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A Look at California Recall Election

Aired August 13, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, looking beyond you know who.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are going to be a few other candidates in the race.

ANNOUNCER: There's quite a cast of characters on California's recall ballot. Is it just a freak show, and how much freakier can it get?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE and the gift that keeps on giving. That, of course, would be the California recall and its kaleidoscope of candidates for governor; 131 at last count, and the list keeps growing. Yes, it's a freak show; yes, we're abetting it.

So before the list gets any longer, let's bring you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

Three years after his presidential campaign helped save America from Al Gore, Ralph Nader is once again doing the Lord's work. Nader traveled to California yesterday to endorse Green Party candidate Peter Camejo for California governor. In an election that will include Gary Coleman and a woman who sells thong underwear, Camejo's candidacy stands out as particularly fringy.

Camejo promises that if elected he will hope "bring U.N. inspectors to the United States and get rid of our weapons of mass destruction." Still, with Nader's endorsement, Camejo could draw enough support from massage therapists, lower school librarians and transgender bike messengers to sink Gray Davis.

Democrats are worried; so worried that at yesterday's event an unnamed assailant mounted the stage and smashed Nader in the face with a pie. The old pastry strategy. In this case, it won't work. As Democrats should have learned in 2000, it takes more than baked goods to stop Ralph Nader. Amen.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Of course, I'm not for any sort of assault, but if anyone deserves it, it is Ralph Nader, who you pointed out helped make George W. Bush make the election close enough that Bush could steal it. But at least Ralph tried to throw it back. If you see on the tape...


BEGALA: ... he's at least returning fire, which I sort of admire.

CARLSON: The thing about Ralph Nader that I admire is that he really does hate Democrats. And the reason he does is because he has spent his life surrounded by liberals. And finally he just went completely crazy.

BEGALA: Well, I have to agree with all of that, actually.

The Justice Department's inspector general has documented numerous instances in which Republicans tried to use the power of the federal government to harass their political opponents in the fight over congressional districts down in Texas. This, of course, is a dream come true for every police state conservative in America.

The report reveals that the Republicans witch hunt briefly interfered with the war on terrorism itself, as public safety officials in Texas declined to participate in anti-terror activities because their Republican bosses gave a higher priority to the harassment of Democrats.

Now, the 11 Texas senators who are currently blocking the GOP redistricting plan have appealed to President Bush to end the partisan harassment, noting he promised to be a uniter and not a divider. Mr. Bush has not yet responded, but people in Crawford, Texas report hearing uncontrollable laughing from the Bush compound.

CARLSON: I have to say, Paul, there is nothing more offensive to me than the idea of someone using the federal government to harass his political opponents. If that turns out to be true, I'll be the first one to denounce it. It hasn't proved to be true.

What is true is that the 11 Democratic senators now in Albuquerque flew there on a private jet owned by a Texas bank, which may be illegal; it sounds like it probably is. But more to the point, this is the party of the common man, the working man, the ordinary person flying on a jet owned by big business. There's no way to defend that.

BEGALA: Well, these police state tactics are indefensible. The inspector general at the Justice Department says time and time again the Republicans tried to get the federal government's resources to harass the Democrats. CARLSON: Really? We must be reading a different paper.

Senator John Kerry went to boarding school in Switzerland. Now there's nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you're trying to pretend you're not the sort of person who would have gone to boarding school in Switzerland, as Kerry the presidential candidate currently is. Alas, Kerry's early training got the best of him yesterday in an event in Philadelphia, when he ordered one of the city's famous cheesesteaks with, yes, Swiss cheese.

As Local food critic put it, "In Philadelphia, that's an alternative lifestyle." And not one protected by the Supreme Court, incidentally. The vendor refused Kerry's bizarre request, serving him a sandwich heaped with good old working man's Cheese Whiz.

The senator then took a series of what "The Washington Post" reporter described as "dainty bites" after asking photographers not to take pictures of him doing it. Photographers, like the vendor, ignored Senator Kerry's wishes and here is the result.

That is about as dainty as a cheesesteak gets. I'm going to tape that picture to my fridge, Paul.

BEGALA: Look, by the way, as somebody that's spent a lot of time at Pat's, king of steaks, at Ninth and Passyunk in Philadelphia, it's a great place, it just proves that John Kerry is not as big a phony as George Bush, who himself went to an elite boarding school and pretends every day to be just another common man. He's a trust fund rich kid who is screwing the working man every day of his life and acting like a big phony (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: But you know, as usual, you sunk your own ship with overstatement. If Kerry would just say, look, yes, I grew up rich, there's nothing wrong with that. I'm well educated, good for me. Don't be ashamed of that; there's nothing wrong with that.

