March.

A separate lawsuit seeking a similar delay was debated for nearly two hours in a Los Angeles court yesterday, but no ruling was issued.

In Sacramento, the Legislature's influential, 24-member Latino Caucus also voted to oppose the recall and support Bustamante, who earlier served as the first Latino speaker of the Assembly.

Labor support has been critical in both of Davis' gubernatorial elections, and he delivered much of labor's agenda in return. Public employees received a multibillion-dollar pension boost as well as the most generous raises many had seen in years.

Bustamante, who was the first and ultimately the only prominent Democrat to reject labor's initial all-for-one strategy, also has been a friend of the unions.

"We made a tough decision," said Perry Kenny, president of the 140,000-member state employees association. "We know that other people may have different ideas. But we think this is in the best interests of our membership."

Kenny said the endorsement will include financial support for Bustamante, although how much and how it compares with what the union gives the governor will be determined later.

The California Conference of Carpenters applauded Bustamante for breaking ranks and filing as a recall candidate.

The "bold decision, going against the tide . . . exhibited the kind of leadership that people are anxious for," the carpenters' Daniel Curtin wrote in a letter to Bustamante.

Early in the day, a Justice Department spokesman said the federal government will approve Oct. 7 as the date for California's recall election, a decision likely to clear potential obstacles recently raised by a federal judge in San Jose.

"Setting the recall election for Oct. 7, we don't believe that's going to be a problem," said the Justice Department official who asked not to be identified. "Oct. 7 is fine with us."

Late last night, Justice Department official Jorge Martinez publicly confirmed the decision.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel warned that he might postpone the recall election over voting-rights questions.

He ordered Monterey County to refrain from mailing overseas ballots until the questions are resolved. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Monterey County, along with Yuba, Kings and Merced counties, must get federal approval before making changes to voting practices.

The counties have a history of low voter participation, and minority-rights groups argued in court that the hurry-up nature of the Oct. 7 election would prevent these counties from having enough polling places or Spanish-speaking poll workers. Fogel scheduled a hearing Aug. 29 and suggested he might delay the election if federal approval hadn't happened by then.

The Justice Department has concluded that the counties have adequate plans to prevent minorities from becoming disenfranchised, the Justice Department official said. The formal announcement could come as early as today.

A delay could help Davis. Postponing the election until it could be consolidated with the March presidential primary could draw many more Democrats to the polls.

In Los Angeles, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson said he planned to issue a ruling in the other lawsuit later this week, perhaps tomorrow.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California want the delay, contending that voters in San Diego, Los Angeles and four other counties will be forced to use error-prone punch-card machines if the election is held Oct. 7.

"I thought the arguments presented are worthy of some studied response," Wilson said.

The judge noted that there is no prior case in which a federal court stopped or delayed a scheduled state election.

The ACLU contends the punch-card machines have error rates as high as 3 percent. The machines are scheduled to be replaced by the March election.

In San Diego yesterday, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein kicked off a statewide speaking tour intended to persuade Californians to vote against recalling Davis.

"The safest vote, the best vote for California, is to vote 'no' on the recall," Feinstein told reporters after addressing a luncheon at a Mission Valley hotel sponsored by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates to replace Davis, most of whom have been light on details about how they would deal with the state's fiscal crisis, are scheduled to begin rolling out policy proposals this week.

Bustamante will go first today as he outlines his economic plan at a news conference in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove.

Former baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth will issue the first in a series of fiscal proposals tomorrow at a Los Angeles news conference, his first public appearance of the campaign. Ueberroth is a registered Republican running as an independent.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, virtually invisible since his Hollywood-style entry into the race nearly two weeks ago, is scheduled to meet tomorrow with his economic team headed by investment mogul Warren Buffett and former Treasury Secretary George Shultz. Schwarzenegger also plans to begin airing television ads tomorrow.

Two of his Republican rivals, businessman Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks, seized upon last week's announcement that Buffett had joined the Schwarzenegger team as proof the action-movie star would pursue a "liberal" economic agenda if elected governor.

Buffett suggested in an interview in The Wall Street Journal last week that property taxes in California are too low.

Meanwhile, Simon, the 2002 Republican nominee for governor, will begin a three-day, five-city campaign tour tomorrow to highlight his no-new-taxes pledge. McClintock, a state senator from Thousand Oaks, has made a similar pledge.

Staff writers John Marelius and Philip J. LaVelle and Copley News Service correspondent Matt Krasnowski contributed to this report.