SACRAMENTO — After pioneering the use of hard-hitting direct-mail advertising in political campaigns, conservative state Sen. H.L. Richardson (R-Glendora) says he believes he has found something better--video cassettes that voters can view at home.
Richardson, saying that mail is getting too expensive and producing only questionable results, Tuesday unveiled what he said is the first video to be used against a legislative candidate, although he produced an earlier tape used against former California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird during the 1986 campaign to oust her from the Supreme Court.
The 15-minute law-and-order video was done on behalf of San Benito County Dist. Atty. Harry Damkar, a Republican who is trying to unseat veteran Democratic Sen. Henry J. Mello of Watsonville in the Nov. 8 election.
Using a series of interviews with the mother of a murder victim, prosecutors and police officers, the video attributes much of the blame for drug trafficking, gang violence and a host of other crimes on liberal lawmakers in Sacramento who, it asserts, are not writing stiff enough sentences for convicted criminals.
Proudly showing off the new video, Richardson said at a Capitol news conference: "This is the wave of the future. It is the advent of many, many things to come." The senator, who is retiring this year after 22 years in the Legislature, called the video "a new way of skinning political cats."
Political videos, Richardson said, are a key to Californians who get all or most of their information from television. "You reach a lot of people whom you normally can't get to with a brochure or a piece of written material," he said.
This represents a shift for Richardson, whose political mailing firms have sent out millions of pieces for a host of conservative candidates and causes over the years.
Cost of $10,000
Initially, Richardson produced about 100 copies of the video, at a cost of $10,000, through a new company he founded, Red Barn Video. Money to pay for them came from the Republican Party and Richardson's Law and Order Campaign Committee. The aim is to circulate copies of the video in Mello's four-county 17th Senatorial District.
Damkar, who is not identified as a political candidate until the end of the video, says: "Drugs are the fuel causing the nation's youth to become morally and socially bankrupt." He ends the video by paraphrasing what he said was a threat by a member of the Crips gang in Los Angeles to "unite and stop killing each other and start killing cops."
"That's when they are going to take over the state, and nobody is going to be safe," Damkar says.
The video does not say that Mello, considered a moderate lawmaker by most of his colleagues, is one of the liberals blocking tough laws. But Richardson, who appears on the tape, does say Mello shares responsibility because he is a member of the Senate Rules Committee that appoints the liberal lawmakers who sit on the Judiciary Committee, where tough law and order bills often die.
Mello said he does not expect the tactic to work. In a telephone interview, he recited a long list of bills he supported that toughen criminal sentences and make it easier for police and prosecutors to convict offenders.
The Democrat said his reelection campaign is supported by many law enforcement groups, including the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen and the California Assn. of Police and Sheriffs. "If I was soft on crime, do you think I would get their endorsement?" Mello asked.
As for the Judiciary Committee, Mello said he considers the political mix "fairly well balanced" and denied that it is weighted toward liberals.