BEGALA: He likes Swiss cheese instead of Cheese Whiz. By the way, how much whiz is in that Cheese Whiz? I've always wanted to know.

Anyway, speaking of our President, George W. Bush met with his top economic advisers, that would be Mo, Larry and Curly, on his Texas ranch today. You will recall that last summer at his Texas ranch there was an economic conference actually in nearby Waco, where President Bush said that if we would just pass one more big tax cut for the rich the economy would boom.

Well, Congress passed another Bush tax cut for the rich, and the deficit is up, jobs are down, and consumer confidence is sinking. The winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for economics, George Akerlof, has weighed in declaring today -- and I quote him -- "The Bush policy is the worst policy in the last 200 years."


Mr. Bush replied by quoting his favorite line from "Animal House." "You messed up, you trusted me."

CARLSON: You know, Akerlof's words might carry some weight...


CARLSON: ... if he hadn't been seated at some partisan Clinton refugee press conference. But the point is, Paul, that is actually true.

BEGALA: He won the Nobel Prize.

CARLSON: I'm not -- look, the point is, Paul, that is a grotesque and stupid overstatement. He devalues his own currency by saying that.

BEGALA: But you can't go much more than 200 years back in American history (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: But the fact is, Democrats are pushing for tax cuts, too. There is no alternative Democratic plan. It's not Bush and the Democrats. The Democrats are going, we want tax cuts, too. Just a tiny bit smaller. They have no alternative ideas.

BEGALA: That's just completely wrong. They have a completely different economic philosophy. Bill Clinton had it and we boomed.

Well, we will get to tax policy one day, but next, a more scintillating story. That is, the California recall and its cast of thousands or at least 131 and counting. In a minute, we will debate the candidacy of the strong man in the California campaign circus.

Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

California's secretary of state promises that by this evening a list of candidates for the October 7 recall election in California will finally be final; 247 people filed papers, 131 so far have been certified. They will definitely be on the ballot; 40 more applications are pending.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE to debate California's potentially 171-ring circus, from Sacramento, Bob Mulholland. He's a campaign adviser to the California Democratic Party. And in Los Angeles, the co-chairman of Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign, Republican State Assemblyman, Abel Maldonado. Gentlemen, thank you.


CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, thanks for joining us. On July 25, you were interviewed by a reporter from and asked about the potential of an Arnold Schwarzenegger candidacy. Here's how you responded.

"Look, I served in Vietnam, Gray Davis served in Vietnam, and we're not going to be replaced by someone whose dad was in the Nazi army." Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger responsible for what his father did?

BOB MULHOLLAND, CAMPAIGN ADVISER, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Oh, I was just talking to a British newspaper. The real issue is substantive issues, which are very important to the people of California.

CARLSON: Wait, wait, hold on. Now before you -- wait a minute. Stop, Mr. Mulholland. I want you to answer my question. Why is Arnold Schwarzenegger responsible for what his father did during World War II?

MULHOLLAND: I never said that. Don't read that the wrong way.


CARLSON: You said, "We're not going to be..." -- hold on, I want you to answer this. And I'm not going to let you get away with it. You said, "We're not going to be replaced by a man whose dad was in the Nazi army."

You served in Vietnam. Should a Vietnamese immigrant whose parents served in the North Vietnamese army be allowed to be governor? I mean, what is the point of this? Please explain this quote.

MULHOLLAND: Well, I was talking to a British newspaper. I was reminding everyone, we're not going to be replaced by any Republican governor, whoever they send down the road in the next eight weeks. I'm at a zoo here, and it's going to be up to the voters of California to clean this mess up by voting no on October 7th.

BEGALA: Mr. Maldonado, let me play a piece of videotape from Arnold Schwarzenegger's breakthrough movie, the documentary about him, essentially. It's called "Pumping Iron." It came out in the mid to late '70s, and there's a scene that is really rather startling. I want to play you Arnold Schwarzenegger.


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: My mother called me on the phone and she said, you know, "Your dad died." And this was exactly two months before a contest.

She said, "Are you coming home to the funeral?" I said, "No, it's too late. You know, he's dead, there's nothing to be done. And I'm sorry and I can't come, you know?"


BEGALA: Well, I think Tucker is right that Mr. Schwarzenegger shouldn't be responsible for the sins of his father, but what does it say about a man's character when he didn't attend his own father's funeral?

ABEL MALDONADO, SCHWARZENEGGER CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIRMAN: Well you know I didn't see the movie, to be frank with you. But I can share this with you -- is that I know Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I can tell you this, that only in America can a poor man come to this country to work hard, to save, to plan, and to eventually pay taxes...

BEGALA: I agree with all of that, and I'm sorry to cut you off the way that Tucker cut Bob off, but honestly I don't think -- I don't like any attacks on somebody's personal life. This is, though, something I think is revelatory of character. Isn't it?

