FRESNO, Calif. — Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante abruptly shifted strategy Sunday, moving away from his previous position that his campaign was simply a fallback position in case Gov. Gray Davis is recalled.
At a rally here of 2,500 Bustamante supporters, there was little mention of "No on recall," either from the lieutenant governor or the Democratic lawmakers who introduced him.
"The governor is focused on the first question, and I've got to be focused on the second," Bustamante said.
Voters on Oct. 7 will be asked if Davis should be recalled, and if so, by whom.
During his 30-minute speech, Bustamante told the crowd at least five times, "I need your vote for governor," and made only one mention of Davis.
Bustamante also announced he would transfer $3.8 million in questioned contributions from unions and Indian tribes to a committee established to fight Proposition 54, the Oct. 7 ballot initiative that would restrict public agencies from collecting racial data.
The initiative has failed to win support from either Bustamante or the main Republican contender in the recall race, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bustamante's announcement to a heavily Hispanic crowd of farmworkers and other supporters came on a day when ethnic politics took center stage in the recall race.
Davis was flanked by Hispanic lawmakers as he rode in an East Los Angeles Mexican Independence Day parade that Schwarzenegger had planned to attend before organizers booted him out, a development the actor blamed on politics.
And the Democratic governor, who gained points in the Hispanic community by signing a bill Friday giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, acknowledged saying "you shouldn't be governor unless you can pronounce the name of the state," but said the comment was made in jest.
The remark, reported by the Sacramento Bee, was apparently a reference to Schwarzenegger's thick Austrian accent.
"I was just joking around with someone in the crowd," Davis said after the parade.
But he added "it's not a joke" that Schwarzenegger voted for Proposition 187, a measure denying some social services to illegal immigrants, and that he would vote to repeal the bill allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers licenses. The measure was largely invalidated in the courts.
Schwarzenegger, campaigning in a heavily Hispanic Los Angeles suburb, said his pronunciation of "California" was just one of the words Davis didn't like to hear.
"He doesn't like 'lost jobs,' he doesn't like that word," Schwarzenegger said after participating in an awards ceremony for Inner City Games, a youth foundation he supports.
"He doesn't like 'blackouts.' " Schwarzengger said. "He doesn't like 'energy crisis.' And he definitely doesn't like 'recall.' "
At Bustamante's rally in Fresno, there was almost no mention of the governor or the "no on the recall" part of the equation.
"The best person to represent us is Cruz Bustamante," said Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes, one of two Democratic lawmakers to introduce him. She did not mention Davis.
"You didn't hear it over the roar of the crowd, but at the end of the speech, I said, 'No on recall, Yes on Bustamante," the Democratic lieutenant governor told reporters after his speech.
Bustamante, the only well-known Democrat among the 135 replacement candidates, has been criticized by Republicans and even the state Democratic Party chairman for accepting millions of dollars from unions and from tribes with lucrative casinos by taking advantage of a loophole in the state's campaign financing rules.
He skirted the $21,200 individual contribution approved by voters in 2000 by accepting the multimillion dollar donations to his 2002 campaign committee for lieutenant governor. Because that committee was created before the state's new campaign finance law took effect, it is not subject to the contribution caps imposed on newer campaign accounts. The money was then transferred into his recall committee account.
Ward Connerly, the conservative activist who helped propel the initiative to the ballot, dismissed Bustamante's plan as a "shell game."
"He's not doing this because he is so altruistically inclined to oppose the initiative, he wants to promote himself for governor," Connerly said. He said that supporters will be outspent but he hopes the measure will pass anyway.
At the Mexican Independence Day parade in Los Angeles, Davis was cheered by onlookers — many carrying "no recall" signs — as he rode along the parade route in a double-decker bus.
But 42-year-old Olga Pizano said it was wrong for Davis to criticize Schwarzenegger's accent.
"Only Hispanics can say it right — California," she said, rolling her "r." "This was Mexico. You have to pronounce the 'r'."