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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / INSURANCE COMMISSIONER : Quackenbush Ads Stress Crime but Ignore Issues He Would Regulate : One TV commercial by the Republican criticizes rival Art Torres for his vote 16 years ago on an obscure bill. Democrats condemn the campaign as a lie.


Republican candidate Charles W. Quackenbush has opened a projected $1-million advertising campaign in the insurance commissioner race by making crime the only issue, rather than the insurance matters he would confront as commissioner.

Other candidates in the Republican camp who are running for statewide office are using similar tactics.

One of Assemblyman Quackenbush's ads reaches back 16 years to an obscure bill that never won final legislative approval to claim that his Democratic rival, state Sen. Art Torres, "voted to allow sex offenders to teach in our public schools."

A review of the bill shows that the proposed legislation contained only technical changes to existing law, which could have made it slightly easier for authorities to deny teaching credentials to sex and drug offenders who had been formally declared rehabilitated or had charges dismissed.

In the 56-12 vote by which the bill cleared the Assembly on June 8, 1978, when Torres was still an Assemblyman, it also won aye votes from such stalwart and conservative Republicans as Mike Antonovich, William Dannemeyer, Frank Lanterman and then-minority leader Carol Hallett.

Reminded that such lawmakers as Antonovich voted on the measure with Torres, Quackenbush spokeswoman Lynne Andersen said: "We're not running against Mike Antonovich. If Torres really wanted to be sure that no sex offenders were teaching in our public schools, he would have voted against this bill."

Quackenbush has also joined with three other candidates in joint ads portraying them as crime fighters and ignoring the usual functions of the elective jobs they seek.

They are Republican legislators Bill Jones and Cathie Wright, running for secretary of state and lieutenant governor, respectively, and Maureen DiMarco, a Democrat who is part of the Wilson Administration and who is running for the nonpartisan office of state superintendent of public instruction.

Each said the ads were justified.

John Theiss, a spokesman for the Wright campaign, said that the election of four more Republicans to the state Senate would deadlock the body at 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, and Wright, as lieutenant governor, would then have "an almost daily opportunity" to cast tie-breaking votes to extend the death penalty and put additional curbs on criminals.

Rob Lapsley, campaign manager for Jones, said his candidate was author of the "three strikes" legislation and knows the electorate will appreciate it if he mentions it.

Ron Smith, campaign manager for DiMarco, said his candidate didn't have enough money for ads of her own and thereby had to join with the others. "We would love to be doing our own spot, but it's a question of economics," he said. "Besides, we find that in our case the voters are most concerned about school safety."

For Quackenbush, Andersen said, "I certainly think that Art Torres denying his voting record to such an extreme indicates that he feels that crime is an important issue to California voters."

Torres campaign manager Darrio Frommer responded that there are at least three "Quackenbush lies" in the crime ads, to which Torres is obliged to respond.

"He has refused all joint appearances with Art," Frommer noted of Quackenbush. "He doesn't talk to consumer groups. He only talks to insurance people."

The outgoing insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, observed that Quackenbush's ads refer to "20-year-old bills," not only about sex and drug offenders, but also workers' comp.

"Chuck Quackenbush has sold out to the insurance industry, so he cannot talk about insurance issues," Garamendi said. "They have paid the piper in massive campaign contributions to him, and he'll play their tune. So his crime ads are a smoke screen."

Andersen, of the Quackenbush campaign, responded: "I think that Art Torres and John Garamendi are seeing that their liberal pasts are catching up to them and are afraid for the voters to know the truth. They're actively trying to distort the degree of the offense in this legislation."

But the bill's original author, Richard Alatorre, now a Los Angeles city councilman, said his measure was "an innocuous bill" and the Quackenbush campaign's attempt to make something out of it was "at best, dishonest and deceiving."

"Right at the end of a campaign, you are going to distort the truth," he added. "This is very typical, and obviously I guess Quackenbush knows he's behind."

In another development, the chairman of the state Republican party, Tirso del Junco, asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether Torres improperly used $8,000 in campaign contributions to pay for 21 trips to Sacramento of his two teen-age children after his 1992 divorce.

The Torres campaign said that nothing illegal occurred, and the children frequently traveled to appear at political events, which they said is a legitimate use of campaign funds. The Quackenbush campaign said state law makes it clear that personal travel of children is not a legitimate campaign expense.

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