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VOTER GUIDE | ATTORNEY GENERAL

Battle by Both Side Is Aggressive

Jerry Brown and Chuck Poochigian have hit each other hard on the death penalty, abortion rights, .50-caliber rifles and other issues.

October 15, 2006|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — From the get-go, the contest to pick California's next attorney general captured national media buzz because of Democrat Jerry Brown, the mercurial Oakland mayor still considered among the state's political superstars a quarter-century after two contentious and colorful gubernatorial terms.

Now the campaign for top lawman has also become arguably the feistiest statewide battle this election season, thanks to the bare-knuckle TV commercials and aggressive attacks from the stump being dished up by underdog Republican state Sen. Chuck Poochigian.

Regarded as one of the Legislature's more collegial members, he came into the campaign vowing to run as the anti-Jerry Brown. "For me, the greatest challenge will be to overcome his high name identification," Poochigian said. "His greatest challenge is to overcome his record."

Pooch, as colleagues call him, has waged pure attack-dog politics ever since.

Poochigian has spent weeks blasting his Democrat opponent on everything from his opposition to the death penalty to his progressive pronouncements as a 1990s talk radio host to the recent increase in killings in Oakland that is sullying Brown's final year as mayor.

So far, Poochigian's aggressive campaign has made only modest headway, with Brown maintaining a healthy 15-point lead among likely voters in two polls released in early October.

Brown has proved that he can give as good as he gets, hitting back hard on Poochigian's opposition to a ban on .50-caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons while raising doubts about his fidelity to abortion rights and protecting the environment.

The man whom late newspaper columnist Mike Royko christened "Gov. Moonbeam" for his quirky leadership style during his 1975-82 stint as governor, Brown has taken pains to prove that he is a changed politician.

Brown came to Oakland in 1998 in part to reinvent himself as a pothole-fixing mayor ready to work with capitalists and cops. He has largely fulfilled a vow to attract 10,000 more downtown residents and revive the city's flagging commercial core. Condos are sprouting and business capital is pouring into a city long in the shadow of glittery San Francisco across the bay.

He embraced the Police Department and now argues that, despite a sharp rise in violence this year, serious crime has fallen 30% during his tenure compared to his predecessor. Brown won the endorsement of the California Police Chiefs Assn., but irked some African American leaders who were bothered that he didn't apply progressive tactics to boost job opportunities for troubled youths.

On the stump, Brown vows to use the attorney general's powers to pursue corporate criminals and polluters. He also promises to bring a seasoned veteran's calm to the office.

His opponent argues that Brown would import old-guard extremism. In particular, Poochigian has cited Brown's long opposition to capital punishment -- dating to 1960 when he pleaded with his father, Gov. Pat Brown, to spare the life of convicted robber and rapist Caryl Chessman -- and his backing of state Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird, who was dumped by voters after she derailed more than 60 executions.

He notes that as governor, Brown opposed a bill of rights for crime victims and supported a civil rights measure for prisoners. In an endless parade of news releases, he has tried to spotlight this year's surge of homicides in Oakland, twice the number committed during Brown's first year as mayor.

Poochigian's own record has been unswervingly conservative. He scores poorly with environmental groups and abortion rights proponents, but high with big business and crime victims.

In the Legislature, he served as chief co-author of a bill this year to keep sexual predators behind bars longer and boost parole supervision. Poochigian also won approval of a law requiring authorities to track identity theft crimes.

In 2004, he helped defeat a ballot measure that would have weakened the state's three-strikes law, and earlier this year he helped thwart a moratorium on the death penalty.

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eric.bailey@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Jerry Brown

Party: Democrat

Occupation: Mayor, city of Oakland

Age: 68; born in San Francisco.

Residence: Oakland

Personal: Married

Education: Classics degree from UC Berkeley, 1961; law degree from Yale University, 1964.

Career highlights: Elected to Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, 1969; elected California secretary of state, 1970; elected California governor, 1974; reelected, 1978; elected mayor of Oakland, 1998; reelected, 2002.

Platform: Fighting crime and enforcing environmental and worker protection laws. Brown emphasizes his experience and grasp of the state's political systems. He vows to be a "positive force" in the highly charged partisan arena of Sacramento.

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Chuck Poochigian

Party: Republican

Occupation: State senator

Age: 57; born in Fresno.

Residence: Fresno

Personal: Married; three children.

Education: Bachelor of science in business administration from Cal State Fresno; law degree from Santa Clara University.

Career highlights: Private practice lawyer, judicial appointments secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson and senior aide to Gov. George Deukmejian; elected to the Assembly in 1994 and to the state Senate in 1998, representing the Fresno area.

Platform: Crack down on sexual predators, identity theft and street gangs; streamline death penalty process; beef up use of DNA and other high-tech tools to track down molesters and other criminals.

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