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Gov. Gray Davis: Keeping his 'eye on the job'

California's Gov. Gray Davis
California's Gov. Gray Davis

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(CNN) -- California Gov. Gray Davis faces a campaign aimed at forcing him out of office long before the end of his term, funded mainly by Republican Rep. Darrell Issa. It requires nearly 900,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. Tackling a severe budget crisis, Davis' approval rating has tumbled to about 21 percent.

Davis spoke with CNN's Paula Zahn Wednesday for broadcast on "Live From the Headlines" about his plans for saving his job and his state.

ZAHN: Is there any circumstance under which you would consider resigning the governorship of your state?

DAVIS: No. There were 7 million people, Paula, who went to the polls in November of 1998. They elected me to be the governor. And to discharge the responsibilities of governorship. And we were in difficult straits last year. They knew I would have to make tough decisions, and I'm making them. I know it makes people unpopular. But being governor is not just a popularity contest.

It's providing leadership. It's saying what we can do and what we can't do, and rallying coalitions to make sure that happens, both within the Legislature and throughout the state. And I'm doing that.

I'm trying to take my case to the people. But also I've had 24 meetings since December with the Republicans and Democrats in the state. So I am working within the building and outside of the building with the people of this great state.

ZAHN: What do you say to the voters who accuse you of having misled them about the budget deficit in the state and the overall the health of your economy, with the unemployment rate exceeding that of the national unemployment rate?

DAVIS: That's just poppycock. We make estimates as to the what the economy will do, and people as distinguished as Alan Greenspan were telling all governors in the year 2000, we would have an economic recovery. Well, we didn't have one. And we really don't have one now.

We may have one in a technical sense, but we're not seeing job growth. So, California led America in '99, 2000, and parts of 2001 in terms of our productivity contributions, innovation -- we outperformed the country in a lot of different factors. And we look forward to the opportunity to do that again.

And a lot of our problems are being shared by governors all over the country. They're doing their best to meet critical responsibilities, but still, balance their budgets.

ZAHN: Do you think this recall effort will succeed?

DAVIS: You know, that's not for me to say. The people of this state were good enough to re-elect me last fall and I'm trying to keep my eye on the ball, which is to get a budget passed. To maintain our gains in public education. And to increase the amount of children who have health insurance in this state. So I know the recall is going on out there. I know the efforts are going on. But I'm trying to keep my eye on the job that the people of this state were good enough to ask me to perform.

ZAHN: How do you explain this 21 percent approval rating you have today?

DAVIS: Again, not a lot of fun. But we're asked to make very tough choices. And, you know, I was raised to believe there's no free lunch. So I'm trying to continue our gains in public education.

We've invested $13 billion more in that than the law requires. And the proof is in the pudding, because test scores are up four years in a row. We want to continue that momentum, provide public safety, particularly after 9/11. And we have 1 million more children who have health insurance since I have become governor, we don't want to see them cut from rolls. So we want to protect those folks while still balancing the budget.

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