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ELECTIONS : House Candidates Clash on Use of Clinton Photo : At forum, Harman says flyer showing her with President is a distortion, but Brooks defends it. Opponents in state Senate, Assembly races also face off.

October 06, 1994|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Yes, they argued the issues, but in their first public matchup, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Rolling Hills) and Rancho Palos Verdes Councilwoman Susan Brooks exchanged some of their fiercest words over a photograph.

The picture--of Harman and President Clinton during a White House ceremony--has been used in Brooks' campaign literature with the caption: "Jane Harman beams with approval while Bill Clinton signs the largest tax increase in history."

Although Harman voted for the Clinton budget, she says the caption is a distortion. "I wasn't there," she said.

The August, 1993, photo was taken at another White House event where Clinton issued an executive order on deficit reduction.

"I was with Bill Clinton . . . when he signed the Deficit Reduction Trust Fund. And yet here we are today, with the Brooks campaign handing out the same misleading captions."

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Brooks' campaign has refused to stop distributing the flyer, saying that it underscores Harman's support of Clinton's overall economic program, even as Harman tries to characterize herself as independent from the White House.

"We have an identical twin representative," Brooks said at the debate. "She is one person in this district, and she goes back to Washington and votes a different way."

The photo flap was the latest confrontation between the two candidates vying for the Congressional seat in the 36th District, which is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans in voter registration. Sunday's event also included Libertarian candidate Jack Tyler and American Independent Joseph Fields.

The audience of more than 500 at the James Armstrong Theater in Torrance also heard candidates in the 28th State Senate District and the 53rd Assembly District.

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The debate format, however, afforded little opportunity for candidates to engage in one-on-one exchanges. Candidates made opening and closing statements, and a moderator selected questions that were submitted from the audience, with each candidate given an allotted time to answer.

Brooks, in fact, refused to call the event a debate, given its structured format, and challenged her opponent to more meetings.

But she did counter Harman's attacks, accusing her campaign of "character assassination." She referred to a Harman spokesman who called Brooks a "pathological liar" in a newspaper article about the White House photo.

Brooks tried to align her opponent with Washington's Democratic leadership. She accused Harman of voting for defense budgets that have created a "meltdown" in national security.

"It's not only compromised jobs in our district, but it's compromised our national security as well," Brooks said.

Harman, however, said that she has fought for full funding of military aircraft projects in the district, as well as defense conversion programs. And she pointed to her support of a line-item veto, a balanced-budget amendment and further efforts to reduce the deficit--all measures Clinton has opposed.

"Each issue, I have stood for what I thought was right, and I have not been afraid to take on the Clinton Administration," she told the audience. ". . . I've been on your side."

Both candidates took tough stands on the immigration issue. Brooks supports Proposition 187, which would deny state services to undocumented immigrants. Harman called for adding 6,000 Border Patrol agents, stepping up workplace enforcement and for limiting benefits. She said after the debate that she has not decided whether to support the state initiative.

Fields went even further: He called on the military to patrol the borders: "If you want to control immigration, that's how you do it, pure and simple. We need to take back our sovereignty."

Tyler, however, argued that the real issue should be government regulations that stem job growth.

"If we get rid of red tape, there won't be any problem with (immigrants) taking jobs at all," he said.

On other issues, the candidates tried to define their differences. Both are supporters of abortion rights. But Harman tried to puncture her opponent's position, charging that Brooks does not support Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Harman said Brooks opposes federal funding of abortions, leaving decisions in the hands of states.

"Many states, as you know, oppose the right to choose for women," Harman said. She campaigned heavily on an abortion rights platform two years ago, when she beat Republican Joan Milke Flores, who opposed abortion.

Brooks, however, charged that Harman has "misrepresented my position." She said that she supports abortion rights but argues that funding of abortions should be at the state and local levels.

"What Jane Harman wants to do is ensure that every woman, whether she can pay for one or not, should get an abortion and have the federal government pay the tab," Brooks said. Fields opposes abortion, and Tyler is against funding of abortions at any level of the government.

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