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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR

Clinton Should Quit, Lungren Says

GOP gubernatorial candidate stops short of asking the president to resign. But he says the presidency has been undermined.

September 18, 1998|CATHLEEN DECKER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Wading into the political storm that has obscured his own run for governor, Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren on Thursday became the highest-ranking California politician to suggest publicly that President Clinton should resign.

"I think that it would be good for the president to step down," Lungren said in response to questions by reporters after a Los Angeles speech. "I think that he has undermined the institution of the presidency itself, and the longer that remains the more difficult it will be to rebuild the presidency."

In a sign of how politically volatile the president's travails are considered to be, Lungren's remarks were carefully nuanced. Although he tiptoed to the edge of suggesting resignation before about 50 members of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, he did not mention it in his address.

Later, when he told reporters that Clinton should leave voluntarily, he resisted when a reporter followed up by questioning whether Lungren was asking the president to step down.

"No, I'm saying it would be in the best interests of the United States," he said, adding that "I'm not telling this president what to do."

He declined to say whether he thought the president should be impeached.

"I don't want to short-circuit the Congress," said Lungren, who represented the Long Beach area in the House for 10 years. "I think Congress deserves to have the time necessary to go through this in appropriate fashion and make sure that they look at it very seriously."

He also cautioned lawmakers to resist the urge to dispense with the matter quickly to clear the decks for the November election. By moving deliberately, he said, "whatever comes out of it, no one will turn around and say that the system, the process, the constitutional provisions were not fully followed."

During his tenure in Congress, Lungren voted to censure two colleagues who had been involved in improper relationships with young workers. And he also has noted with pride that his first action as a member of Congress was to call for the expulsion of a Michigan congressman who admitted financial wrongdoing.

The attorney general is the first statewide politician to suggest Clinton's resignation. The other Republican at the top of the November ticket, Senate nominee and state Treasurer Matt Fong, has said that Clinton should "seriously consider resigning" if the accusations against him are true.

Among Democrats, gubernatorial nominee Gray Davis and incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer have criticized the president's behavior but said they support his policies and would campaign beside him. The state's second senator, Dianne Feinstein, has denounced Clinton in much stronger terms, both immediately after his grand jury testimony on Aug. 17 and as recently as Thursday.

Lungren's remarks came on a day when he was scheduled to discuss his proposals for improving California's higher education system. By junking his plans and instead addressing the Clinton matter, he was responding to political reality.

Since the president's grand jury testimony, and particularly since the release of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's referral to Congress last week, the Clinton imbroglio has swept all other political news off the table, a matter of no little interest to Lungren as he begins his stretch drive against Davis, the state's lieutenant governor.

The issue of character also figures strongly into Lungren's game plan for November, insofar as his campaign sees that as a way to persuade Californians that he is the best man for the job.

In that regard, he turned a corner Thursday, arguing more comprehensively than before that political character has ramifications for the nation's and state's young people.

In his speech to the Chamber of Commerce, he argued that young Americans are yearning for role models. He decried the lack of them in his--and Clinton'--generation. And much as former Vice President Dan Quayle once used the fictional Murphy Brown to assert the importance of family values, Lungren used the image of the hit movie "Saving Private Ryan" to suggest that America should draw lessons about behavior from his parent's generation.

"What's the legacy of my generation?" he asked. "We've been described as the 'Me Generation.' We've been described as the generation that enjoyed drugs more than any other. We've been described as the generation that has seen the deterioration of the family.

"If history ends today, the legacy of my generation is Bill Clinton--and I don't think that's the legacy of my generation. I think we still have a chance to recover."

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