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Wilson, Brown Meet at Last in Bitter Debate

October 15, 1994|BILL STALL and AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Democrat Kathleen Brown traded sharply worded attacks with Gov. Pete Wilson during a televised debate Friday that reached an emotional peak when Brown, rejecting Wilson's contention that she is weak on crime, revealed that her own daughter had been raped.

From the outset of the hourlong forum--the only debate of the gubernatorial campaign--Brown went aggressively on the offensive against Wilson, telling viewers across the state that California "cannot afford four more years of tax-and-spend Republicanism."

Wilson, appearing at times tentative and halting, told state Treasurer Brown: "Kathleen, you lack the courage to be governor" because she had not offered detailed budget cuts when the state was going through a fiscal crisis.

The economy and illegal immigration dominated most of the discussion. Brown, generally composed and deliberate, hammered at Wilson repeatedly about his handling of the budget and the economy, over and over touting her 62-page plan to return California to prosperity.

Wilson returned to his tough stand against illegal immigration in response to almost every question asked by the panel of three political reporters, always mentioning his support for Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration ballot measure, and the cost of the state providing services to illegal immigrants.

On the tax issue, Wilson contended that Democrat Brown's economic plan contains massive tax increases. Brown disputed the claim.

But the dramatic highlight of the Sacramento encounter came when an emotional Brown turned to Wilson and said she resented his persistent allegation that she would be soft on violent criminals. She said he could not imagine what it was like to be a mother having to comfort a daughter who had been raped. Later she said her daughter had been the victim of a date rape several years ago but that no charges had been filed.

The emotional moment came about halfway through the telecast as Brown sought to blunt Wilson's attack on her personal opposition to the death penalty and answer questions about how tough she would be on crime.

Brown said: "You know, Pete, you've misrepresented my positions on crime throughout this campaign.

"But I have to tell you what I resent most of all is you questioning, questioning, my commitment to be tough on crime. . . .

"And you cannot imagine what it's like to be a mother waiting at home late at night for your kids to come home, waiting for your daughter to come home in the evening and having her come home and comfort her because she's been raped.

"Or your son called to come home from school while I'm working to say, 'Come home, because I've been robbed.' . . . You can't understand that. So don't question my commitment to be tough on crime."

Wilson gave no quarter. "Well I have to question it Kathleen, because despite that moving performance," he began, going on to attack the death penalty record of her father and brother, both of whom were governors of California.

Observers at first were not certain whether Brown was relating personal experience or hypothetical incidents, because she had never discussed the rape or mugging before.

But after the debate, Brown disclosed that she was describing the date rape of one of her daughters. She said no police report was filed and no arrests were made. She said her son Zeb was mugged in the late 1980s in New York City.

Asked why she made the disclosures now, Brown said she was "sick and tired of this governor . . . using cheap political tricks" to suggest she would be weak on crime.

Wilson said after the debate that he felt sympathy for the Brown family in suffering what must have been "a terrible experience."

But he did not back down on his campaign theme that he is the only candidate the voters can trust on the crime issue.

Wilson added: "It makes it more mystifying to me what I will charitably term her tardiness" in working to toughen laws against violent criminals.

Brown was pleased with her performance in the debate and challenged Wilson to more meetings between now and the Nov. 8 election. Wilson, who is the front-runner in opinion polls, said no.

The 61-year-old Wilson said he was pleased with the debate and said Brown was "out of touch" on the economics issue and in her booklet, which he referred to as a "pamphlet."

"She tried to sell the plan," he said. "I don't think it will work."

In the selling, the 49-year-old Brown had some of the best lines of the hour.

She accused Wilson of lying when he said during the 1990 campaign that he was the only candidate who could balance the budget without a tax increase. Making a play on former President George Bush's broken promise, she said: "Don't read his lips. Read my plan."

Brown turned around an old Republican epithet about "tax and spend" Democrats in Congress when she labeled Wilson a "tax and spend" Republican.

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