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Heckled: Actor Tries to Court Environmentalists Amid Protest
Published on Monday, September 22, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Heckled: Actor Tries to Court Environmentalists Amid Protest
by Carla Marinucci
 

Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County -- Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was dogged by persistent protesters and hecklers Sunday, as he tried to seize the environmental mantle, proposing a $60 million "hydrogen highway" he said would provide a statewide chain of hydrogen fueling stations to help clean the air.

"As governor, I will create a network of . . . clean hydrogen fueling stations every 20 miles," said Schwarzenegger, who provided few specifics on paying for such a plan.


'HE'S A REAL HUMMER DINGER'
California Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger addresses supporters after unveiling his enviromental policy plan at the Bailard Avenue Bluffs in Carpinteria, California, September 21, 2003. Schwarzenegger told the assembled crowd he will seek the input of his critics, like the demonstrators behind him, to determine an enviromental policy everyone could live with. REUTERS/Jim Ruymen
"These hydrogen highways funded by private-public partnerships will allow car manufacturers to make good on their pledge to deliver hundreds of thousands of clean hydrogen cars on the California roads before the end of the decade," the actor said.

But Schwarzenegger's speech was continually interrupted by hecklers at the coastal site near Santa Barbara, where demonstrators carried signs reading "Vote oui on no recall" -- a reference to a racy interview Schwarzenegger gave more than 25 years ago with Oui men's magazine -- and "He's a real hummer dinger," a reference to Schwarzenegger's stable of Hummer vehicles.

The protesters arrived early and stationed themselves behind the stage, forcing the candidate's staff to hastily camouflage their presence with a large backdrop reading "Join Arnold."

ONE ARREST

Police later made one arrest after a scuffle when one of the actor's supporters attempted to take a bullhorn away from Medea Benjamin, a San Francisco-based Green Party activist who led the protest.

The event handed environmental protesters a chance to assail the record of the actor-turned-candidate, who arrived in a large SUV, a GMC Yukon.

"You just don't wake up one morning and decide you're an environmentalist," said Pedro Nava of the California League of Conservation Voters, pointing toward Schwarzenegger's role in promoting the Hummer -- the behemoth military vehicle which is one of the least fuel-efficient cars on the road.

"I say nice try, Arnold, but no cigar," said Nava, who also is a member of the California Coastal Commission.

Polls show that year after year California voters of all political persuasions list environmental protection as among their most important issues.

So it is no surprise that Schwarzenegger, who has cast his candidacy as conservative on fiscal issues but moderate on social policy, would attempt to court voters in the recall election against Gov. Gray Davis with environmental policy plans.

'ANOTHER STAGE SET'

But Nava said Sunday's proposal failed to recognize that hydrogen technology is years, if not decades, away from widespread use.

"This is another stage set for Arnold to deliver rehearsed lines," Nava said.

Indeed, during his appearance, Schwarzenegger stuck faithfully to a draft copy of the speech obtained by reporters -- which also indicated specific cues for the actor. "Behind me (point to the offshore wells) is the past," the script said. "In front of us (point to cars) is the future."

But longtime GOP fund-raiser Bob Grady, a managing director of the Carlyle Group, said that as an environmental adviser to Schwarzenegger he is convinced of the actor's credentials.

"I want a governor, someone who will fight oil drilling and ocean pollution, " he told the crowd. "Green Republicans have a new champion, and that man is Arnold Schwarzenegger."

But speaking later to reporters, the actor could provide few details about his hydrogen fuel program -- except to say that 95 percent of the money would come from the federal government.

Asked how he could boast of being an environmental advocate when he owns five Hummers, Schwarzenegger instead took credit for the vehicle's popularity.

"Eleven years ago, I took the military Hummer and I wanted to prove you could turn it into a civilian Hummer. . . . Now, as you know, it's the most popular SUV."

As to his new interest in hydrogen-fueled vehicles, Schwarzenegger said his advisers told him only four weeks ago about efforts to convert vehicles, including Hummers, from standard gasoline to hydrogen fuel.

"The things I've learned in this last month running for office have been spectacular," he said.

CRITICISM FOR DAVIS

Schwarzenegger criticized Davis' environmental record, saying, "Gray Davis has just starting talking about the environment the last few days."

But asked about legislation Davis has signed, including a bill that made California the first state to ban greenhouse gases, Schwarzenegger responded "I'm not aware of all those bills he has signed."

And Davis' spokesman, Gabriel Sanchez, said Schwarzenegger's environmental platform, as posted on the Republican candidate's Web site, mirrors the governor's programs in such areas as reducing energy consumption and protecting parks and open space.

"If you look at his environmental plan, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," Sanchez said.

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

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