Schwarzenegger tours farming districts

Friday, August 29, 2003

FRESNO, Calif. -- Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to broaden his appeal Thursday in the state's ethnically diverse heartland, as a Hispanic advocacy group criticized him for supporting English as the nation's official language.

His leading rival in the gubernatorial recall campaign, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, touched on an issue dear to Californians -- gas prices -- as he accused oil companies of price gouging leading into Labor Day weekend.

Bustamante, a Democrat, vowed to bring the companies under state regulatory control, as he began a frenetic day of campaigning by gubernatorial candidates.

Before Schwarzenegger arrived in the state's farm belt, the nation's oldest Hispanic civil rights group called on him to step down from the advisory board of U.S. English, a group that seeks to make English the official language of the United States.

The group criticizing Schwarzenegger, the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the Austrian-born actor's advisory board position brings into question his commitment to Hispanics.

"It just seems like all the issues that we support he doesn't," said Gabriela Lemus, the league's director of policy and legislation. The league said it is not taking a position on whether Gov. Gray Davis should be recalled.

Spokesman Sean Walsh said Schwarzenegger believes English should be the official language.

"Arnold Schwarzenegger came to this country with a few dollars in his pocket and not speaking the English language, and he realized the importance of learning to speak English as quickly as possible to achieve your American dreams," Walsh said.

Bustamante appeared at a Sacramento gas station to call for amending the state constitution to bring big oil companies under state regulatory control.

"Californians are being gouged, and under current law we are powerless to do anything about it," he said, reminding voters they will be paying the highest gas prices in the nation this weekend.

Other front-running candidates in the race to replace Davis if he is recalled Oct. 7 were also busy around the state.

Former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth held a town hall-style meeting in San Diego, telling about 75 people that if elected he would convene a special legislative session on his first day in office to address the state's budget.

Ueberroth also said he would ask lawmakers to place a measure on the March ballot asking voters for a constitutional amendment to impose spending caps.

"I'm going to be a mad dog chasing a meat truck to make sure we get spending in line and get jobs back in the state," he said.

GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock also was in San Diego, serving as guest host on an afternoon radio show on KOGO.

The demand that Schwarzenegger leave U.S. English came as he made a campaign swing through Fresno, Bustamante's hometown. He visited a school, toured a food processing plant and attended a rally at a shopping mall.

"Here at the heart of agriculture, we have to keep our farms from being overtaxed, overburdened and overregulated," he told a raucous crowd of about 2,000.

The region encompasses the nation's most productive farmland and is home to many ethnic groups and immigrants, including Hispanics. Bustamante was to travel to the area Saturday to accept the endorsement of the United Farm Workers of America.

The lieutenant governor, meanwhile, found himself responding to critics who have complained on conservative talk shows that he was a member of the Hispanic student activist group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, or MeCHA, while a student at California State University, Fresno. Critics have said the group advocates radical change.

"The students who are MeCHA today are just like the students when I was there," he said. "Pretty much they are trying to get an education. Most of the friends I went to school with are now either graduates from college or raising families."

Also Thursday:

--State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said the organization should endorse a replacement candidate, a change from its strategy of only opposing the recall. Delegates will vote at its Sept. 13 convention. Bustamante is the only well-known Democrat among the 135 candidates.

--Schwarzenegger was endorsed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which led the 1978 fight for property tax-cutting Proposition 13. The endorsement came despite statements by a Schwarzenegger adviser that California property taxes might be too low.

--An appeals court said it would hold a hearing Sept. 11 to review a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that punch-card voting machines used in at least six counties won't accurately tally votes. A federal judge in Los Angeles last week refused to postpone the election until March as the ACLU requested.

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