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Democrats Square Off in Race for Governor

Election: Moderate candidates' first clash, at convention, defines differences. Checchi, Harman promise to seek repeal of anti-affirmative action measure; Davis won't commit.

March 23, 1998|CATHLEEN DECKER and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES POLITICAL WRITERS

"Let me say simply and unequivocally, I'm proud to be a Democrat," he said. He contrasted that with Harman's embrace of the "best Republican" tag, which he said would make his immigrant Italian grandmother "turn over in her grave."

Harman, besides tweaking Checchi for his "endless stream of position papers," delivered an elliptical slap at his voting record. Checchi has acknowledged that he failed to vote in several recent elections, including 1994 when Proposition 187, which cut state services to illegal immigrants, was on the ballot.

"I was proud to join so many of you and so many other Democrats across the state in speaking against--and voting against--Propositions 187 and 209," she said. "And I'm going to do the same thing this year against Proposition 227 . . . and against Proposition 226."

Proposition 227--also known as the Unz initiative after businessman Ron K. Unz, who drafted it--would sharply curtail bilingual education programs. Proposition 226 would require labor union members to annually sign off on dues used for political purposes. Both measures are broadly supported by Republicans but opposed by the three Democratic candidates. On Sunday, the state Democratic Party officially opposed both initiatives.

Both the speeches and the give-and-take over issues in the subsequent news conferences illuminated differences among the candidates that have been largely obscured by the glossy television ads and often bland policy speeches in the campaign thus far.

Checchi's speech, by far Sunday's most detailed, repeated his reliance on copious issue positions to offset his lack of elective political experience. Harman was far more stylistic, often referring to women's issues as a way to subtly point out the strong role that gender will probably play in her campaign in a party dominated by women.

Both stated, during questioning by reporters, that they would approve gay marriages and revisit the anti-affirmative action measure--unexpected turns for two moderates acutely aware of their need to attract independent and Republican votes.

Davis played the loyalty card not only for himself but also by praising President Clinton, who is still popular among party activists despite allegations of sexual misconduct.

Yet he was more circumspect about two touchy social issues. Regarding Proposition 209, he said that he would consider a repeal effort only if all other end-runs were exhausted. And he said flatly that he does not believe that "America is ready" to endorse gay marriage--and thus he would not.

Although the convention at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel was marked by gubernatorial tensions, the delegates united to laud one of their senior statesmen, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Honored with a "profile in courage" award by party chairman Art Torres, a frail Bradley ascended to the podium amid a rousing and extended standing ovation. His voice silenced by strokes, the white-haired mayor waved to the crowd and then, with what appeared to be delight, raised a thumb triumphantly to the crowd.

Staff writer Dave Lesher contributed to this story.

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