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California and the West

O.C. District Attorney Launches Campaign for State Attorney General

January 21, 1998|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Orange County Dist. Atty. Mike Capizzi on Tuesday announced his candidacy for state attorney general, saying voters should choose a career prosecutor as the Republican candidate for the state's chief law enforcement post.

"I am offering a choice between a prosecutor and a politician," said Capizzi, 58, who started as a deputy district attorney 33 years ago and was elected to run the office in 1990.

Facing Capizzi in the June primary for the GOP nomination is Dave Stirling, 57, who is on leave as chief deputy to Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, who is running for governor. Stirling has also served in the other two branches of government, as a state Assemblyman and a Superior Court judge.

Most observers call the primary contest a toss-up, and say the determining factor would be which candidate can make a breakthrough in fund-raising. Both candidates say they expect to spend $1.5 million on the primary campaign.

Capizzi had a big edge in fund-raising six months ago. The next reports are due Jan. 31. Stirling is favored by the party establishment, while Capizzi has been widely criticized by some Republican leaders for his prosecution of GOP activists involved in campaign skulduggery during the 1995 election to oust renegade Republican Doris Allen, who had won election as Assembly speaker with the help of Democrats.

Several Republican consultants say that the grudge might not prove significant because of Capizzi's base in Orange County, where one in eight of the state's 5.6 million Republicans lives.

"People don't like politicians," said GOP consultant Mark Thompson. "The public doesn't care if Capizzi is putting politicians in jail. In fact, it is probably a plus."

Capizzi made his formal announcement on the steps of the Old Courthouse in Santa Ana, then traveled to Sacramento and San Francisco for additional appearances. He has been endorsed by 49 of the state's elected district attorneys and many in the police community.

At the announcement, San Bernardino County Dist. Atty. Dennis Stout said he admired Capizzi for keeping politics out of the prosecutor's office. "When he talks about the morality of prosecution, it is not just rhetoric," Stout said.

Capizzi touted his record as a prosecutor of death penalty cases and errant public officials. He also voiced support for boot camps for juvenile offenders, and tough sentences for adults and "juveniles who do adult crimes."

"Three strikes works and if, in the short term, we have to build more prisons, well, then, let's get started building them," he said.

Capizzi also advocated speeding up the death penalty appeal process, calling the system "a disgrace." And he stood by his decisions to prosecute public officials for wrongdoing.

Most recently, Capizzi has convicted four Republican campaign workers, including the wife of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), of election fraud for their role in recruiting a decoy Democrat in the 1995 Allen recall election.

"The cornerstone of democracy is fair elections," Capizzi said, adding that "the typical Republican voter identifies with Abe Lincoln, Honest Abe. . . ."

Stirling campaign aide Mike MeCey said Tuesday that Capizzi's record in Orange County is one of "gross incompetence." Capizzi, he said, did not get indictments for voter fraud in the 1996 congressional election won by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), and failed to successfully prosecute any of the supervisors who presided over the county's 1994 bankruptcy.

"Look at the Merrill Lynch settlement," he said, referring to the $30-million agreement Capizzi struck with the Wall Street brokerage to close his criminal investigation. "Those guys are literally laughing in the boardrooms."

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