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Clinton Attacks Prop. 187 at City Hall Rally

November 05, 1994|DAVID LAUTER and JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

President Clinton made his first direct, public attack on Proposition 187 Friday, telling a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters gathered for a Democratic unity rally outside Los Angeles City Hall that the measure "is not the answer" to the state's problems with illegal immigration and urging Californians to defeat it.

And in contrast with some other states where Democratic candidates have shied away from Clinton, he was joined at the rally by nearly the entire California ticket, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown, who came to Los Angeles with Clinton, waving to the crowd from the top of the City Hall steps.

For weeks, while other Administration officials openly denounced the controversial ballot measure, the President himself had stopped short of a definitive statement. Late last month, for example, Clinton told a press conference that he was troubled by parts of the measure but he shied away from urging Californians to vote no.

At the time, top aides, including White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, said that the President probably would not take a position on the measure because it was a purely state initiative.

But in recent weeks, as support for the proposition has begun to fade and as Democratic candidates here have stepped up their criticism of it, the White House stance has become stronger. Thursday night, in taped television interviews with California stations, Clinton openly opposed the proposition and Friday he took that opposition to the public, proclaiming to the crowd that "I hope to goodness you're going to beat 187."

Clinton's speech came after a day of campaigning in the Midwest and kicked off a two-day campaign swing through California on behalf of the Democratic ticket.

Clinton took turns denouncing each of the Democratic candidates' opponents. Attacking Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Clinton said that he had "done everything I can" to try to channel federal funds to California but that "I need a partner" in the governor's office. "The governor's office is not a place for blamers, it's a place for builders," he said.

Wilson, he charged, is now "pointing the finger of blame" on immigration problems but had "helped to create the problem" as a senator by voting to create a guest-worker program for farm workers "because powerful interests wanted them to work for low wages."

Brown took Wilson to task for blaming immigrants and making cuts in education to balance the state budget.

"We are tired of having our children forgotten. We are tired of having our students forgotten," Brown said. "We need a governor who will plan for all California, not just the few."

Clinton also ridiculed the Republican Senate nominee, Rep. Mike Huffington of Santa Barbara, saying that Huffington's categorical rejection of government's ability to accomplish good makes him sound as if he is not only "running against Washington" but "running against George Washington."

The crowd hissed when Feinstein mentioned Huffington's name. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, introducing her colleague, said Feinstein is "a woman who Mike Huffington cannot hold a candle to."

"I've got four more days in an election I never thought I would be in," Feinstein said. "So I need your help in the next four days to walk that walk and talk that talk to spread the message."

Clinton, sounding hoarse, as he has much of the week but clearly enjoying his venture onto the campaign trail, laced into the Republican platform, as he has at campaign stops all week, saying that the GOP was trying to rerun the "politics of the past."

But while the partisan crowd cheered many of his remarks, the greatest enthusiasm came as Clinton attacked the immigration proposition. Indeed, much of the Democratic rally took on the air of an anti-187 forum, as speaker after speaker attacked the measure.

Careful to avoid sending the wrong message to voters who may be undecided on the measure, rally organizers had distributed hundreds of small American flags to the audience, telling them to wave them at key points. Party strategists had worried that some anti-187 demonstrations earlier, featuring Mexican flags and other symbols, would turn off undecided voters.

Clinton made a pitch to precisely those voters, saying he agrees that California has "borne an unfair burden in the cost of illegal immigration." His Administration, Clinton noted, had increased spending on the Border Patrol and on aid to California to offset some of the costs of immigration. He conceded, however, that Washington does "need to do more."

But Proposition 187 would be the wrong response, he declared. Echoing lines that opponents of the proposition have used repeatedly in recent weeks, Clinton said that the measure would "punish the children" by denying health coverage to those in the country illegally and would "turn the teachers into police officers."

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