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Clinton Stresses Worker Issues as Dole Targets Crime

Politics: President campaigns in Midwest, wooing Reagan Democrats. His GOP rival visits tent-city prison in Arizona and praises tough sheriff.

September 18, 1996|PAUL RICHTER and MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

YPSILANTI, Mich. — President Clinton plunged into working-class regions of the Midwest on Tuesday, stressing two issues of interest to so-called Reagan Democrats: Vocational education and protection of retirement funds.

Republican candidate Bob Dole, meanwhile, campaigned in Arizona, stressing his theme for this week: crime. Dole draped himself with the trappings of toughness as he visited the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in the world," who runs what he insists is the cheapest, meanest jail around, a place where inmates are incarcerated in tents through searing summers and fed bag lunches instead of hot food.

Inmates here at the Estrella Jail are not allowed to smoke, and coffee is prohibited. Chain gangs for men and women are considered a form of "rehabilitation," and those who won't work face a 23-hour lock-down.

Dole's tour guide was Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the creator of the "tent city jail," who told Dole and a small crowd of supporters that the main goal of his gritty facility is to save taxpayers money.

The second goal, he said, is to "make it so tough they never come back."

"We have a lot of tents, a lot of desert . . . . There will always be room for people who violate the law," Arpaio said.

Dole's visit to Arizona came a day after he unveiled a five-point plan to cut drug use and violent crime. The plan, which he pushed at the midday event, leans heavily on inmate issues: greater federal funding for state prison construction and a promise to sign an executive order requiring prisoners to work to pay restitution to their victims.

He echoed many of the speakers who beseeched him for help when he called for tough and more conservative judges. He voiced his support for a victims' rights amendment to the Constitution. And he praised the Estrella Jail.

"This is not a country club," he said in a moment of grave understatement. "This idea may spread in other sections of the country. And I talked to one of the inmates who said, 'I don't want to come back here. I've learned my lesson.'

"And I hope he never comes back. And I hope he goes out and does a good job and gets a good job and a family, and stays away from crime. That's what we want."

Later, Dole visited former Sen. Barry Goldwater, 87, who was hospitalized Sept. 9 after a minor stroke. Clinton visited Goldwater last Wednesday on a trip to the state.

While Dole stressed crime, Clinton stuck to economics. In a Washington ceremony before departing for the Midwest, Clinton announced new regulations to make it easier for workers to carry some retirement investments with them when they switch jobs.

The new rules, like legislation signed last month assuring portability of health insurance, are designed to make workers feel more confident as they move between jobs in a fast-changing economy. The rules will take effect on Jan. 1 and do not require Congress to act.

Clinton's announcement dealt with the handling of retirement funds controlled by individual workers, such as the popular 401(k) programs, in which both worker and employer may contribute to a tax-deferred account.

Under current rules, workers sometimes find themselves in a difficult situation when changing jobs: Their old employers want them to withdraw the retirement funds to avoid the costs of record keeping, but their new companies do not want to accept the money for fear that a new deposit might put the company in violation of complicated federal rules for calculating 401(k) eligibility.

Under Clinton's proposal, which officials say would help 1 million workers annually, companies would be forbidden to employ certain tactics to push workers into withdrawing their money when they leave.

And companies would be guaranteed that accepting rollover retirement funds from a new worker would not put them in violation of federal eligibility rules.

These rule changes "will make it easier for businesses to do the right thing by helping their employees save for retirement," Clinton said.

Later, Clinton made stops in two communities--one near Detroit, the other outside Chicago--with heavy concentrations of the socially conservative Democrats whose support has been pivotal in recent presidential elections.

In Westland, Mich., a working-class western suburb of Detroit, Clinton toured a workshop at the William D. Ford Vocational and Technical Center and gazed in wonder at a computer-aided manufacturing machine operated by 31-year-old Craig Lindberg, who has only partial use of his hands. Lindberg used his vertical mill to turn out a plastic key chain that said "Clinton-Gore '96."

At a rally a few minutes later, Clinton said that such high-tech vocational opportunities are the answer for young people who might otherwise be left behind by a shifting economy.

Although he was in the middle of the country's auto-assembly heartland, Clinton plugged the benefits of greater global trade, provided it can be conducted on terms that are fair to Americans.

In a reference to his administration's trade agreements with Japan, Clinton said one of his "proudest moments as president" was when he sat in a U.S.-built auto in a Tokyo showroom.

The growing confidence, even bravado, of Clinton's campaign was evident Tuesday as his aides announced last-minute plans to swing through South Dakota on Friday, a state no Democratic presidential candidate has won since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Aides contend that the polls now show that Clinton might have a shot at winning the state.

Richter reported from Ypsilanti and La Ganga from Phoenix. Staff writer Robert A. Rosenblatt in Washington contributed to this story.

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