You just saw that piece of videotape. Doesn't that say something about the man?

MALDONADO: Well, I think what's important is that we need to understand that Mr. Mulholland, who is on the other line, he's a professional mud slinger. He loves to throw mud, throw mud. Let's talk about the issues.

BEGALA: He wouldn't go to Arnold's father's funeral. It was Mr. Schwarzenegger himself who said that. I'm just curious, if a Democrat had said the same thing, would you be endorsing him?

MALDONADO: Well, I can tell you this, I'm endorsing Arnold Schwarzenegger because I've been in the legislature for five and a half years and I've seen the failed leadership of Gray Davis. We're in this mess today because of Gray Davis.

That's why we're having a recall. Because when you stand for nothing in California, the people will recall you. That's why I'm endorsing Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he's the man that can take us down the road for a better California for everybody.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, I hate to hit with your own quotes yet again -- wait, hold on. Let me just ask you this question.

You said on August 2 to the "Ventura County Star" "You will see no credible Democratic candidate filing for governor." I think this was basically mere moments before the Democratic lieutenant governor filed. Did you mean to say that Mr. Bustamante is not credible, or what does this tell us? Why have Democrats broken ranks?

MULHOLLAND: Well, all the Democrats from across the country to the local neighborhood leader have all said for the last several months, including Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, were opposed to this recall. And Governor Gray Davis yesterday said it was probably a smart idea for Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. But the Democratic Party definitely has been united on the issue of question number one: no one to recall. But I thought that video was very cold.

BEGALA: Assemblyman Maldonado, you mentioned a moment ago your five and a half years experience in Sacramento. Before that you were the mayor, I believe, of Santa Maria, California. You are the co- chairman -- clearly a Sacramento insider -- the co-chairman of Mr. Schwarzenegger's campaign. Your fellow co-chairman is Pete Wilson, a lifelong career politician. How can Arnold claim to be an outsider when his campaign is being manipulated by professional politicians like yourself?

MALDONADO: Well, I think I can respond to that question by saying, you know, here you have Arnold who came to America with nothing, started in the movie industry, and look at where he's gotten. He's gotten to where -- I mean, what America is all about.

And we're talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger. Let's not talk about other folks in the campaign. This campaign is about Arnold Schwarzenegger cleaning up what's gone in Sacramento.

BEGALA: Right. Five years ago (UNINTELLIGIBLE) made the mess in charge of his campaign. He claims to be an outsider and yet his campaign is being managed and manipulated by insiders. Isn't it?

MALDONADO: No, let's talk about who made this mess. Five and a half years ago I came to Sacramento. We had a $12 billion surplus. Today we have a $38 billion surplus. Our energy -- Gray Davis signed energy contracts under duress.

He went on -- I mean, water. I can go on and on with what this man has done. And you're saying that it's the old guard that made this mess? Come on. You have to understand the people that caused this problem is Gray Davis and his cronies up there in Sacramento.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, we're running short on time, we're almost to a commercial. But quickly, you've attacked Mr. Schwarzenegger's deceased father. Do you in the next two months intend to attack his wife or children in this campaign?

MULHOLLAND: Hey, 47 states have a deficit. And I didn't hear the question about Schwarzenegger. I just know that that video reminded me of a person who has no heart.

CARLSON: OK. Spoken like one who knows. Mr. Mulholland, we will be right back. We're going to take a quick commercial break.

After a quick break, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest news headlines. And then it's "Rapid Fire," where we try to squeeze in at least half as many questions as there are candidates on the recall ballot. And in "Fireback," one of our viewers proves there really is a circus out in California, as if you didn't know.

We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back. It's time to give the California recall the "Rapid Fire" treatment. Short questions, short answers, and no new candidates allowed.

We're talking with California Democratic Party campaign adviser Bob Mulholland and Republican State Assemblyman Abel Maldonado, a co- chair of the Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign. BEGALA: Assemblyman Maldonado, as the co-chairman of Mr. Schwarzenegger's campaign, will you commit that he will debate his opponents on CROSSFIRE? Arianna Huffington last night agreed to do so. Will Mr. Schwarzenegger as well?

MALDONADO: You know, I'm sure he will debate. I don't know about CROSSFIRE, but I look forward to asking him that question.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, Arianna Huffington yesterday on our show said that she will not engage in any personal attacks during this campaign. Do you think Gray Davis, your fellow liberal, will make the same promise?

MULHOLLAND: Well, and it's good. Arianna is against the recall, so that's good.

BEGALA: Mr. Maldonado, Arnold Schwarzenegger said the impeachment of Bill Clinton made him ashamed to be a Republican. Do you agree?

