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Clinton Signs Rule on Guns in Schools : Politics: President visits Bay Area to stump for Feinstein and Brown. His directive will help enforce a law that calls for expulsions of students who bring firearms onto campuses.

October 23, 1994|PAUL RICHTER and DAVID LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BELMONT — President Clinton made his first California visit of the campaign season Saturday to boast of new federal action against school violence and to help embattled Sen. Dianne Feinstein and gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown amid the state's richest concentration of Democratic loyalists.

In his first trip to the state since May, Clinton joined Feinstein at gang-troubled Carlmont High School in this San Mateo County town and signed an order that requires a halt in federal school aid to districts that do not expel students who bring guns to school. The directive will help enforce a law, co-sponsored by Feinstein, that calls for the expulsions.

"Young people simply should not have to live in fear of young criminals who carry guns to school," Clinton said to a exuberant crowd of 1,000 students, parents and teachers, as Feinstein sat nearby.

Feinstein's opponent, Rep. Mike Huffington, opposes the gun expulsion rule, saying it unnecessarily involves federal authority in local schools. He has made the senator's support of Clinton a major campaign issue and had already criticized Saturday's planned joint appearance.

The school gathering was put together by Feinstein and Clinton aides as a sort of political surgical strike, carefully calculated in subject, location and timing to make the most of the mixed blessings that Clinton can bestow this campaign season.

A $12.7-billion federal education aid bill signed Thursday by Clinton orders states to require expulsions of gun-carrying students. However, Administration officials feared that some school districts would drag their feet, so the directive was signed to specify a penalty for districts that fail to carry out those policies.

School violence is a topic with broad voter appeal, mingling the two top voter concerns of crime and education. By staging the event in the Bay Area, the White House hoped to reach the state's concentration of Democratic loyalists, while minimizing media coverage in more conservative areas of Southern California where an appearance with Clinton might be more of a negative.

In a midterm election year, turnout is crucial, and with Feinstein's lead in recent opinion polls running about 7%, it is essential for her to mobilize her Democratic base.

The school event was arranged only in the past week, and was not heavily publicized, making it likely that coverage would be largely confined to the Bay Area.

The timing was fortuitous for Feinstein because Clinton has recently seen a boost in his polls, after sliding downward amid setbacks in foreign policy and his domestic agenda. With an approval rating of 49%, according to a recent Los Angeles Times poll, Clinton is on a bounce--and is more popular than any other statewide political figure, including Feinstein, White House officials note.

Some analysts argue that Huffington's criticism of Clinton's ties to Feinstein are by now so familiar that they would not be likely to win over many new voters.

"The strategy of this event was excellent," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst who works at the Claremont Colleges.

Clinton appeared Saturday evening at a fund-raiser for gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown in San Francisco before leaving for campaigning in Washington state and Ohio. The Brown fund-raiser at the Fairmont was attended by 900 people and raised $750,000.

State Treasurer Brown is running a come-from-behind race to wrest the governor's office from Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and she has openly welcomed any and all support from Clinton.

At the Fairmont, the President denounced Wilson for helping create the illegal immigration problem that the governor now blames on the Clinton Administration.

"Your governor calls my (enforcement) effort pathetic--he made the problem happen when he was in the Senate," Clinton said, referring to Wilson's 1986 support of a federal initiative that allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the country to help harvest crops. Critics have charged that the farm worker initiative accelerated the influx of immigrants to the state.

When Wilson returned to California as governor during the George Bush Administration, Clinton said, "he never issued a peep for more money, or a peep" for greater authority to deal with the problem.

Earlier in the day at the school, Clinton signed a directive ordering the secretary of education to cut off federal funds for any school district that does not implement the federal law ordering expulsion of children who bring guns to class.

Clinton emphasized Feinstein's contribution on the school violence bill, and on this year's legislation banning some makes of military-style assault weapons, which Feinstein sponsored.

Feinstein returned the compliment, noting that Clinton's visit after January's earthquake contrasted with President Bush's absence after the Loma Prieta quake. "After the Loma Prieta earthquake a President wasn't there," she said.

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