Two days before Labor Day -- the traditional kickoff of campaign season -- the gloves started to come off in California's untraditional recall election as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger accused Gov. Gray Davis of pandering to Indian gaming interests.
Without detailing his own positions on some Indian gaming issues, Schwarzenegger issued a statement Saturday criticizing Davis for inviting gaming tribes to recommend potential candidates for two openings on the panel that is supposed to help regulate tribal casinos.
Davis' camp insisted that the governor never promised seats on the commission to the Native American casino interests, but -- as he always does --
invited interested parties to offer their recommendations on filling board vacancies, and will make the final decisions himself. Davis, who has received $1.4 million in contributions from Indian tribes, said the practice was "perfectly appropriate."
The interchange, and the increasingly aggressive tone of the campaign, comes just days before voters begin casting absentee ballots -- and just five weeks to go before the Oct. 7 election.
The exchange over regulation of tribal gaming also occurs at a time when Indian casino operators, who have become the biggest spenders in Sacramento, are trying to renegotiate compacts so that they can expand gambling.
Schwarzenegger said that Davis, who met with various tribal leaders Thursday in Sacramento, is "putting his own political interest ahead of the public interest."
"The California Gambling Control Commission should be completely independent of any perceived control of the very interests it is supposed to regulate," the statement said.
The commission, along with the attorney general's office and the tribes themselves, is supposed to regulate the industry. The commission handles licensing, collects money that is shared with nongaming tribes and advises the Legislature on Indian gaming.
Davis spokeswoman Hilary McLean said the governor's request for potential candidates is the practice that has long been followed in state government. "If he was speaking to lawyers, he'd ask for recommendation for a good judge. If he was speaking to doctors, he would ask for a recommendation on the medical board," she said. "It's a very routine process."
"It's sad that (Schwarzenegger) promised not to run a negative campaign, and now he's attacking," said Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Davis' anti-recall campaign. "He's trying to change the subject from a couple of bad days of press."
Davis himself told reporters at an impromptu news conference: "That's how you find good quality people. . . . Since we haven't had gaming in this state, we need to look hard with people who have law enforcement and regulatory experience.
"(The tribes) are sovereign nations and they are entitled to make recommendations," he said. "I make the final judgment."
Two other figures in the recall election, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock, also met with Indian leaders last week.
With most major candidates preparing to hit the campaign trail Monday, their campaigns are also preparing another milestone in the historic recall: the first major televised debate.
Davis and all major gubernatorial candidates -- with the exception of Schwarzenegger -- have agreed to appear at the Wednesday debate in Walnut Creek, sponsored by KTVU Channel 2 and the Contra Costa Times. Already, 200 reporters from around the world have requested credentials for the 90-minute dvent, which will be nationally televised live by C-Span and statewide by at least four television stations.
No Details on Position
The Schwarzenegger camp -- even as it criticized the Democrats -- did not appear prepared to detail the GOP candidate's own positions on a range of Indian gaming issues.
Schwarzenegger "doesn't think gaming should be expanded off of reservations, " Stutzman said. But asked about two other key matters -- expansion of the number of slot machines, and whether Indian casinos should be required to give a bigger slice of their profits back to state coffers -- Stutzman said the candidate could not outline those issues until he was elected.
Stutzman said Schwarzenegger, to fill such commission posts, would "solicit input that reflects the will of the people, sure. But he's not going to promise the ability to name positions. And that's clearly what Davis did."