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California and the West

Matt Fong Enters Race for U.S. Senate

January 29, 1998|MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Surrounding himself with the symbols of a lifetime, state Treasurer Matt Fong formally launched his U.S. Senate campaign Wednesday by suggesting that the relatively good times California now enjoys could be even better.

Acknowledging the nation's strong economic performance and the state's "great recovery" from the depths of recession, the Republican hopeful said pockets of want still linger amid the plenty.

In his travels across the state, Fong said, "I still see a lot of vacancies, I still see a lot of individuals looking for work, I still see young families struggling to put their kids through school. . . . I see generally people doing better, but . . . if you ask them point-blank, 'Are you happy where you're at?' they're going to say, obviously, 'No.' "

With his daylong announcement swing from Sacramento to San Diego, the 44-year-old Fong became the first Republican to formally declare his candidacy to oust incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer, who is expected to launch her reelection bid next month.

Fong's two opponents in the June Republican primary, Vista businessman Darrell Issa and North Coast Rep. Frank Riggs of Windsor, are expected to officially announce their candidacies in February.

As the first candidate to stage a formal campaign kickoff, Fong pointed up the difficulty facing all three GOP contenders: making the case for change at a time when public opinion polls show that most California voters are fairly content with the status quo.

Indeed, Fong failed to even mention Boxer or delineate any differences from the incumbent until asked about her during a news conference outside the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Fong attacked Boxer's record on taxes and asserted, "Matt Fong is a known and proven tax cutter and tax fighter."

The theme of Fong's Wednesday swing was "breaking down barriers," which Fong referred to no fewer than 62 times during his three-city tour. His announcement swing continues today with a noon appearance at a Los Angeles Town Hall forum at the Biltmore Hotel.

"We will break the barrier that prevents every California child from receiving a world-class education," Fong said. "We will break the barriers that prevent every Californian from walking down the street in safety. We will break down the barrier of an oppressive tax code."

Fong called for universal school choice and expanded voucher programs to allow parents to use public funds to send their children to private schools, proposed ending "good behavior" sentence reductions for certain violent criminals and advocated replacement of the federal tax code with one of three alternatives: a national sales tax, a value-added tax on finished goods, or a single-rate flat tax.

Of the three, Fong said he prefers a "revenue-neutral" 22% flat tax that would preserve the deduction for home mortgage interest. He also called for repeal of the so-called "death tax" on inheritances and estates.

The son of longtime Democratic Secretary of State March Fong Eu, Fong is making his third run for statewide office in eight years. In 1990, he unsuccessfully ran for state controller. Soon after, Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Fong to the State Board of Equalization. In 1994, Fong was elected state treasurer.

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