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Bustamante Goes Boom

The lieutenant governor sits watching as his campaign implodes.

11:30 AM, Oct 1, 2003 • By BILL WHALEN
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NEXT TUESDAY, I'm voting for Cruz Bustamante--on one condition: his sister has to be the headline act at his inaugural. That would be Nao Bustamante, a San Francisco-based "performance pioneer" whose creative spark could make even porn star/recall candidate Mary Carey blush.

Here's how the lieutenant governor's baby sister describes her art: "Using the body as a source of image, narrative and emotion, my performances communicate on the level of subconscious language, taking the spectator on a bizarre journey, cracking stereotypes and embodying them. As in America, the Beautiful; where I'm some kind of sci-fi-barbie-Yankee Doodle-meat-puppet, offering up a wildly distorted vision of female sexuality and the beauty myth."

One of the stops on that "bizarre journey" was her 1992 epic "Indigurrito," thus described by the San Francisco Weekly: "[S[he strapped on a burrito to her loins and called for white men to come up on stage, take a bite out of the burrito and absolve themselves of 500 years of the white man's guilt." The paper adds, "There was no shortage of ennobled participants, who knelt in front of the protruding offering, some taking delicate bites, others deep-throated chunks."

Yet such is the sorry state of Cruz Bustamante's recall campaign that the most embarrassing sibling performer since Roger Clinton is the least of his worries. Consider the lieutenant governor's steady descent into recall oblivion:

*Sunday's Fresno Bee questioned Bustamante's academic record--in particular, how he earned credit for a class he didn't attend while finishing his degree at Fresno State. Bustamante reportedly received a C in a basic speech class based on his public utterances (fortunately for him, that grade wasn't based on last week's lackluster debate performance).

*Sunday's Los Angeles Times all but accused Bustamante of being a slumlord, reporting that his Fresno rental property has failed three governmental health and safety inspections over the past two years; meanwhile, thanks to some questionable tax deductions, Bustamante and his wife have paid only $191 on more than $31,000 in rental income.

*At some point over the weekend, Bustamante reportedly called Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe to ask for his help. So moved was McAuliffe by that entreaty that he spent his Tuesday with . . . Gray Davis, trying to get out the vote against recall.

*On Monday, Bustamante informed a Sacramento court that he'll return up to $177,000 of the $3.8 million that a judge ruled he raised in violation of state campaign finance laws. State Senator Ross Johnson, who took Bustamante to court, called it a "pathetic response" and promised to keep after the lieutenant governor.

*On Monday and Tuesday, Bustamante held no public events. That was probably a welcome respite after Sunday's appearance at an Asian-Pacific American forum in Sacramento, where Bustamante sucked up to Arianna Huffington in hopes of earning her endorsement. (The ploy backfired when Arianna went on "Larry King Live" last night and dropped out of the race without passing to torch to any candidate)

*Even the polls offer little solace. The latest Los Angeles Times survey, released last night, has Bustamante trailing Arnold Schwarzenegger, 40 percent to 32 percent (Tom McClintock gets 15 percent). Earlier this month, it was Bustamante 30, Arnold 25, McClintock 18.

WITH LESS THAN A WEEK before the election, it's apparent that the Democrats may lose both sides of the recall for the same two reasons people assumed Republicans would struggle. Part of the problem is a negative mindset: that latest Times poll has recall pulling away from Davis, at 56 percent to 42 percent (that's up from 50 percent to 47 percent). Democratic spinners were counting on closer numbers to slow the Arnold bandwagon. These new numbers will only further convince the media that a Davis loss and a Schwarzenegger win are all but certain.

The other problem is a Democratic party badly divided over its two major candidates--and now airing its grievances. Davis backers carp that Bustamante undermines their man by promoting his alternative candidacy. Other Democrats say Davis is the real albatross. "The first issue on the ballot is: should the governor be removed from office. And that's the one where, unfortunately, the numbers show overwhelmingly people are supporting that," Democratic Senate leader John Burton griped to reporters. "Cruz ain't the fall guy on this. He appears to be our only goddamned chance."