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California Governor Denounces Recall as 'Right-Wing Power Grab' - 2003-08-20

California Governor Gray Davis says he will fight the recall effort that seeks remove him from office, calling it a "right-wing power grab." The beleaguered state official defended his record Tuesday, and he did not apologize for California's problems.

A combative Gray Davis said he was setting the record straight as he spoke before a sympathetic Democratic audience at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Polls show that most Californians are angry over a $38 billion budget deficit and an earlier energy crisis that left the state with billions of dollars in debt. Nearly 60 percent of voters polled in a recent survey say they want him out of office.

Mr. Davis saiid, however, that California's troubles are not unique and the recall will not solve them. "Let me put our situation into perspective," the governor explained. "The American economy has tanked. Over the last couple of years, it has shed three million jobs and gone from record surpluses to record deficits. Forty-six other states are facing similar problems."

Mr. Davis admits he could have done more to hold down state spending as revenues declined, but says the increases that he authorized went to education and health care, "and I make no apology for that."

The state official also refused to take blame for the California's energy crisis two years ago, although he acknowledged criticism that he responded too slowly. He says he inherited a faulty deregulation scheme and that California was a victim of massive fraud by energy companies. He pointed to recent events on the East Coast power grid to show his state is not alone in its energy problems.

"My friends, last Friday 50 million Americans lost power for 29 hours," he reminded his audience. "In California, not a single light has gone out in the last two years."

Mr. Davis spoke of his accomplishments in education and on the environment, subjects that resonate with his supporters. To stay in office, he must energize California's majority Democrats to vote against the recall, which he says will only breed similar efforts.

"The Republicans behind this recall say they want you to oust me for past mistakes," said Governor Davis. "My friends, they don't give a rip about past mistakes. This is all about control in the future, seizing back the governor's chair, and believing with so many candidates running for office, they can do it with just a handful of California voters. That's what this is about."

Mr. Davis needs the support of at least 50 percent of the voters to remain governor. If he is removed, the highest-polling candidate on a long list of possible replacements will take office.

Leading California Democrats are opposing the recall, but many are also backing Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a replacement, just in case the governor is ousted.

Tuesday, Mr. Bustamante outlined his plan to reorder the state's finances, calling his proposal a "tough love" solution. The plan includes $8 billion in new taxes and $4.5 billion in cuts or savings.

"The folks at the top have to pay their fair share," stressed Mr. Bustamante. "The folks at the bottom have to pay something, and the people being squeezed in the middle need some relief from car taxes and college fees."

Friction between Mr. Bustamante and the governor is increasingly evident. The lieutenant governor said Tuesday the recall is not the result of a right-wing conspiracy but is an expression of frustration by the voters.

The leading Republican contender, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, promises to outline his financial plan Wednesday, in response to criticism that his campaign is short on substance.