Los Angeles/Sacramento, Sept. 2 (Reuters): California labour leaders yesterday rallied behind the state’s embattled governor Gray Davis and pledged to step up their campaign in coming weeks to prevent his recall in a special election.
Meanwhile, Republican challenger Arnold Schwarzenegger wowed excited crowds under sweltering heat at the California State Fair but struggled to explain his reversal on a pledge not to seek campaign donations in his run for governor.
The Labor Day appearances came as campaigns on both sides prepared to kick an already expensive, media-saturated political campaign into a higher gear now that the distraction of summer holidays has passed.
Davis, flanked by a mariachi band, told union members at a rally in Los Angeles the recall vote was a Republican attempt to roll back California’s relatively generous provisions for overtime, worker’s compensation and family leave.
“I am under no illusions. I know many Californians are angry and trust me this recall is a humbling experience,” Davis said.
“But if the good people of this state chose to allow me to finish the term to which they elected me, I promise to do some things differently.”
Davis, who faces an unprecedented recall vote on October 7, has criticised Austrian-born Schwarzenegger for not honouring an earlier statement to forego campaign contributions.
“What we have to do is get rid of an administration that is in the pocket of all the special interests,” the action star and former bodybuilder said as sweat poured down his neck under an unrelenting midday sun in Sacramento.
“The contributions come in, the favours go out and the people suffer because of it,” he said.
“I will never take money from the special interests and the Indian gaming or from the unions or anything like that,” he said as thrill seekers tethered on a bungee cord jumped from atop a nearby crane. “I get donations from business and from individuals.”
With the recall vote just five weeks away, California’s 2.6 million-strong labour unions are a key constituency for Davis, who faces widespread unhappiness with his handling of the budget and power crises that have rocked the state.
Union leaders have pledged a $5-million, get-out-the-vote campaign and on Monday closed ranks behind Davis while also attempting to shift attention away from the unpopular Democrat and toward the agenda of his critics.
Several hundred union backers representing fire fighters, teachers, hotel and health care workers and others carried placards saying“Labor Says No to the Recall” and were urged to ”send a message to the Terminator.”
Elsewhere, former baseball commissioner and Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth, a moderate Republican also jostling for attention in the crowded race for governor, challenged Schwarzenegger to join a televised debate set for Wednesday.
”He's a great communicator. He's energized a lot of people. He's playing an important role in the recall's passage,” Ueberroth said of Schwarzenegger.“Giving voters a chance to hear him several times before election day is good for him. It's good for the voters.”
Schwarzenegger, who has faced some criticism for limiting early campaign appearances to talk radio and television, said he would campaign across the state but only appear in one of the 15 debates he had been invited to attend.