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Garamendi and McClintock Clash

Two candidates for lieutenant governor were cordial in their only scheduled debate, but they could find no common ground.

October 08, 2006|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Disagreeing on every topic they discussed, lieutenant governor candidates Tom McClintock and John Garamendi sparred in public debate over abortion, state security, higher education, healthcare and the very purpose of public office.

The cordial tone of Saturday's debate, the only one currently scheduled in this race, was in sharp contrast with the deep differences between the two candidates, arguably the most philosophically opposed in the seven contested statewide races this fall.

McClintock, a veteran Republican state senator from Thousand Oaks who ran in the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, said that this election was a chance to decide whether "the recall election was a passing fluke or whether it really did mark a change in the policies of this state." He said that although he could not enact his 2003 agenda -- lowering taxes and trimming regulation -- as lieutenant governor, he could "promise to get it on the table."

Garamendi, the state's Democratic insurance commissioner from Walnut Grove, described himself as a creative problem-solver who would press for universal healthcare and preparations for the effects of climate change on California. "I'm not a back-bench naysayer. I don't just want to get in there so I can say no," Garamendi said in an allusion to McClintock, a frequently heard dissenting voice in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

"Government regulation is not all bad," he said. "I know because I am your insurance commissioner and I regulate the insurance industry that would rip you off to a fare-thee-well if they had the shot."

The candidates are in a dead heat, according to a Times poll conducted late last month. Garamendi has spent twice as much as McClintock this year, but most of that was in a contested primary, leaving McClintock with $1.6 million on hand compared with Garamendi's $268,000 campaign account.

Neither candidate made much effort to link himself with his party's gubernatorial candidate, even though perhaps the greatest function of the No. 2 spot is to take over should something happen to the governor.

McClintock described himself as part of a "leadership team with a proven record" of fiscal restraint, even though he has dissented from many of the key parts of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection platform, including many of his spending decisions and the global warming bill he signed last month.

Garamendi never mentioned State Treasurer Phil Angelides, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who is trailing Schwarzenegger in polls. He repeatedly homed in on McClintock's long record in the Legislature, faulting him for voting against child protection programs, school safety, healthcare expansions for children and the right to abortion. "Do you regret those shameful votes?" he asked McClintock at one point.

McClintock replied that Garamendi had ignored votes he cast in favor of programs. He said he had "consistently opposed robbing one program to pay for another" and that "there has got to be fiscal discipline restored to this state."

When McClintock accused Garamendi of supporting "a dizzying array of tax increases," Garamendi said it was important to spend money to protect the most vulnerable people in the state. "You can't say no to everything."

Asked by an audience member what he viewed as the greatest challenge to higher education, Garamendi cited tuition increases and the need to train more teachers, while McClintock said the state university system's secretiveness had allowed top administrators to receive excessive pay packages and that no one was held accountable for cost overruns on such things as a botched computer system.

Another audience member asked what could be done to bring California's National Guard home from Iraq and from duties guarding the nation's border with Mexico to protect the state from terrorism. Garamendi said the state had no power beyond lobbying the federal government for more terrorism funding. McClintock praised Schwarzenegger for agreeing to deploy some of the California National Guard to patrol the state's border with Mexico to stop illegal immigration. He called securing the nation's border "the defining issue of our generation."

On health insurance, McClintock said he favored an income-based tax credit that would allow people to choose and pay for their own health plan, with poorer people receiving money from the government to subsidize the cost. Garamendi argued for universal healthcare as the "right and moral thing to do" in the face of premium increases boosted by the high administrative costs and profits of private insurers.

The candidates drew their strongest contrast over abortion, as Garamendi said McClintock had voted "more than 100 times to restrict and hinder a women's right to choose," and he challenged his opponent to say whether he believed Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, should be overturned.

McClintock said his position on abortion was "far more mainstream" than Garamendi's, because McClintock supports requiring the parents of minors seeking abortions to be notified beforehand, an initiative that failed on last November's ballot and is back before the voters this year as Proposition 85.

"I happen to believe that parents have a right to know if their teenage daughter is being whisked away by a school official to have a surgical abortion," said McClintock, who opposes abortion.

The 30-minute debate was hosted by the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Assn. and held at a Radisson hotel in Sacramento. It included questions submitted by the audience and a brief period when each candidate asked two questions of the other.

jordan.rau@latimes.com

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