Schwarzenegger, Davis spar over immigrant driver's license bill

Saturday, September 6, 2003

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Gov. Gray Davis fended off criticism Friday from GOP gubernatorial hopeful Arnold Schwarzenegger that the Democrat flip-flopped on his support for a bill granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

As Davis prepared to sign the legislation Friday, Schwarzenegger vowed to repeal the law, saying it raises security concerns.

"As you know, our own governor was vividly against this a few months ago," Schwarzenegger said after a speech to the California Chamber of Commerce. "Now it's election time -- of course everything changes."

Granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants has become a central campaign issue in the gubernatorial recall race recent days as candidates sought to stake their ground on immigration-related matters. On Thursday, Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria who spoke little English when he arrived in the United States in 1968, said no candidate is as sympathetic to immigrants as he is.

'I've been there'

"I don't need to get a lesson from anyone else about immigration because I've been there," he told The Associated Press.

Davis was in Los Angeles on Friday to tape the Democratic response to President Bush's weekly national radio address, which calls on Bush to adopt the party's economic stimulus plan.

He defended his decision to allow the licenses, a privilege he said also is granted in Nevada and New Mexico.

"I think we have to be honest about our dependency on people to do jobs Americans will not," Davis said.

"You couldn't get food at a reasonable cost without farmworkers who toil in the hot sun. I believe we need to honor their hard work, which subsidizes our economy."

The governor said immigrants were likely to get behind the wheel, anyway. With a license, they would at least have to pass a driving test, he said.

The bill the governor was set to sign would help illegal immigrants obtain licenses by allowing them to submit a federal taxpayer identification number or some other state-approved form of identification to the Department of Motor Vehicles, instead of a Social Security number.

Davis has vetoed two similar bills since he became governor, citing law enforcement's concerns about the legislation but during a campaign rally last month said he would sign this version.

Critics said the governor was merely pandering to Hispanic voters, who account for about 16 percent of all registered voters statewide.

In his speech Friday to the business group, Schwarzenegger also offered details about how he would handle critical issues such as workers compensation and energy regulation.

While he remained vague on some points, he said he would call a special session of the Legislature to enact workers compensation reform.

Among other things, the overhaul would have to include a clear definition of permanent disabilities and require independent medical reviews to reduce litigation and contain costs.

"I will not plan a budget without workers compensation reform," Schwarzenegger told the board of directors of the California Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed his candidacy.

Also Friday, a panel of three federal judges refused to postpone the Oct. 7 recall election, removing one of its last legal barriers.

The panel in San Jose acted after the U.S. Justice Department made a formal determination that Monterey County's hurriedly assembled balloting plans did not violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Activists said the changes, which included a reduction in the number of polling places, disenfranchised minority voters.

An ACLU lawsuit challenging the use of punch-card ballots in six counties, including Los Angeles, is still pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 11.


Associated Press Writers Laura Wides and Rachel Konrad contributed to this report.

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