LAGUNA HILLS — Sen. John Seymour and Rep. William E. Dannemeyer debated issues of life and death Friday as if the future of the Republican Party in California depends on the outcome--and Dannemeyer said it does.
Dannemeyer, the conservative from Fullerton, argued during their third Senate campaign debate that the primary election June 2 will "define the direction of the Republican Party in the decade of the '90s."
Dannemeyer claimed that Seymour's nomination for the final two years of Gov. Pete Wilson's Senate term would drive away the conservative Democrats whom Ronald Reagan drew to the GOP in the 1970s and '80s. Such an event might forever deny the Republicans the opportunity of becoming the majority party in California and nationally, he said.
He asked who Seymour and Wilson would replace the GOP's fiscal and social conservatives with? "Would they get (replacements) from the animal rights activists? From the militant feminists in the National Organization for Women? Are they going to get it from the elitists of the Sierra Club or the zealots in the environmental party? I doubt it."
Seymour counterattacked in equally sharp terms as he accused Dannemeyer of being "fixated on gay-bashing" and telling the 13-year congressman, seated to his right: "Bill, you have a tough time with the truth. You distort my record. You twist the truth."
Seymour added: "Anybody who advocates genocide--I can't believe people would support for United States senator."
Seymour's genocide charge stems from a passage in a book by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop that suggested that Dannemeyer once advocated to Koop that people with AIDS be "wiped out." Dannemeyer responded: "He's (Koop) a liar. I never did any such thing."
These exchanges came before a relatively quiet and attentive audience of residents of a sprawling retirement community. Included in the debate were the two other candidates for the GOP nomination: Bill Allen, a member of the U. S. Civil Rights Commission, and retired Glendale dentist Jim Trinity. Allen and Trinity talked mostly about their platforms and exchanged pleasantries as long shots.
Seymour and Dannemeyer also clashed over abortion. Dannemeyer accused Seymour of flip-flopping on a number of issues, abandoning traditional Republican values and becoming a moderate.
Dannemeyer acknowledged that the nation is split on the abortion issue, but contended: "We're the party that has affirmed the right to life in American society."
Dannemeyer then seemed to suggest that those who support abortion might also seek to hasten the end of life for the elderly.
"A society that is unwilling to affirm the right to life at the beginning of that process in the womb is a short step removed from the society at the other end of life that says when we're no longer able to take care of ourselves, when we're handicapped or dependent on others, and maybe it's time for us to check out. If you don't have the courage to do that, we the government are going to help you," he said.
In an effort to demonstrate that being in favor of abortion rights is not necessarily being anti-conservative, Seymour noted that Reagan, when he was governor in 1967, signed into law the California abortion statute. Seymour did not mention that Reagan later said he regretted approving the bill the way it was written.
"Who could be more conservative than Barry Goldwater?" Seymour asked. "Barry Goldwater was pro-choice, as I am, his entire political career."
Seymour said he remains personally and religiously opposed to abortion, but has decided that the status quo on abortion is better than different abortion laws in each state.
Seymour did not bring up Dannemeyer's writing of bad checks on the House bank. But Seymour claimed that Dannemeyer had one of the worst voting records in the House and had missed 84% of the roll call votes this year.
"I have always believed you ought to work before you get paid, so I suggest you pay these people back 84% of your pay for missing all those votes," he told Dannemeyer.
Dannemeyer acknowledged that he missed many votes because he has been campaigning in California for the Senate. But he said he will stand by his average voting record of 95% over his 13 years in Congress.
Seymour aides boasted that Seymour was present for 94% of all Senate votes in his first year after being appointed to the seat and had a 100% record this year.