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Deukmejian Opposes Early '88 Primary

March 04, 1987|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian declared flatly Tuesday that he would veto any bill advancing the date of California's 1988 presidential primary--and indicated he is becoming increasingly cool to the idea of running as a favorite son candidate.

Several Democratic leaders in the state are pushing for an earlier presidential primary, pointing out that both parties' nominations likely will be sewed up by the time Californians get around to voting in June. They dream of California regaining its former clout in the nominating process--political muscle that started dissipating when so many other states began holding early primaries.

But Deukmejian, at a press conference in Los Angeles, quashed such hopes. He said California is so big it always will have clout, regardless of when the primary is held.

"California is the most populous state in the nation," he noted. "Regardless of who the President is, regardless of who gets nominated, California is going to have an influential role with respect to federal policy. . . . We're much different than some of the smaller states, where maybe there is some advantage to have gotten on the bandwagon early with whoever becomes the nominee of the party.

"But California is not in that same position. I don't think it makes that much difference whether our primary is held in March or in June."

He noted "the great cost to taxpayers"--estimated at around $20 million--of holding an early presidential primary, a regular June primary for other offices and then a November general election.

Also, Deukmejian is known to have privately expressed fears that an early primary would lead to a very crowded, bruising contest--because fewer contenders would have been eliminated nationally--and this, in turn, could tear apart California's Republican Party and be very expensive to its contributor financial base.

Asked if he would veto pending legislation to move up the primary, he responded unequivocally "yes." It is uncharacteristic for Deukmejian, who almost never will say how he will act on a bill before it gets to his desk.

Deukmejian said he still has not decided whether to run as a California favorite son, as some Republican legislators and state party leaders have suggested. But there was a strong hint in his words and in the tone of his voice that he is not enthusiastic about the idea. Asked to explain the advantages of running as a favorite son, the governor seemed hard put to find any.

"You know, the whole reason why this suddenly came up," he began, with a mock chuckle, "was my good friends said that if there was a favorite son candidacy, it might avoid some divisiveness in the presidential primary in California next year and that it also might help in terms of cutting down on campaign expenses. . . . That's how my friends got me into this situation in the first place. . . .

"After having explored this, and looking at the current law and all the dynamics involved, I'm not sure you can achieve those kinds of results."

To achieve them, the serious presidential candidates would have to agree to step aside and allow Deukmejian to run virtually unopposed in his home state. In return, he would agree to not run in any other state. And at the Republican National Convention, he presumably would turn over California's delegate votes--the largest bloc of any state--to the candidate of his choice.

Stakes Too High

But Deukmejian is finding out as he and his advisers consult with other candidates--namely Vice President George Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and Rep. Jack F. Kemp of New York--that the political stakes are so high in a presidential election that none of the contenders can commit themselves to not competing in California's winner-take-all primary. "I can appreciate that," the governor said.

Anyway, as Deukmejian noted, the California Secretary of State is required by law to place on the ballot the names of all major presidential candidates.

Deukmejian said whether he can run virtually uncontested will be an "important factor" in his ultimate decision. Another factor, he said, will be his personal analysis of whether running as a favorite son "would deprive" California Republican voters of a "full opportunity to have input" on who the party's presidential nominee will be.

The time frame for his decision "will be shorter rather than longer," he said without elaborating.

Outside the mid-Wilshire office building where Deukmejian held his press conference, about 50 demonstrators marched in protest of his efforts to place a state prison on Los Angeles' Eastside, and what they regard as his lax implementation of Proposition 65, the anti-toxics ballot measure approved by voters last November.

On these and other issues, the governor:

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