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California Elections : ATTORNEY GENERAL : Lungren and Umberg Trade Jabs in Debate


SACRAMENTO — In a lively debate before the Capitol press corps, Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren and Democratic challenger Tom Umberg traded barbs Thursday over immigration, on-the-job experience and a key crime information program.

Umberg charged that the attorney general is more of a politician than a prosecutor and has failed to properly prioritize spending by his office to help cut into California's crime problem.

Lungren painted Umberg, an Orange County assemblyman and former assistant U.S. attorney, as a law-and-order greenhorn who would have to get "on-the-job training" if he became the state's top cop.

The attorney general, who was holding a 15-point lead among likely voters in a Times poll this week, kicked off the 45-minute debate before the Sacramento Press Club by challenging Umberg to run a campaign free of mudslinging. Lungren then blasted his rival for failing to help lobby the federal government to make it easier to use the death penalty. Lungren called himself "a national leader" in the death penalty reform effort, but said "not one peep was heard from my opponent" during the fight in Washington.

Umberg, a death penalty supporter, counterattacked by suggesting that Lungren has failed to fund "nuts and bolts" programs that are vital to fighting crime in the state.

He said the attorney general's office is up to nine months behind in updating rap sheets and more than two months behind in processing fingerprints. Lungren's program designed to keep track of sex offenders has managed to keep tabs on only 24% of all paroled molesters and rapists, the challenger said.

Umberg also criticized Lungren for hiking his office communications budget in 1992-93 at the same time the attorney general cut funding to the Violent Crime Information System. Umberg contends that the system's computer database could have proved a vital tool in capturing Richard Allen Davis, the repeat felon accused of the Northern California kidnaping and murder of young Polly Klaas.

"Those are the priorities of a politician," Umberg said. "Those aren't the priorities of someone who has experience in the field, someone who understands the importance of things like rap sheets."

Lungren blamed those problems on more than $34 million in general fund budget cuts the Legislature passed down to the Department of Justice, which the attorney general oversees.

To ease some of the pain, Lungren said he cut management positions yet was still forced to dip into some programs. He said the computer database that might have helped in the Klaas case was in the process of being funded at the time of the girl's murder.

Lungren also said Umberg has been consistently unwilling to buck powerful Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and questioned whether he would prove any different if elected attorney general.

"I doubt that suddenly you're going to be struck by lightening and be tough with Willie Brown," Lungren said.

The pair also clashed over Proposition 187, the initiative that would sharply curtail health and education benefits to illegal immigrants.

Lungren once again refused to take a position on the proposal, saying he has not read the initiative nor finished a report compiled by Department of Justice attorneys. Umberg noted that Lungren's office was responsible for summarizing the measure for the ballot.

The challenger said he is staunchly opposed to the measure, which he believes will put between 200,000 and 500,000 children "on the streets," posing problems for society.

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