Many Disgusted with California Campaign

By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press. Published August 28, 1998. Copyright AP.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Many Californians clearly were disgusted with the spring mudslinging melee in the gubernatorial primary. But it's not clear anyone's any happier now that the general election campaign has swung to the other extreme.

The campaign has become a dizzying dissertation on arcane legislative history, with leading candidates Dan Lungren and Gray Davis picking apart each other's record in the kind of excruciating detail that only two men who have spent a combined 41 years in public office could.

Since 1975, Davis has served as Gov. Jerry Brown's chief of staff, a member of the Assembly, controller, and lieutenant governor. Lungren was elected to Congress in 1978 and served 10 years, went into private law practice briefly and has been attorney general since 1991.

So the research teams in both camps have plenty of ammunition for this new ``gotcha'' warfare. They are unearthing old bureaucratic position papers, records on obscure procedural votes and yellowed newspaper articles as evidence of where they and the opposition stood and stand.

In speeches and debates, the candidates have traded charges over votes each cast on abortion and the death penalty when they were lawmakers more than 15 years ago.

It's not easy to follow. Consider this exchange on death penalty legislation, from their Aug. 18 debate:

Davis: This bill was stuck in the public safety committee ...

Lungren: You didn't support you did not support the Briggs Initiative ...

Davis: ... which you know in those days was the graveyard for a criminal justice bill

Lungren: By whom?

Davis: And we ...

Lungren: By whom?

Davis: It was the ...

Lungren: Willie Brown.

Davis: It was the criminal justice bill.

Lungren: So Willie Brown voted for this bill to take it out? Come on!

Davis: You mean Bill Leonard ...

Lungren: The next thing you're going to tell us while you're ...

Davis: You want to tell me that Bill Leonard and Bob Naylor cast the wrong vote? That's what you're saying. That they voted with me.

Lungren: No. No. Read his letter.

Davis: They voted with me on 989. Just ask Gary Condit.

Lungren: Read Bill Leonard's letter.

Moderator: Gentlemen, gentlemen ... gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen ....

Before the June primary, the candidates aired a blitz of attack ads, led by multimillionaire Democrat Al Checchi. When Checchi lost by a large margin, political observers and his rivals interpreted the result as the electorate's resounding rejection of mudslinging tactics.

Now analysts say the candidates' squabbling over procedural motions from the 1980s is as unhealthy as the attack ads they have sworn off.

``Obviously, they care about abortion and the death penalty, but (in the second debate) the two candidates went so far into arcana on each other's records on those two issues that they lost a lot of people's attention,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation.

``When they talk about such detailed, historic issues, it leaves people feeling like, `Did I miss something? Was I supposed to know about this Leonard letter?' That's how I felt, and I follow these things closely.''

Davis, who has a 12-point lead according to the latest poll, and Lungren both acknowledge that the debates have gotten a bit esoteric, but they say that's part of talking about the issues.

``I think to the extent that exchanges like that contribute to an overall understanding of a voting record, I think it's a benefit,'' Lungren said. ``To the extent that we get mired down into minutiae on a particular vote on a particular day, then I think that can be distracting.''

``I think you have to be accountable for how you vote,'' Davis said.

One problem, though, is that voting records are easy to distort, Alexander said.

``Those of us who work in politics know that voting records are often misleading,'' Alexander said. ``So the whole thing could end up being very meaningless to voters.''

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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