The Race for Secretary of State: Veteran lawmaker,
acting secretary vie to replace March Fong Eu
Voters may begin wondering what crime has to do with the secretary of
state's job, but that hasn't prevented Republican Assemblyman Bill Jones of
Fresno from campaigning as the anti crime crusader. In a race where victory
probably will be determined more by name recognition than perceived ability
to do the job, Jones, a co author of the recently enacted "three strikes
and you're out" legislation toughening penalties against repeat felons,
is striving for the recognition.
As Jones plugs away with his reminders that three strikes proves he's got
a record of "getting things done," his Democratic opponent, Tony Miller, is
continuing the strategy that earned him a surprise victory over two
better known and better funded candidates in the June primary. Miller, who
would be the first openly gay candidate from a major party to win statewide
office, and who has worked in the Secretary of State's Office for 18 years,
says he wants to continue the tradition of "fraud free elections" maintained
by his predecessor, Democrat March Fong Eu.
The Jones campaign has no intention of letting Miller get away with
claiming to be the harmless bureaucrat who just wants to continue doing a
good job. Jones notes that during Miller's watch, undocumented immigrants
have been illegally registered to vote, among other instances of vote fraud.
"The fact that the illegal alien who assassinated Mexican presidential
candidate Donald Luis Colosio was registered to vote in Los Angeles is absurd
and shows that we have serious problems in our voter registration system,"
Miller counters that election fraud has not been a big problem in
California, and he invites voters to consider whether they'd prefer to
have a politician in charge of the office that oversees state elections
and voter registration. "Nobody knows this job better than I do, and I
believe experience, not politics, should determine who is the next
secretary of state," he says.
There's little doubt that Miller, who became acting secretary of state
last February when Eu resigned to become ambassador to Micro nesia, has a
better handle on the day to day requirements of the job. He was Eu's chief
legal counsel in the Secretary of State's Office from 1976 81, and her chief
deputy since 1981. When he ran against two seasoned politicians, Los Angeles
Assemblywoman Gwen Moore and former Los Angeles Councilman Michael Woo, his
victory was summed up in two words: ballot designation. Miller was
listed as "acting secretary state." Recognizing the potency of that
title, Woo filed suit to challenge Miller's right to use it, claiming
that Miller made it up and that it falsely implied incumbency. Woo's
challenge was dismissed in court, however.
While Democrats say that Jones' candidacy is driven by the up or out
pressure of term limits, and accuse him of talking about issues unrelated to
the office he seeks, Republicans say that once voters get to know Bill Jones,
a 12 year veteran of the Assembly and former GOP floor leader, they'll like
what they see. The catch with that reasoning, of course, is that neither
candidate is likely to raise enough money to get a strong message out to
voters, which gives the advantage to the all but incumbent Miller.
"If Jones wins, it'll be because he was swept into office on a Republican
tide," predicted a Republican political consultant who asked to remain
anonymous. "Tony Miller is going to have his name on every voter pamphlet in
every household in California, and all things being equal, if voters don't
know a candidate, they vote for the incumbent." Republican political
consultant Wayne Johnson conceded that Miller's ballot title may have helped
him in the primary, but that was before Jones who ran unopposed began
trying to get his name out. "People are going to know a lot more about these
candidates [in the fall], and therefore the ballot designation won't be as
important. The more you know about the candidate, the less the ballot
designation or superficial things matter," he said. Johnson said that if
Jones can distinguish himself on one or more issues important to voters,
they'll recognize the difference between the two candidates. But he denies
that Jones is pandering to the public's concern about crime and illegal
immigration. "The race is hinging at this point on name identification. If
you were the author of the three strikes initiative, I don't think you'd be
keeping it a secret," he said.
The two Republican consultants, along with Democratic political consultant
David Townsend, agreed that what happens at the top of the ticket in
races for governor and U.S.Senate could strongly affect the outcome of
this contest. "If you have a strong showing at the top of the ticket, it
helps down the line," said Townsend. If, however, it's a close race at
the top, the down ticket races won't be much affected. That leaves
candidates like Jones with no built in advantage of being able to plaster
his name on documents fluttering into voter households this fall with the
steeper hill to climb to get voters acquainted with him.
"The big challenge for Jones is that he has got to build a case that the
incumbent has done a lousy job, and that would take a lot of money," said the
anonymous consultant. According to the June 30th campaign statements, Jones
heads into the general election with about $320,000 about twice the size
of the pot his opponent has left over from the primary. In addition, a recent
Field Poll showed that half the electorate hadn't made up its mind 50
percent undecided, with Miller at 26 percent and Jones at 24 percent.
In addition to attacking Miller for failing to address the issue of
non citizens registering to vote, Jones has proposed two of his own measures.
He says that foreign born voters should be required to provide their
naturalization numbers to election officials to verify their citizenship
status. He also would require people to provide their Social Security numbers
when registering to vote.
While acknowledging that voter fraud is a problem, Miller says that
requiring people to show a Social Security card would do nothing to weed out
those who would seek to register to vote illegally. "Practically speaking,
there are lots of non citizens who have Social Security cards, so that really
doesn't tell us a whole lot," Miller said.
As for the other idea, Miller says it's probably illegal. "It may be
well intended, but you have to be aware in this business of what is
doable in terms of federal law," he said, noting that naturalized
citizens have the same rights as the native born, and to impose an
additional burden on them to locate their naturalization number and to
provide it when registering to vote would constitute an undue and
discriminatory burden on them.
An as yet unexploited theme of this race is that it provides the vehicle
for the nation's first ever gay candidate from a major political party to win
statewide office. Miller has made no secret of the fact that he's gay; he's
been bringing his partner of 20 years to office social functions for years.
"I'm also right handed and... a former Eagle Scout. It's just a part of me;
I've never thought of it as an issue," he says.
The Jones campaign so far has steered far clear of it, too, but that
could change, according to Townsend, who says there are ways of bringing up
the issue without actually being the one to bring it up. An old stand by is
to respond angrily when someone else brings it up, and then to vigorously
deny that it has any role in the race.
"I don't know if the Jones campaign itself will do it, but in 1980,
[then gubernatorial candidate George] Deukmejian was outraged that somebody
was bringing up Bradley's race," said Townsend, referring to the fact that
Deukmejian's Democratic opponent, former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, is
But other Republicans say Jones would "be dead" if he even touched the
issue, since to do so could offend Republicans who think it's irrelevant.
Early efforts to tar Jones as a politician who would politicize the
office fell flat and have been largely abandoned. A row crop farmer who
shares a 1500 acre farm with four families near Fresno, Jones flies himself
to and from the Capitol. The role of a non partisan elections chief suits him
well since "he's too decent to be in the Legislature," said a former GOP
Not too long ago, another secretary of state used the office to get
himself elected governor. But the fact that Jerry Brown was the son of
popular former governor Pat Brown made all the difference in that race, and
therefore that's an event unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. After all,
Eu served in the job for nearly 20 years but never was able to parlay it into
anything but re election. But Republicans, especially those with strong ties
to agriculture, will be watching Jones' progress closely. "They're playing
futures," said Johnson. "They're not stopping at secretary of state."
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