Simon rips Davis over Guard readiness

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Simon rips Davis over Guard readiness
State officials quickly respond, maintaining the state is safer than ever.
By Emily Bazar -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Tuesday, July 9, 2002
Charging that "failed leadership" in the Davis administration has hindered the California National Guard's ability to respond to a major terrorist attack, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon on Monday outlined a plan to revamp the military organization.

But before Simon unveiled his proposal, Gov. Gray Davis had already fired back.

The Democratic governor hastily dispatched several law enforcement and security officials -- including Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe, adjutant general of the Guard -- to pre-empt a Simon press conference and defend Davis' record. Earlier in the day, his campaign unveiled a new television advertisement that touts Davis' military service while attacking Simon's voting record and his refusal to release his income tax returns.

The candidates' dueling press conferences took place at Sacramento International Airport, where California National Guard troops provided extra security for several months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

Joining Simon was Maj. Gen. Frank Schober, a former California Guard commander who has been critical of Davis' handling of the organization. Schober headed the Guard when Jerry Brown was governor and Davis was Brown's chief of staff.

Schober has criticized Davis in the past for packing the Guard's leadership with political allies. On Monday, he argued that the state Guard is weak and understaffed because of Davis' neglect.

"(Davis) took an interest after 9/11 for a lot of photo-ops in the state," said Schober, who now lives and works in New Mexico. "But photo-ops are not enough to show leadership."

Simon, a Pacific Palisades businessman, cited a deadly shooting incident last week at Los Angeles International Airport as proof that California residents aren't being adequately protected.

He also called attention to a Pentagon survey that placed the California National Guard near the bottom nationally in recruitment and retention.

Simon's six-part plan to improve the state Guard includes fairly broad suggestions, such as working with the federal government to secure funding. It also contains detailed proposals, such as providing tuition assistance to students at state colleges who enroll in the National Guard.

"(The soldiers) have not received the support that they deserve in the form of training and equipment from their leadership," Simon said. "California needs a real leader and a clear plan to rejuvenate the California National Guard. This must happen in order to make our state safe once again."

Davis' swift response was coordinated by his state-funded press office instead of his political campaign. Minutes before a scheduled Simon press conference, Monroe, California Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick and Davis' security adviser, George Vinson, congregated at the airport to argue that Californians are safer than ever.

They acknowledged that there's always room for improvement and that a recent state audit about the state Guard identified some legitimate concerns. But Monroe, Helmick and Vinson said state Guard troops are well-trained and equipped to protect the state.

"These criticisms are a direct reflection on the soldiers and airmen of the California National Guard, and that is just unfair," Monroe said. "These people have sacrificed to do this job ... and they have done it beyond all expectations."

Davis' campaign on Monday also released a 30-second television ad that focuses on the governor's record as a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, service that earned him the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

The spot -- which will air in Sacramento, the Central Valley and on some Los Angeles-area cable stations -- lambastes Simon's political and business record. It is Davis' sixth television ad since the March primary.

"Simon didn't vote in 13 of 20 elections (and) won't release his tax returns to show he's paid his fair share," the ad says. "Bill Simon, out of step and out for himself."
 

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