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Interview With California Gubernatorial Candidates

Aired September 4, 2003 - 20:27   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: On this day after the first debate in California's recall race, people are taking stock of how Governor Gray Davis and some his would-be successors performed. But there is also a lot of talk about the man who wasn't there last night, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He isn't here either, but three of his opponents are.
Joining me tonight from Santa Monica is Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. In Irvine is businessman, former baseball commissioner and independent candidate Peter Ueberroth. And in Sacramento is columnist and independent candidate Arianna Huffington.

Welcome, all.


ZAHN: Mr. Bustamante, I'm going to start with you this evening.

You say, on one hand, that you are opposed to the recall election, but isn't it true you'd like to be governor?

BUSTAMANTE: Well, I'm opposed to the recall because I think it's a really bad thing for the state of California, both institutionally and for the government.

There are people right now that are already starting to figure out how to recall the next governor. It's absolutely crazy. But, at the same time, we're not going capitulate on the second question. The first question is going be for the governor and to decide, with the voters, what's going to take place with him. Should they decide to recall the governor, I'm in competition with Arianna and Tom and Peter and Arnold.

ZAHN: You took a lot of heat last night for some $2 million worth of pledges coming from a casino that operates in your home state. I believe it was Arianna Huffington who referred to this as legalized bribery. Another candidate, Mr. McClintock, said that you were exploiting a loophole in the state law to get the money. Do you have any plans to give that money back?

BUSTAMANTE: No. I'm very proud of the relationship that I have with the tribes, as well as their support for me. In fact, I have also received $2 million from labor. And I hope to be able to raise $12 million, so I can become competitive with some of the multimillionaires that are my candidates.

ZAHN: Mr. Bustamante, we're going leave it there and move on to Arianna Huffington, who is standing by.

Arianna, you heard what Mr. Bustamante said. He has no plans of giving back that money once he gets it.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (I), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, Paula, my point in the debate and during the whole campaign is that special interests are distorting the priorities of the state.

Instead of focusing on what the state needs, education, universal health care, affordable housing, we are basically not bringing in the revenues that we need to be bringing in. And some of those revenues would be coming in, if I'm governor, by negotiating new contracts with the tribes that will actually bring some revenues to the general fund in California. Connecticut gets 25 percent. Other states get 5 to 10 percent. The Indian gaming interests have given $120 million, Paula, since 1998 to politicians like Cruz Bustamante, like Gray Davis.

And, as a result, they're getting away with policies that are against the public interest.

ZAHN: There has been a lot of attention focused on Mr. Bustamante's record in government. Mr. Ueberroth's record in business and government. What do you say to the cynical voter out there that says what is Arianna Huffington done to even be qualified to run for governor of the state?

HUFFINGTON: Well, Paula, look at where qualified candidates have gotten us. Gray Davis has held practically every job you can hold in the state. Look at the mess the state is in. I'm actually saying that we never be able to clean up the mess we are in if we keep electing the same politicians backed by the same special interests who got us into this mess in the first place.

I have a very clear vision for the state. I am campaigning all around the state, appealing to voters who have given up on the process. There are 10 million Californians did not even vote in the last election. We are doing a college tour, our Web site is getting thousands of offers from volunteers. Small donations. We have more individual contributors than all of the other campaigns combined.

ZAHN: Finally, what did you make of Mr. Schwarzenegger's nonshowing last night? And does it really mean anything? Is it really September 17 that's going to count?

HUFFINGTON: It's actually going to be September 24 now. But, Paula, the point is that only fear can be the motivation for not turning up to debate your opponents in the first major debate in front of a state wide audience. And you know, you can't wait for your script before you are ready to run for governor.

ZAHN: And once again I just want to make that. That debate has been moved to September 17 to September 24? The debate at which Mr. Schwarzenegger will appear.

HUFFINGTON: Right. ZAHN: Thank you so much, Arianna.

Let's move on to Peter Ueberroth who has not had the benefit of hearing either one of his competitors this evening. Can you hear me now?


ZAHN: I hope it was nothing serious. I hope it was nothing more than a studio light going out.

Let's talk a little bit about what you said in last night's debate. You acknowledged you weren't very good on television. Is it possible, you think, in today's world, to be elected in politics and not be very polished on TV, if you really believe that is a problem for you.

UEBERROTH: Well, I think, it's gonna happen in the state of California. Basically, I'm talking about what recall's is about. What the recall is about is a balanced budget really. People have spent like crazy. Our whole state knows it.

Then we have another problem. We're driving jobs out of the state. It's real simple. The workers know it, employees know it. Their pay checks pay for California government. And they are seeing their jobs go out of the state.

By focusing on the real issues, we're going to do fine. We're going to do fine, because everybody else is noise and hulabalo and throwing darts back and forth. I'm not going criticize any candidate. Anyone that's got the guts to try to help their state, or run for public service, I admire.

ZAHN: So the issue we're raising then last night is basically you're saying, look, I'm not the most polished guy out there on TV but this is not going dilute my message. Is that what the take away was?

UEBERROTH: I think that's the take away, but also, the fact is, I have a history of solving problems. When the voters walk into the booth October 7 after hearing all the noise, knowing that jobs are leaving the state, knowing we have a budget that's fake, they're gonna say who has a history of proving doubters wrong, understanding how to manage a crisis, bringing Democrats and Republicans together. That's the issue here. I think they're gonna pick me. It's three years. I'm never gonna run for office again. I'm not to take pay. What I'm going is turn California around. And I think people are going to respond.

ZAHN: Peter, finally tonight, Arianna tonight -- you couldn't here this -- but just said she believed that Arnold Schwarzenegger did not show up at last night's debate out of fear. Do you think he is fearful in addressing the public or not comfortable enough with the issues at this point to do so?

UEBERROTH: No. He's a professional. He's been a professional all his life in front of the camera. So, I don't think he's afraid. I think he just got badly advised. The voters of California want to hear. They want to hear what's going on in everybody's minds and they're going to make their own decisions. Hopefully he'll reverse his stance and come to more debates.

ZAHN: Peter Ueberroth, Arianna Huffington, Lieutenant-Governor Cruz, thank you, all three, for joining us. We will be looking forward to seeing more of you in the days to come.

UEBERROTH: Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Good luck to all of you.


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