Davis Courts Hispanics Despite Veto Conflict

Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is marshaling Hispanic leaders for high-profile shows of support despite their disappointment over the governor's veto of legislation that would have given driver's licenses to some illegal immigrants.

"This is bigger than a driver's license bill,'' Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, said Thursday before a press conference where Davis unveiled a Spanish-language commercial starring Dolores Huerta, the United Farm Workers union co-founder.

"There's a bigger picture, a bigger agenda,'' Polanco said. "We know [GOP nominee Bill] Simon would not have any interest in even being at the table on these kinds of issues.''

Polanco signed a letter to Davis earlier this month announcing the Legislature's Democratic Latino caucus was not supporting him for re-election because of the veto.

But amid shouts of "Si se puede!'' (Yes, it can be done!}, he and other legislative and labor leaders and sign-waving union members promised to work hard to ensure Davis' re-election.

"Gray Davis has been with us and that's why we're with him,'' said former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

In addition to the ad featuring Huerta, who stood by his side Thursday, Davis displayed a three-quarter-page advertisement that appeared Thursday in the Spanish-language daily La Opinion. More than three dozen Hispanic leaders signed it pledging their support.

Davis planned to continue his push for Hispanic votes with a speech Friday morning to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Simon has also been courting the Hispanic community, using President Bush's popularity among Hispanics to help. On Tuesday he toured the Latino Business Expo with Hector Barreto, Bush's head of the Small Business Administration. Friday he was scheduled to campaign in Sacramento with another Hispanic Bush administration official, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.