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Democrats use state convention to denounce Schwarzenegger

Associated Press | April 17, 2005
By BETH FOUHY

LOS ANGELES -- California Democrats were in a fighting mood Saturday, using their annual convention to lash out at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with an intensity usually reserved for President Bush.

The Republican governor, whose campaign for a controversial set of government reform proposals has enraged labor unions and other traditionally Democratic constituencies, came under withering attack in a series of speeches by Congressional leaders, state legislators and party activists.

While many of the same Democrats heaped praise and plaudits on Schwarzenegger as recently as a few months ago, they vowed Saturday to stay united in their efforts to block his agenda.

"The governor has declared war on the state of California," proclaimed Assemblywoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park. "He declared war on us, and I declare war on him."

It was an extraordinary reversal of good will toward the celebrity governor, a self-described GOP moderate who until recently was deemed by many observers to be politically indestructible.

Signs of Democratic animus toward Schwarzenegger abounded throughout the cavernous convention hall -- from omnipresent red and white posters declaring "Stop Arnold's Arrogance!" to bobblehead dolls depicting the governor in a pink dress with an automatic rifle strapped to his shoulder.

A slickly produced videotape mocking Schwarzenegger's campaign fund raising and fondness for cigars was played to laughs.

"Voters gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance when he became governor -- they gave him high ratings and listened to what he had to say," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. "Now they see that what they thought they were getting is something quite different."

Meanwhile, two of the Democrats angling to oust Schwarzenegger in 2006 -- Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly -- took indirect swipes at one another over who has the message and credibility to make the best run.

Angelides repeatedly reminded delegates that he had been one of the earliest and most outspoken Schwarzenegger antagonists. It was a gentle but intentional dig at Westly, who campaigned actively at Schwarzenegger's side last year to pass a $15 billion debt reduction bond measure.

"It's wrong for Democrats to go along for the sake of getting along," Angelides said at a budget "town hall meeting" as Westly sat listening nearby. "It is wrong for us to wring our hands and say, 'hey, the governor's popular, he's a big celebrity, maybe we're the ones who ought to change our ways."'

For his part, Westly took aim at Angelides's endorsement of tax increases and suggested that Democrats must fashion a more positive message to attract disenchanted voters.

"We must do more than bash Arnold if we want to win," Westly said. "We've got to get smart about branding -- we are the party of innovation, we are the party of accountability, and we are the party of investing in this state's future."

A former eBay executive with a multimillion dollar personal fortune, Westly's entry in the race this week has already shifted the dynamic among the candidates. As Angelides showcased several high-profile supporters, including Sen. Barbara Boxer and Pelosi, Westly spoke of "thinking outside the box" and stressed the need for the party to modernize.

"We have to be the party of jobs, not the party of taxes," Westly told the crowd.

A third gubernatorial hopeful, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, was scheduled to speak at the convention Sunday.

Dick Rosengarten, an analyst and author of the California Political Week newsletter, referred to the convention as "Arnold Bashing 24-7" and said the jousting between Westly and Angelides was surprisingly mild.

"I don't think I've ever seen the Democrats so unified," Rosengarten said. "Usually they're at each other's throats."

Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty said the convention proved that Democrats are more interested in gloating over Schwarzenegger's recent political setbacks than they are in fixing the state's problems.

"The real arrogance lies within the Democratic leadership that refuses to acknowledge the fiscal and budget crisis in California, and the out-of-control spending spree this state has been on for over a decade," she said. "For all their bashing, they offer no solutions."

Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean was scheduled to address the convention Saturday night, in one of his first major public appearances since winning the post in February.

On Friday, Dean told an audience in West Hollywood that Democrats would use the recent Terri Schiavo case against Republicans in the future.

He was referring to the case of the severely brain damaged Florida woman at the center of a "right to die" battle just weeks ago.

Congressional Republicans led by House Majority Leader Tom Delay tried unsuccessfully to intervene to block a court order allowing Schiavo's husband to have her feeding tube removed.

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