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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S. SENATE : Huffington Jabs at Feinstein Record, Sidesteps Prop. 187

October 14, 1994|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Huffington preached more family values, less government and repeatedly assailed opponent Dianne Feinstein's record during a luncheon address Thursday at Le Meridien Hotel.

Before a mostly partisan crowd of about 500 people, Huffington said he sees his campaign as "an opportunity to send shock waves not only through California but across America."

In answer to a question from the audience, he vowed to announce his position on Proposition 187--immigrant initiative, before Election Day.

Flanked by his wife, Arianna, and two daughters, the congressman from Santa Barbara also said that the breakdown in the family is the root of many of the country's ills, from crime to teen-age pregnancy to low (college-entrance test) scores.

"If we're going to turn this country around, we can't depend on the U.S. government," he said. "It comes back to us, to our children and teaching them the virtues and values that we grew up with."

Huffington called for the abolishment of the current welfare system, saying money for the poor should be allocated by local government using funds made available from Washington through Community Block Grants.

"I know the old system doesn't work," said Huffington, who also said he supports giving a bigger tax break for charitable contributions.

A large portion of Huffington's speech focused on Feinstein, however, who is battling in a close contest for the U.S. Senate. Feinstein was elected to the Senate in 1992, to complete the unexpired term of Pete Wilson, who resigned to become governor.

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Huffington accused his Democratic opponent of "flip-flopping" on several issues, including the death penalty and health care reform, and criticized Feinstein for voting against The North American Free Trade Agreement, saying she was swayed by contributions from labor unions.

"She had $3 million worth of reasons for voting against it," he said, noting Feinstein had received campaign contributions from organized labor, which opposed the treaty. "That's why I don't take political action committee money."

Feinstein campaign spokesman Bill Chandler said the senator was opposed to the treaty because she is concerned that it might take jobs away from Californians.

Huffington also blasted Feinstein for supporting cuts in the nation's defense budget, which he said has resulted in the loss of 179,000 jobs in California and have caused "low morale" in the military.

"The first priority of the United States government should be the defense of the United States," he said, "We have a President and two senators who don't agree."

Huffington said he would support cuts of up to $60 billion in the defense budget and said Feinstein favored $135 billion in cuts.

Chandler accused the congressman of "sour grapes" and said the senator is a "staunch supporter" of the state's defense industry.

"He simply hasn't told the truth about his own record or Sen. Feinstein's record," Chandler said. "It will be interesting when he puts aside the cue cards and speaks from the heart. It will be interesting to see if he has anything to say. Right now, all he is doing is trying to trash his opponent and her record without providing a vision for California."

During the question-and-answer session, an attorney questioned Huffington about Proposition 187, which would deny social services, public education and all but emergency health care to illegal immigrants. Huffington acknowledged not having taken a stand on the hotly contested measure, and made his pledge to announce his position before Election Day.

"I'm for immigration, but legal immigration," he said. "My wife had to wait five years to become legal. People should go through the process."

Huffington grew testy when asked about his own legislative record. He blamed his inability to get legislation passed on the Democrat-controlled Congress.

"Let me give a short course in Government 101," Huffington said to an audience member who asked if he had ever had any successful legislation enacted. "The Democrats control the House (of Representatives), the Senate and the White House. The deck is totally stacked against us," he said.

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Huffington was also asked about funding for Orange County's first federal courthouse. Part of the funding for the $128-million courthouse project in Santa Ana appeared to be in jeopardy last month when a congressional conference committee slashed the massive Treasury-Postal appropriations bill, which included $25 million for the courthouse.

Feinstein blamed Huffington and others for supporting a House decision to send the funding bill to a conference committee with instructions to cut $200 million.

Huffington said Thursday that he supported full funding of the courthouse in concept, but the bill contained funding for other projects that are not needed.

"This is the stuff that goes on in Washington," he said. "Of course (the courthouse) needs the funding."

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