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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR

Character Takes Center Stage, Lungren Says

September 11, 1998|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Republican Dan Lungren said Thursday that thanks to President Clinton's troubles, the contest for the California governor's job will, in the end, be a test of each candidate's character.

Lungren said no other issues are dominating public attention these days and news about Clinton is everywhere.

"You can't turn on a sports show . . . without hearing somebody making a reference to what is happening in Washington," he told reporters. "If you think you can talk about those [other campaign] issues while ignoring what is going on in Washington--you are dead wrong."

Political analysts have widely speculated about the impact of the Clinton investigation on federal campaigns. And as Lungren described it Thursday, the shadow of the sex scandal will also extend to state campaigns like the one he is waging against Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis. Frankly, Lungren told reporters, it's hard to talk about anything else.

"Look, we have thought from the very beginning that since there is no huge issue . . . this campaign . . . would be a constellation of issues," Lungren said. "In the final analysis, people would truly be making judgments about the different characters, the different personality, the different persona, the different record of the candidates."

Davis campaign manager Garry South said Thursday that although he welcomes a campaign about character, he strongly disagrees with Lungren's analysis.

"This race is between two people--about whom there has never been a hint of personal scandal and about two people who have huge differences on issues that people care about," South said.

Lungren has already tried to focus his campaign on character. One of his television commercials features a discussion of character and closes with the quote: "Character is doing what's right when no one is looking."

Asked whether his ads are intended to be an oblique reference to the Clinton sex scandal, Lungren replied: "No, it's not oblique."

"I didn't invite the president to come here and campaign for me," he said--something Davis did.

Lungren has portrayed Davis' character as that of a finger-in-the-wind politician. He has accused the Democrat of being absent from past political fights on the death penalty, free trade, school reform and other issues that he is now taking credit for on the campaign trail.

South returned the accusation, charging that the Republican has intentionally distorted Davis' record and has shifted his stand against legalized abortion.

"If he wants to make this all about character, be my guest," South said.

Before his comments to reporters, Lungren gave a speech touted as an unveiling of his economic platform. But in the speech, which was short on specific economic reforms, Lungren said the economy is a character issue, too.

"In truth, character and any issue of public policy--even the economy--are inextricably linked together," he told about 120 guests of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. "Character is about standing up for what you believe in even when the pressure is on, when it's not an easy decision."

In the speech, he repeated his pledge that California's overall tax burden would be lower after a Lungren administration than it is today.

He also recommended an expansion of capital gains tax cuts as well as greater savings for businesses. And he said he would seek tort reforms to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits--particularly those threatening high technology companies. He also continued his call for the elimination of the vehicle license fee, which was reduced 25% this year by Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature.

Except for the vehicle license fee, Lungren did not suggest how much he would reduce taxes. At the same time, Davis' campaign said the Democrat is interested in many of the same reductions.

"There is no appreciable difference that is going to be obvious to voters on their positions on tax issues," South said.

For profiles of Gray Davis and Dan Lungren and their positions on key issues, go to The Times Web site at http://www.latimes.com/elect98

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