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Davis: The recall has been an 'awakening'

Gov. Gray Davis answered questions in the first part of the televised debate.
Gov. Gray Davis answered questions in the first part of the televised debate.

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Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger countered charges that he's ducking debates in the California recall campaign.
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WALNUT CREEK, California (CNN) -- Seeking to save his job, embattled Gov. Gray Davis Wednesday told Californians that the recall ordeal has been an "awakening," and vowed to "stay connected to the people of this state" if they give him another chance.

"This has been a humbling experience," he said in a 30-minute, question-and-answer session with a panel of journalists and voters. "The message is: People are angry."

Davis, who spoke before a debate among those seeking to replace him, said he was slow to act during the state's energy crisis and also blamed Republicans, in part, for the state's budget woes for failing to approve a cigarette tax.

Davis, often criticized for appearing too stiff, appeared relaxed throughout the session. At one point, when a Democratic voter said he might not be able to support the governor again, Davis quipped, "We need to talk, then."

"Believe me, this has been an awakening for me. I know people are upset, and it's not fun hearing it day in and day out," he said. "I mean, just imagine if you go through your whole day and you turn on the news and everyone's battering you and calling you all kinds of names."

He added: "I'm not going to retreat from the promises I've made, which is I'm going to stay connected with you."

The governor pledged to carry through with town hall meetings throughout the state, even if no journalists show up. "You have to stay connected," he said, a theme he repeated often.

When asked about the budget crisis, he put much of the blame on Republican legislators saying they opposed tax increases on items such as cigarettes that would have provided local government with more money.

Instead, he said, "We ran out of money. When we ran out of money, then we literally couldn't write the check to local government."

"I know taxes are a pain in the neck. No one wants to pay them, but unfortunately if we're going to keep the people employed ... we have to pay the salary to keep them on the job," he said.

He also said state taxes are lower per capita than 10 and 20 years ago.

"I don't want anyone's taxes to go up," he said, adding: "But I do believe that California is not the highly taxed state that my opponents would want you to believe."

On October 7, voters will choose from 135 names on the vast ballot, but only the top contenders -- as determined by poll results and prior elections -- were invited to Wednesday's debate. Absent from the forum was one of the leading contenders, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned governor hopeful.

Schwarzenegger will only participate in one debate, on September 24, in which the questions will be given to the candidates a week in advance.

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