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Assembly passes Iraq withdrawal referendum

August 28, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

sacramento -- A divided state Assembly passed a measure Monday that would make California the first state to vote on whether President Bush should immediately withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

The bill, which cleared the lower house after two hours of impassioned and sometimes bitter debate, would place a referendum urging a pullout on the February ballot. It would be advisory only; it would have no legal effect.

Democrats said Californians deserve the chance to send a message to the president. Republicans denounced the bill as a cynical attempt to generate more votes for Democratic leaders' causes, including a change in the state's term-limits law that is expected to appear on the same presidential primary ballot.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) said Californians want to weigh in on the most pressing issue of the day. "Like Vietnam, the war in Iraq is costing this country dearly. More than 3,700 Americans have lost their lives," he told his colleagues during debate on Senate Bill 924. "This resolution will give everybody an opportunity -- on the record -- to say clearly where they stand on this war."

The proposed measure would say, in part: "Shall President George W. Bush, in support of the men and women serving in the Armed Forces of the United States, end the United States occupation of Iraq and achieve the immediate, complete, safe, and orderly withdrawal of United States forces[?]." It also would call on the president to provide "the necessary diplomatic and nonmilitary assistance to promote peace and stability in Iraq and the Middle East. . . ."

Thirty-one of the Assembly's 32 Republicans voted against the bill, with Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) absent. The only Democrat to vote against it was Nicole Parra of Hanford, whose Central Valley district is considered conservative.

Several Republicans denounced the measure, saying it would undermine U.S. troops in the war zone and possibly give aid and comfort to enemies, including terrorists from Al Qaeda. They also said it was being pushed by Democrats to benefit their party.

Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) noted that Bush already has polls showing how Californians feel about the war. Assemblyman Doug La Malfa (R-Richvale) said a vote by Californians to call for a withdrawal would demoralize the troops and encourage the enemy. "That's not good," he said. "I don't even think it's American."

But Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (D-Burbank), a supporter of the bill, said the billions of dollars spent on Iraq have not brought peace to the country, and the money could have helped improve education, healthcare and safety in the United States.

"This bill does take an unusual step," Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland) said after the vote. "But we've reached an extraordinary moment in our history -- and silence and patience have gotten us nowhere."

The bill, passed earlier by the Senate, now goes back to the upper house for approval of the Assembly's amendments. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not indicated publicly whether he would sign it.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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