Times Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante picked up endorsements from several environmental groups Tuesday, using the opportunity to charge the Bush administration with trying to undermine the Clean Air Act and open the state’s wilderness to development.

“California, I believe, needs a governor who’ll make clean California water and air a California priority,” Bustamante said.

Speaking of his leading Republican opponent, Bustamante said Arnold Schwarzenegger is being managed by “Pete Wilson’s old crowd” who have “written some nice papers” on their environmental positions.


“But words on a piece of paper won’t stop the Bush administration

“I will be as aggressive with those polluters as I was with the energy pirates,” he said.

The lieutenant governor was also pressed about his relationship with political strategist Richie Ross, who works both as a lobbyist and a consultant for elected officials. Bustamante said that if he is elected, he hopes to recruit Ross, whom he called “a very good friend,” to work in his administration.

“Actually, truth be told,” he said, I was hoping that I could somehow convince him to leave his lucrative business practice and come to work as a bureaucrat in state government.”

Bustamante came under criticism last week for all but dropping his call for Californians to vote against the recall. He shifted back to his original stance over the weekend during a joint appearance with Gov. Gray Davis at a state Democratic Party meeting in Los Angeles. There, for the first time in a week, he made a substantial case against the recall.

On Tuesday, however, Bustamante wore a “No on 54” button, announcing his opposition to the ballot initiative that would bar the state from collecting certain types of data on race, but did not mention his opposition to the recall until he was asked about it.

Still, he insisted his position has remained consistent: “It’s really interesting that in every speech that I’ve ever done, any interview I’ve done, I’ve always said, ‘No on the recall, Yes on Bustamante,’ ” he said. “Apparently, I’m not speaking clear enough for everyone.”

Bustamante spoke in the building where the Sierra Club has its offices. He won the endorsement of that organization as well as Vote the Coast and the California League of Conservation Voters, all of which also have urged Californians to vote against the recall.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Bustamante is a strong supporter of California’s tradition of environmental protection.

“That tradition,” Pope said, “is being directly and radically confronted by right-wing extremists who would rather risk the air you breathe and the water your children drink than allow the will of the people ... to stand.”