ORANGE — Assemblyman John R. Lewis (R-Orange), who was once indicted for forging President Reagan's signature on political mailers, has sent another campaign piece that appears to be at odds with the truth.
No one is questioning the validity of the signature this time--it appears to belong to Lewis.
But the letter, received this week by voters in the 67th Assembly District, says Lewis' Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election, Chapman College political science Prof. Fred Smoller, is a "handpicked liberal" friend of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). And Lewis alleges that Brown is targeting his seat for defeat this year and is "trying to take over our area."
The problem is, Smoller and Brown have never met or spoken to each other. A political newcomer with little money or local party experience, Smoller said he "had to find out where the (local) party headquarters were" to volunteer to run against Lewis.
"He just makes stuff up," Smoller said about Lewis. "He has no respect for the truth."
Smoller said he decided to run after reading about the assemblyman's indictment in 1989 and low ranking among legislators in a California Journal poll. (The forgery allegations were eventually dropped because criminal statutes do not address political forgery.)
"I'm not exactly part of the machine," Smoller said. "I'm just a self-selected candidate. . . . The speaker doesn't know me from Adam."
In all, the Lewis mailer, with a "helpful refrigerator magnet" attached to the top of it, mentions Brown eight times. It attacks his positions on crime, the death penalty and tax increases, plus labels Brown an "ultra-liberal."
Near the end of the letter, Lewis warns that "when the attack campaign to defeat me begins, I hope you will remember that it is Willie Brown trying to take over our area."
Brown's spokesman, Michael Reese, said Republican candidates have been trying for years to "run" against Brown: "It's a sign of some concern on that candidate's (Lewis') part. If they don't feel comfortable slamming on their opponent, they pick on Willie."
Reese said campaign financing laws make it very difficult for party leaders to "target" a particular seat for defeat by pumping a lot of money into that race.
"Every seat represents an opportunity," he said. "The electorate is in a funny mood."
Candidates attack Brown for different reasons, but Reese said that in Orange County, "arguably, there's a racial appeal. He's a liberal black Democrat. Some will go after his ideology, some his race, others his party.
"I don't know which one of those three Lewis is going after. . . . But Mr. Lewis ought to be well advised: These attempts over the last 10 years, to a candidate, failed. I can't think of a single Democrat who lost because of Willie Brown."