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Governor's Race This Time More Than Ho, Hum

September 07, 1986|Bill Boyarsky | Bill Boyarsky is chief of The Times' City-County Bureau.

Although the candidates are the same as in 1982, the contest for governor of California is turning out to be more than a dull fall rerun.

There are sharper differences on the issues between Republican George Deukmejian and Democrat Tom Bradley than there were four years ago. And Bradley, now an underdog, is running an attack campaign that is a contrast to the stately march-to-Sacramento style he adopted as 1982's favorite.

As a result, by Nov. 4 voters may have a clearer idea of where the winner will take them, unlike 1982 when the only certainty was that either Deukmejian or Bradley would bring a plodding stability in place of the eight restless years of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.

The Bradley-Deukmejian contest may seem little more than a drawn-out shouting match between two men who are not stirring speakers or colorful personalities. They are dignified men who have been forced into somewhat unseemly behavior by the requirements of their rowdy political profession, who would rather be in their offices reading legislation. But, as in all big political contests, it's more than a shouting match. Business, labor and other economically or ideologically committed groups and individuals pouring millions into the contest are aware of that.

The long debate between the two men has provided some idea of their policy differences. One major point of departure would be in state policy in the broad, important area lumped under the general heading of environment.

The mayor has taken a stronger environmental stand than he did four years go. In fact, his charges that Deukmejian is weak on regulating toxic wastes and is too supportive of big oil companies have been a mainstay of Bradley's campaign.

Judging from his speeches and statements, Bradley would push for strict controls on chemical pollution of the water supply, as envisioned in a November ballot initiative he supports. In addition, he would place the state in solid opposition to offshore oil drilling, in contrast to Deukmejian, who favors opening some offshore sites to oil firms.

Other parts of Bradley's environmental policy also have major long-range implications for the state.

Bradley is after the support of Northern California environmentalists who were lukewarm or hostile to him in 1982 because he, like Deukmejian, supported the controversial Peripheral Canal expansion of the State Water Project, designed to assure more Northern California water for Southern California.

Bradley has made important pledges, which have paid off. Before the water project facilities around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are expanded, he said, Southern California must store more water and practice more conservation. And last week he satisfied some of the most fervent northern environmentalists by saying he favored increasing the flow of water into Mono Lake, on the eastern side of the Sierra. For years, the city's powerful Department of Water and Power has opposed such a move, fearing it would reduce the amount of water it receives from the Owens Valley and surrounding streams.

The payoff came in San Francisco on Wednesday, when the Sierra Club, the state's largest environmental organization, endorsed Bradley. The club had declined to do so in 1982.

Sierra Clubbers still disagree with Bradley on two important issues. One is his approval last year of oil drilling in the Pacific Palisades. While not a statewide issue, environment-oriented Bradley supporters in Los Angeles are still angry about that reversal. A second area is the Los Angeles sewage-disposal system, inadequate and guilty of dumping sewage into Santa Monica Bay. For years, Bradley and the City Council delayed taking action on the sewage problem, and Deukmejian now cites that shortsightedness in radio commercials and speeches.

Still not completely clear is the future of the judiciary, an issue that has been clouded by the debate over reconfirmation of State Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and two associate justices, Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso.

Deukmejian opposes their confirmation; Bradley is neutral. Deukmejian said that neutrality was evidence of a lack of leadership. But Bradley has also said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who favor the death penalty. Perhaps a debate between the two would provide clearer answers; the governor, however, following a traditional front-runner's strategy in a gubernatorial race, has declined to accept Bradley's challenge.

Deukmejian, enjoying a substantial, although narrowing, lead in the polls, is using a local version of the presidential "Rose Garden" strategy, tending to state business, running on his record, contrasting his surplus with the deficit left by Brown. He has a big lead in fund-raising to pay for a steady diet of television commercials to bring that message to the voters.

Bradley, who campaigned as a front-runner in 1982, is the attacking underdog this time. Pollster Mervin D. Field said that for Bradley to win, he must give the voters some reason to oust Deukmejian. The mayor's aides say they have devised a strategy that could give him an upset victory.

Hammering away on the toxics issue will continue to hurt Deukmejian, they say. In addition, the toxics initiative and other November ballot issues will draw voters to the polls who are more likely to vote for Bradley than Deukmejian.

Bradley's aides expect the mayor to retain what he won in 1982--all the coastal counties except San Diego, Ventura and Orange, where he was badly beaten.

Republican strategists not connected with the Deukmejian campaign agree the Bradley environmental strategy has been successful, calling it an effective "bullet." But not successful enough. As Field implies, they said the mayor needs another bullet to win.

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