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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S.

Social Issues Bring Out Differences

The main distinction would be that GOP's Fong would not be as much of an advocate as incumbent Boxer.


These are the political issues that stoke her liberal boiler, and she brings them up whenever and wherever she can. Her moderate-to-conservative opponent rarely talks about such things unless asked.

When it comes to abortion rights, gay rights, protection of immigrants, gun control or equal treatment for women, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is a force to be reckoned with. Her activism on social issues has endeared her to supporters and made her public enemy No. 1 to detractors.

Her Republican challenger, state Treasurer Matt Fong, disagrees with most of Boxer's views, although their views on social issues are not as polarized as their positions on taxation, foreign policy and military preparedness.

The biggest distinction between the two on social issues may be one of priorities and energy. While Fong would surely be a more conservative vote on social issues, there is no indication he would be an activist like Boxer.

Do not expect a Sen. Fong to propose legislation or take a leadership role on the social side of the agenda.

Of abortion, for example, he said: "That's not my issue, that's not my focus. That's not what I talk about and I think about. That doesn't mean I don't have those values and those principled positions, but they're not what drives me."

Boxer Champions Social Issues

Name a social issue in the last two decades, and chances are Boxer has been in the middle of the fray. Before she entered politics, she considered a career as a radio talk show host. She does not shrink from a fight.

In the face of adamant opposition from powerful Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), she formed a "war room" to rally support for a gay activist from San Francisco nominated by President Clinton to a top housing job. "I was alone on that one," she recently reminded a West Hollywood audience.

She is one of the Senate's most outspoken opponents of Republican-sponsored bills to limit access to abortion--110 of them since 1993. She wrote the Family Planning and Reproductive Act to promote family planning and protect abortion rights.

"I won't say she's the worst, but she's tied for the worst," said a spokeswoman for the National Right-to-Life organization when asked to rate Boxer among U.S. senators.

On the other hand, EMILY's List, a Washington-based group dedicated to raising campaign funds for female politicians who support abortion rights, just sent an urgent plea to its members: Barbara Boxer is facing a tight reelection fight and needs your donations.

Boxer cajoled her Senate colleagues into promising public hearings on the sexual harassment charges against then-Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), a move that seemed to hasten his resignation. She prodded the Navy into investigating the 1991 Tailhook Assn. convention where drunken aviators allegedly mauled and groped dozens of women.

She opposed California Propositions 187 (anti-illegal immigration), 209 (anti-affirmative action) and 227 (anti-bilingual education). She sponsored a bill to demand that gun manufacturers install child-proof locks and wants to ban small guns called Saturday night specials. The National Rifle Assn. has endorsed Fong--a fact Boxer mentions frequently but Fong rarely does.

Boxer's passion and her often uncompromising rhetoric have earned her a passel of political enemies, including a newly formed group called Bye-Bye Barbara, which has the enthusiastic backing of conservative organizer and talk show host Oliver North. The Temecula-based group is distributing Anybody-but-Barbara bumper stickers.

The fact that North is opposing her seems to energize Boxer.

"I have a message for Oliver North," Boxer told the West Hollywood gathering. "People in California do not agree with your views. Oliver North is wrong for California. Matt Fong is wrong for California."

Fong stands to be the beneficiary of social conservatives' anti-Boxer enthusiasm, but he is hardly the conservative poster child on social issues.

He believes abortion should be legal during the first trimester but opposes public funding and late-term abortions. He opposes domestic partners benefits for gay couples but supports laws banning discrimination in housing and jobs and says he will not join other Republicans opposing the nomination of a gay businessman from San Francisco to be ambassador to Luxembourg.

He thinks the federal ban on assault weapons was a good idea but does not want it expanded. He sat out Proposition 187; his support for Propositions 209 and 227 was quiet and mild.

"He may not meet every litmus test on every single issue, but Matt Fong is the definition of a mainstream conservative: someone who takes the side of traditional values and limiting the role and reach of government," said Republican consultant Dan Schnur.

On abortion, Fong says he fits neither the antiabortion nor the abortion rights camp. "I get the worst of both worlds: I get accused of moving to the right and yet the right is not really claiming me. And then some say I'm moving to the left and the left isn't claiming me."

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