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Davis acknowledges faults, slams GOP

In speech Tuesday, embattled governor vows to fight

From John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

California Gov. Gray Davis accuses Republicans of circumventing elections they can't win.
California Gov. Gray Davis accuses Republicans of circumventing elections they can't win.

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- In his first major speech addressing the effort to recall him from office, California Gov. Gray Davis acknowledged his personal shortcomings and his role in the state's budget mess Tuesday, while saying Republicans are bent on circumventing elections they can't win.

"I may not be the warmest politician on TV, but I'm just warming up for this fight," Davis said during the scheduled 15-minute speech at the University of California-Los Angeles.

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, state AFL-CIO chief Art Pulaski, Davis' wife and about 300 supporters joined the governor at the event.

Davis announced plans to conduct campaign-style town-hall meetings across California next month, ahead of the October 7 recall election.

"I'm going to travel the state and listen to your questions," he said. "And actually, I've got a few questions of my own."

Davis and his wife wrote the speech with little assistance from campaign advisers, aides said. The embattled governor discussed the top issues in the election -- the state's budget deficit, the energy crisis and his personal image as a cold and detached technocrat.

Although he took responsibility for the debacles, he also mounted a spirited defense.

"Last Friday, 50 million Americans lost power for 29 hours. In California, not a single light has gone out in the last two years," Davis said.

Davis also dismissed as "preposterous" charges that he hid the size of California's budget shortfall in the weeks before the 2002 election. He said the budget -- a matter of public record -- is available to anyone who wishes to examine it.

He noted that 41 other states dealt with serious budget deficits in 2003. Davis said he "makes no apology" for spending heavily on education and health care.

California had a $38 billion deficit in its nearly $99 billion budget for the current fiscal year. A recent budget agreement -- hammered out after months of wrangling between Democratic and Republican legislators in Sacramento -- eliminated the deficit through cuts and borrowing but created an expected shortfall of at least $8 billion for the next fiscal year.

Taking a sharply partisan turn, the governor also argued that the recall effort is part of a national phenomenon that has characterized the GOP during the past decade.

"When Republicans can't win elections fair and square, they resort to this," Davis said, citing the GOP-led impeachment of President Clinton during his second term and the off-year congressional redistricting efforts Republicans are attempting this year in Colorado and Texas.

"I am going to fight this recall and the right-wing forces behind it. You can take that to the bank."

In other developments in the gubernatorial recall campaign Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante released his "tough love" budget plan of tax hikes and spending cuts for the state. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled his first television commercial of the campaign, vowing to "do what is right for all Californians."(Full story)

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