MALDONADO: I disagree. You know Arnold has made it very clear to me and to the rest of California and to the rest of the world that he's a proud conservative Republican. I look forward to making him the next governor of California.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, you implied a moment ago that Lieutenant Governor Bustamante ran with the blessing of Gray Davis. Is that true?

MULHOLLAND: Yesterday the governor said some very positive things about Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.

BEGALA: Mr. Maldonado, what spending programs will Arnold cut? What taxes will he raise to close the $38 billion deficit?

MALDONADO: You know, I can tell you this, I don't think Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to do what Gray Davis has done over the last five years. So I can tell you that Arnold is going to work very hard to make California a better place for all of us.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, over the last six months have you had any contact at all in person or by phone with any reporter for a supermarket tabloid about Arnold Schwarzenegger?

MULHOLLAND: No, unless you count British newspapers.

CARLSON: And I do.

BEGALA: Mr. Maldonado, would you support a national law to allow Americans, should they choose, to recall, say, President Bush for blowing our federal budget surplus?

MALDONADO: I've got to tell you something. I support recalling Gray Davis. That's what I'm focused on. And that's what 1.6 million Californians are focused on at this time.

CARLSON: Mr. Mulholland, do you think Gary Coleman is a legitimate candidate for governor?

MULHOLLAND: What was the question again?

CARLSON: Is Gary Coleman a legitimate candidate for governor? Don't mock him.

MULHOLLAND: Well, we have 150 candidates. I'll leave that up to the voters. Our focus will be to defeat this costly recall. It's a zoo, and it's up to the voters to defeat it.

BEGALA: Bob Mulholland, adviser to California Democratic Party Abel Maldonado, Assemblyman and co-chairman of the Schwarzenegger campaign, thank you both very much for a spirited debate.

It's time now for our Ask the Audience question. Take out those little voting devices we gave you when you came in and tell us this: would you like to have a recall option like California's in your state? Press one for yes, you would like to make it as easy to recall public officials in your own state as it is in California. Press, two for no, that Californians can have all the chaos to themselves.

We'll have the results for you right after a break. And one of our viewers think Republicans oppose democracy even more than they oppose Democrats. We will let him fire back in just a few minutes. Stay with us.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time for "Fireback." But first, the results of our audience survey, in which we asked, would you like a recall system in your state?

Yes, said a whopping 21 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of Democrats. No, said 79 percent of Republicans, 67 percent of Democrats. In other words, Democrats are more pro-recall than Republicans.

BEGALA: It was interesting. And, yes, Republicans are certainly happy to...

CARLSON: They're all Gary Coleman voters.

BEGALA: ... use and abuse the recall system in California, but they don't want it in their own state.

Well, Omaha, Nebraska's Dick Staicoff writes: "With all the mixed nuts running in California, would you call this race a Goobernatorial race?" Oh, I thought that was a pretty good one.

CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Nebraska this summer.

All right. Next up, Aaron Benson in West Chester, Pennsylvania writes: "When you really think about it, Arnold has already wasted our money, $8 at a time, for a couple of years now. And from the looks of his career, it doesn't look like he'll ever make up the deficit."

You know, I have to say, I agree. Get that man out of Hollywood and into Sacramento.

BEGALA: That's actually not -- that would be a good strategy for him. Actually, I'm curious to see what all the right wing morality czars say about a man who like kills 150 cops in his first big "Terminator" movie. As a character; it's not real. But they seem to be upset by screen violence and screen sex and everything else. We'll see what they say about Arnold.

Well, Jared Lash of Jacksonville, Illinois, writes: "It happened with the Clinton impeachment. It happened in the Florida fiasco. Now it's happening in California. Republicans just can't stand to let the voters speak for themselves."


CARLSON: I have to say, that's so ludicrous. They're about to have the most democratic possible election.

BEGALA: They had an election; it was a perfectly good one. They just didn't like the guy who won.

CARLSON: So why (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a new one? It's perfect democracy.

Yes, sir?

DAVID KELLY: Hi. David Kelly (ph) from Birmingham, Alabama. What effect do you think the Clintons will have in California?

CARLSON: Well, they've amused me already. I have to say. I mean, really, when no one else will come visit you, you know, you get your unemployed friend, the former president to come. Bill Clinton was there I guess yesterday.

BEGALA: Yes, I think it will have a minimal effect, to tell you the truth. Californians love former President Clinton, but they're going to judge this on the merits on their own.

Yes, sir?

MARTIN: Yes, my name is Martin (ph) and I'm from Frankfurt, Germany. And, first of all, I want to say that we Germans think very highly of you Americans and your political system, but how is it then possible that someone without any political experience like Schwarzenegger can become governor of an important state like California? That would be impossible in Germany.

BEGALA: Have you noticed who is the president of our country?


CARLSON: It tells you a lot about -- I'm not going to answer that.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.


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