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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Brown and Poochigian Trade Shots on Crime

Talk revolves around Oakland's murder rate, the death penalty and the environment as the two candidates for attorney general debate.

October 06, 2006|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Labeling each other extremists out of touch with California voters, attorney general hopefuls Jerry Brown and Chuck Poochigian traded barbs in a feisty debate Thursday spotlighting deep divisions over crime and punishment, the death penalty and corporate criminals.

Brown, the Democratic former governor now ending two terms as Oakland mayor, pulled a .50-caliber sniper-rifle round from a pocket and accused Poochigian of doing the National Rifle Assn.'s bidding. He called the Republican state senator from Fresno "way to the right of Arnold Schwarzenegger," the Republican governor.

Poochigian countered by displaying photocopied pictures of victims of 1979-80 "Freeway Killer" William Bonin, and contending that Brown's personal opposition to capital punishment could affect his administration of California's death penalty -- one of the attorney general's duties.

He said Brown "starts out with a bias that's enormous" and that has led to decisions such as his veto as governor of the state's death penalty and later his appointment of Chief Justice Rose Bird to "thwart the will of the people" by blocking more than 60 executions.

The one-hour debate, sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle and broadcast live on the Internet from the studios of KPIX-TV, marked the first and possibly only meeting of the two candidates in a race that has attracted nationwide attention. Brown, a three-time presidential hopeful, is among California's most recognizable politicians.

In addition to far higher name recognition, Brown has $5 million in the bank, more than triple Poochigian's campaign cash. Two recent polls gave him a 15-point lead over Poochigian among likely voters.

Poochigian, who has waged a fierce campaign attacking Brown as a "flaky" liberal who is leaving Oakland this year with a skyrocketing murder rate, arrived at the debate eager to deliver body blows. He quickly bore in on the death penalty, saying Brown once suggested that abolishing executions would put California on "a higher level of consciousness." He also hammered Brown for signing the so-called prisoners' bill of rights as governor while opposing a victims' bill of rights.

And Poochigian blasted Brown for a hike in Oakland's crime. This year's murder rate is nearly double that of Brown's first year in office. "It's an awful record of crime fighting," he said.

Brown portrayed himself as a common-sense politician who as governor put the state on the path to cleaner energy and as Oakland mayor put the city on the map, attracting new investment and working with police to fight the city's "50-year history of high crime rates."

He vowed to work to protect consumers, the environment and abortion rights.

Brown then turned on Poochigian, jabbing a finger at him and accusing him of throwing up "a smokescreen" to hide his failings on fighting air pollution, opposing California's 2004 bond measure to finance stem cell research and voting against a ban on high-caliber rifles.

As the Democrat waved the brass-colored rifle cartridge, Poochigian said the cap on the ballpoint pen he held up was "larger than the bullets that killed 700 victims in Oakland while this man was mayor."

Poochigian then pulled out photos of Bonin's victims, saying the killer had murdered "with his hands, .50-caliber hands." He concluded by saying that Brown opposed the death penalty for Bonin and that he called Bonin's execution by lethal injection a "Nazi-style killing."

Brown said he had committed to not interfering with death penalty appeals during a meeting with the attorney general's top deputy on capital punishment: "I believe more in the rule of law than in my own opinion."

As for Oakland crime, Brown said the city had 250 fewer murders during his two terms than in the eight years that preceded his election as mayor.

Both men vowed to come down hard on corporate criminals, but Poochigian added that "at the same time, it's important that the awesome power of the office not be abused."

Brown agreed but suggested that "when it comes to someone like Enron, we should have been there faster."

Brown later pulled out a list of environmental bills that Poochigian voted against, including recent legislation to control greenhouse gases.

Poochigian said his environmental philosophy "is one of balance." But he said he had "grave concerns" about the economic effects of the greenhouse gas bill that Schwarzenegger signed. He declared it "Pollyanna-ish" to believe that one bill would "somehow be the panacea."

eric.bailey@latimes.com

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