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As California Prepares for Recall Election, Ballot Measure Causes Controversy - 2003-09-08

Californians are preparing to vote early next month on a complicated ballot that includes a recall measure, 135 candidates for governor, and two ballot measures. The ballot is creating some confusion and one of the measures, which addresses the issue of race, is creating controversy.

First, voters will choose whether or not to recall Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat. Then, if they want, they can select a name from a list of possible replacements. The list includes Republicans, independents, members of small parties, and even Democrats. The most prominent Democrat is Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.

The candidates will be listed in random order, and as he campaigned over the weekend, Mr. Bustamante urged voters to choose him. "There are 135 names. Don't let that bother you. Take your time. Don't rush. Find my name and carefully cast your ballot," he said.

Election officials say this California ballot is longer than any in history, at least in its list of candidates for a single office. Kristine Heffron is deputy registrar of voters in Los Angeles, and she says that first, people will vote on the question "Shall Gray Davis be recalled from the office of governor?" Then comes the rest of the ballot. "You select one candidate from up to seven pages, and then the two measures on page eight of the ballot are the statewide initiative measures," she said.

One of those measures is generating little passion. It would dedicate three percent of the state's general revenues to infrastructure projects.

But the second measure, called Proposition 54, is controversial. It would prohibit the state and local governments from classifying people by race, ethnicity, color or national origin. It is sponsored by Ward Connerly, a prominent conservative African American who opposes the use of race in hiring and college admissions. The leaders of most minority groups and prominent Democrats oppose the measure, saying that classificiation by race allows officials to monitor the progress of minority groups.

Mr. Bustamante, who is Hispanic, opposes the measure and believes most of his supporters are also against it. Responding to criticism he has received for accepting $4 million in pledges from tribal gambling and labor interests, he told a Hispanic audience he would turn the money over to a campaign that opposes Proposition 54. "I've decided to resolve those questions raised by Republicans about my campaign finances. And at the same time, I'm going to help defeat Proposition 54 at the very same time," he said.

With Hispanics making up some 15 percent of California's registered voters, the issue of race and ethnicity has become an important theme in the recall election. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was born in Austria, is highlighting his immigrant roots. He took offense at a joke by governor Gray Davis, who said anyone who runs for California governor should be able to pronounce the name of the state.

The actor-turned-politician responded, saying "they say Cal-IF-forn-yah rather than Cal-UH-forn-yah. But there's many other words that he doesn't like. He doesn't like "lost jobs." He says the governor also dislikes the word "recall."

Governor Davis, meanwhile, is courting the immigrant vote and last week reversed his position on an issue important to many Hispanics. Friday, he signed a bill allowing illegal immigrants, who are mostly from Mexico, to get California drivers' licenses. "Right now, about a million people are driving our streets and highways without a valid driver's license and without insurance. If they get into an accident, we all pay. I believe, as a society, we are much better off if all the drivers on the road are tested, competent, and have insurance," he said.

The governor told a cheering Latino audience that the bill would also help hardworking immigrants. Critics say the bill lacks security provisions to ensure that people who get a driver's license use their proper name and have no criminal record or terrorist connections.