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Labor Groups Buoy Davis

Times Staff Writers

Gov. Gray Davis gained ground Monday in his effort to keep other prominent Democrats out of the recall election, as the nation’s largest labor organization greeted him with rousing support here, and state labor leaders prepared to warn other party members not to put their names on the ballot.

Davis asked the union leaders at a national meeting of political directors from the AFL-CIO to pledge $10 million to his campaign -- half of the $20 million he told them he would need to fight the recall. Delegates greeted the governor with rousing applause, and the AFL-CIO leadership is expected to vote on the financial request today.

Meanwhile, Democratic members of the state Senate caucused in Sacramento to discuss the recall. Some members have called for the party to back an alternative candidate, but that suggestion received only mixed support from the 17 senators who converged on the Capitol and others who joined by conference call.

“Some feel this way and some feel that way,” Senate President Pro Tem John L. Burton (D-San Francisco) said after the meeting.

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As the campaign moved into a hectic one-week stretch leading up to Saturday’s filing deadline for candidates, there were these developments:

* Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has flirted with opposing the governor, donated $50,000 to the campaign to remove Davis.

* Lawyers for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante asked the California Supreme Court to dismiss several other challenges to the recall. The court is not expected to decide whether to hear any of the cases until mid-week, at the earliest.

* Davis’ lawyers also went to the court, asking that the recall be postponed until March and consolidated with the 2004 presidential primary.

Under the rules governing the recall, voters face an up-or-down choice on whether Davis should retain his job, and can then choose from among candidates running to succeed him. If Davis loses the up-or-down vote, the candidate who gets the most votes in the successor election becomes governor.

Outside the court in San Francisco, the attorneys said those procedures were unfair and a violation of one-person-one-vote principles because Davis could gain 49% of the vote in the up-or-down election and still lose while his potential successor could be elected with “10% of the vote” in a crowded field.

* U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) provided support for Davis.

“I oppose the recall,” she said in an appearance on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. “I think, based on everything that I’ve heard and what my colleagues in California tell me, it would be really bad for the state, economically and politically.”

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Leno, who opened his show with a series of jokes at Davis’ expense, remarked to Clinton that California was becoming “like the laughing stock of the nation.”

Some events Monday might lend credence to that claim.

In Northern California, a former software engineer started a Web site to persuade as many people as possible to run for governor. His theory: the more candidates gumming up the ballot, the more chance the October election would have to be delayed or halted.

The 99-Cent Only chain of stores began running advertisements, offering to pay the filing fee for any candidate who is 99 years old. “Want to Be Governor?” the advertisements proclaim.

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And in Beverly Hills, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, held a news conference to officially announce his candidacy, saying he would expand gambling to raise more tax revenue, and would be “Davis’ and the California Republican Party’s worst nightmare if I get elected.”

In Chicago, however, the agenda was political seriousness, as Davis made an urgent appeal for money and manpower for a massive campaign to save his job.

Although some prominent Democrats have talked about U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as a potential alternative candidate, union leaders have strong disagreements with her and have discouraged any talk of her candidacy.

That puts the unions on the same side as Davis’ strategists, who argue that the presence of any prominent Democrat on the ballot could fatally undermine the governor’s efforts.

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“He said he needs to raise $20 million, and he would like to raise half of that from the house of labor,” said Miguel Contreras, leader of the Los Angeles County labor federation, who promised strong labor backing for the governor. Davis “is our horse,” Contreras said.

Davis’ push to keep other Democrats off the ballot is expected to receive another boost today, when the California Labor Federation plans to issue a warning that it would “punish” any Democrats who break ranks and challenge the governor.

The consensus among leaders of the union group is that any Democrat “who broke ranks would never again receive a labor endorsement,” said Dan Terry, president of the California Professional Firefighters union and a member of the federation’s executive council.

Davis is scheduled to meet this morning with the AFL-CIO executive council, the governing body of the national labor group, before returning to California.

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Sensitive to past criticism over campaign fund-raising during his first term and its perceived interference with his duties as governor, the 60-year-old Davis declined in an interview after his closed-door presentation to the union chiefs to discuss his request for union financial support. He said much of the talk had focused on policy issues and pending legislation important to various unions.

Davis adapted a line that President Clinton used frequently when he was under fire during his first presidential campaign. “I’ve taken a lot of grief these past several weeks, but not nearly as much as the average Californian,” Davis said. “And I am determined to spend my days as governor -- whether it’s 64 or 3 1/2 years -- doing everything I can to advance their interests.” Davis met with Clinton on Monday for about 45 minutes to discuss the campaign.

In front of the labor leaders, Art Pulaski, leader of the California labor federation, gave Davis a 10-minute introduction that sought to explain the political and economic context of the recall. The economy, state budget crisis and other factors had “all combined into a perfect storm of negatives” for Davis, he said.

In his own 10-minute speech to the group, delivered with his trademark absence of passion, Davis reminded his audience of labor’s lack of influence during the 16 years that Republicans held the governor’s office before he was elected in 1998.

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He ticked off a list of pro-labor legislation he has signed over the last four years and cast the recall as an effort to roll back such initiatives as paid family leave, expanded unemployment insurance and the eight-hour workday.

“This is not about recalling a person,” Davis said, according to people present. “This is about recalling a progressive agenda.”

Times staff writers Jean Guccione, Allison Hoffman, Jeffrey L. Rabin, Jean Guccione and Lee Romney contributed to this report.


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