Simon and Davis trade charges

Alexa H. Bluth The Associated Press
Tuesday October 08, 2002

LOS ANGELES – Trailing in the polls a month before Election Day, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon accused Gov. Gray Davis of auctioning his office for campaign contributions as the two faced off in their first debate Monday. 

Following the debate, Simon caused a stir when he said during a press conference that he has evidence Davis broke the law by accepting campaign donations in his state Capitol office. But Simon’s campaign quickly admitted they had no evidence — just the word of a law enforcement organization that has endorsed Simon and sparred with Davis. 

Davis campaign adviser Garry South called the accusation a “desperate” move and said the governor has operated within the law while collecting campaign contributions. 

Simon trails Davis in statewide polls in a race that has failed to excite voters. The men used the hour-long lunchtime debate to echo attacks they have made for months in television advertisements and press conferences. 

Simon blamed the incumbent governor for the state’s economic woes, while Davis questioned Simon’s stances on social issues, his business record and inexperience in political office. 

“Taxes have gone up, services have been cut, hopes have been crushed,” Simon said. 

Davis responded with a list of accomplishments of his administration in education, health care and transportation. “Despite tough challenges from energy and the national recession, we’ve made real progress in California.” 

And he accused Simon of failing to generate his own solutions, including for the state’s $23.6 billion budget deficit. 

“Welcome to the big time, Mr. Simon, people of this state expect governors to make the tough decisions, not run from them,” Davis said. 

Davis also sought to paint Simon as a “true-blue, think tank conservative who is out of step with California voters.” 

“It’s not the sincerity of Mr. Simon’s beliefs I question, it’s whether those beliefs are good for California,” Davis said. 

“In his heart he is pro-gun, in his heart he is anti-choice, and I am just the opposite,” he said. 

Davis — who is struggling to overcome slumping popularity since last year’s energy crisis — has attacked Simon on social issues since Simon’s victory in the March Republican primary. Simon’s campaign, meanwhile, has suffered a series of setbacks surrounding his family investment firm. 

Statewide polls show neither candidate is popular with voters. 

“My job is not to win a popularity contest, it’s to lead this state,” Davis said. 

Davis refused to rule out a midterm run for another office, including president, should he be re-elected. However, he said he would curtail his prodigious fund-raising if re-elected, because he “wouldn’t have the need to raise as much because I wouldn’t be running again.” 

Davis defended his veto of a bill that would have let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses, saying the measure sought by Hispanic lawmakers and groups was “massively flawed” because it wouldn’t bar criminals. 

That veto cost Davis the endorsement of the Legislature’s Latino caucus last week. Simon has said he would have vetoed the bill. 

Simon defended his opposition to a bill signed by Davis that will give employees paid family leave, saying it will hurt small businesses. He also said he would not have signed a bill targeting California auto emissions to reduce global warming in part because he said scientists have not agreed on the cause of the warming trend. 

Simon has complained that the noontime debate, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, reached too small of an audience. He tried unsuccessfully to invite Green Party nominee Peter Camejo to the debate as his guest. 

Camejo protested his exclusion from outside the Los Angeles Times building. The newspaper said Camejo was excluded because he failed to gather the minimum 15 percent support of likely voters, which is the same standard previously used for presidential debates. Camejo received 4 percent of the likely vote in a poll last week by the Times. 

Meanwhile, the campaigns released new campaign finance statements Monday covering July 1 through Sept. 30. Simon reported raising $10.5 million, spending $11.1 million and ending the period with $4.3 million cash on hand. Davis said he raised $9.4 million, spent $20.2 million and had $21.3 million cash on hand.