WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - In the first debate of California's recall election, candidates vying to oust Gov. Gray Davis attacked front-runner Cruz Bustamante for accepting Indian casino money and connected actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to an adviser's unpopular remarks on property taxes.
The skirmish came after a relaxed Davis told a separate forum with reporters and voters that the recall effort had been an awakening and that he would fight to keep his job and repair the state's problems.
Davis said he had not acted soon enough to deal with the state's energy crisis and pledged to keep in better touch with the people.
"I understand people are angry. I understand that people's lives are not as good as they were two years ago," Davis said.
Schwarzenegger did not attend the debate.
Bustamante, the Democratic lieutenant governor who leads the most recent poll, was criticized for taking advantage of a loophole in campaign finance law that allowed a tribe to pledge $2-million to his financially struggling campaign.
Columnist Arianna Huffington, an independent, said Bustamante had made a mockery of campaign finance laws, which allowed him to circumvent new contribution limits by accepting the bulk of the money in an old campaign account.
"This is nothing but legalized bribery," Huffington said.
Huffington and the Green Party's Peter Camejo teamed up to link Schwarzenegger to remarks his billionaire adviser Warren Buffett made that Proposition 13 might need to be reworked. Proposition 13 is the voter-approved initiative that limits property tax hikes.
Schwarzenegger has said he wouldn't touch the law, and has tried to distance himself from Buffett's statements.
Bustamante also said the popular tax initiative should be retooled for commercial property, but Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth - who were in lockstep on a number of issues - said they would not touch the tax formula.
The debate is the first of three scheduled in advance of the Oct. 7 vote.
Candidates qualified for the debate by receiving at least 4 percent support in a recent poll or the last statewide vote.