The Race for Attorney General: Two distinctly
different attorneys see themselves as "top cop"

By Nancy H. Martis
Copyright 1994, California Journal

They both have brilliant blue eyes. That's about all Republican
Attorney General Dan Lungren and his Democratic opponent, Assemblyman
Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), seem to have in common. Indeed, the
ideologic visions held by these candidates for the office of attorney
general clash with remarkable force. The Republican, who gained
conservative kudos while serving in Congress from 1979-1989, helped
form the Conservative Opportunity Society -- a group of House Republicans
dedicated to saving "moral values," among other vague agendas. The
Democrat, who publicizes the fact that he is "100 percent pro-choice,"
wants to net enough female voters to oust the incumbent Lungren,
narrowly elected over San Francisco District Attorney Arlo Smith four
years ago.

Dubbed a bright up-and-comer in the mid 1980s, Lungren has been eyed
by Republicans and suspected by Democrats as a potential gubernatorial
hopeful. He was former Governor George Deukmejian's nominee to serve as
state treasurer after the death of Jesse Unruh in 1987, but was denied
the appointment by the Legislature's Democratic leadership. Of late he
has enjoyed little spotlight in a job with vast responsibility where
publicity is yours to make. This lack of "ink" clearly bothers Lungren,
who recently complained that the reason a July Field Poll reported his
favorable-image rating was just 40 percent is a reflection of what some
have called a "media love affair" prior to the June primary with
Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Kathleen Brown and John Garamendi.

Lungren, a bit aloof -- maybe shy -- and noticeably defensive, is
irritated with the press, saying Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi
could "burp in Los Angeles and get a color photo on A3 of the [Los
Angeles] Times." He complains about press accounts of a congressional
field hearing in Los Angeles late last year where he and Kathleen Brown
offered testimony on the issue of illegal immigration, one of his
signature issues during his 10-year tenure in the House. He shakes his
head over the Los Angeles Times report, saying, "They didn't even
mention I was there."

Lungren seems almost preoccupied with the press, what's written
about him, and sometimes, what's not. In fact, Lungren is altogether irked
with pollsters who say he has more work to do in the race despite the
fact that he leads opponent Umberg by a 10-point margin when voters are
asked for their preferences between the two. "Excuse me, but I always
thought the person behind by 15 points has more work to do," he said.
Referring to the San Francisco Chronicle's characterization of the lead
as "unimpressive," Lungren cracked, "You tell them I am praying for an
unimpressive 15 margin of victory on Election Day."

But Lungren doesn't have the corner on the preoccupation market.
Umberg, amicable to the point of being smooth, seems to limit his
fascination to his opponent. Lungren had criticized an Umberg
fund-raising mailer that depicted the assemblyman standing on the beach
in a wetsuit, surfboard in hand. He cynically cited a local weekly
newspaper that claimed Umberg's never been on a surfboard. Umberg burst
into laughter about Lungren's acknowledgement of the piece, saying ,"I'm
not ready for the pro-surfer circuit," but he has a scar from a surfing
outing to prove he's at least been on a board. Then, after some
contemplation, he asks with earnest curiosity, "Was he [Lungren]
laughing when he said that?"

While plainly curious of one another and anxious to boost their
respective name recognition, neither candidate can say he is a household
name. Umberg, a former assistant U.S. attorney, has for the past few
years toiled in the obscurity of Sacramento politics in the Assembly,
and has spent this year trying to get the word out about his anti-crime
accomplishments on a more statewide level. He's offering up prayers of
his own, along with a little targeted campaigning, which he hopes will
sway Republican-leaning districts his way. Until the Labor Day weekend,
his campaign was under the direction of Democratic political guru Clint
Reilly, who also was managing the Kathleen Brown campaign. But Umberg
switched to political consultant Richie Ross after Reilly admitted that
managing two fulltime-plus campaigns "made it increasingly difficult for
me to devote the time and attention Tom Umberg deserves." The switch,
Democrats say, indicates that their party is making a very serious go at
an office they think they can win since Reilly won't have to divide his
attention. Republicans say it was probably campaign disarray under
Reilly, but Ross says: "Clint was and is enormously busy with the
Brown race. That's it."

Although it leans Lungren's way, the contest for attorney general
could be tight -- and potentially muddy -- down to the wire. Both
candidates were unopposed in the primary, and each received about 1.6
million each. Arlo Smith, who had planned to seek a rematch with
Lungren, pulled himself out of the running early this year, saying a
contested primary would only damage the chances of either Democrat
beating the incumbent. It is said, however, that Smith pulled out when
the Sierra Club indicated it would back Umberg, robbing Smith of the
attempt to portray Umberg as anti-environmentalist.

Lungren campaign consultant Ken Khachigian says that his candidate
has the clear advantage this election with the ballot designation of
"attorney general" after his name. Lungren adds that because he was out
of office at the time he ran against Smith, the attorney general's
narrow victory in '90 can be attributed to his then ballot designation
of "attorney."

With crime very much on the minds of voters, Lungren, 49, is drawing
from his accomplishments at the federal level where, as a congressman,
he helped push the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act through the
House, as well as the 1986 immigration reform bill. As the ranking
Republican on immigration issues, he had served on the Immigration and
Refugee Subcommittee for eight years. Umberg, 39, is touting his career
in the U.S. Army, where he worked as a prosecutor, then went on to work
as assistant United States attorney. He points to his two terms in the
Legislature, during which he authored laws increasing penalties for
rape, increasing penalties for hate crimes and speeding up of criminal
hearings for juvenile offenders. He serves as chairman of the Assembly
Toxics and Safety Committee, as well as on the education, transportation
and public safety committees. Of his record, Umberg says, "Lungren will
say he as a Republican is toughest on crime, but I've been a prosecutor,
he has not." Umberg, who is currently in the Army Reserve with a
Special Forces unit in Fort Bragg, adds, "We have to establish those
credentials so people understand this is not the typical Democrat one

In some ways, the two lawyers with a penchant for politics are
vaguely similar. Both support community-based policing, the death
penalty and employer sanctions for employing illegal immigrants. But
Umberg opposes the controversial illegal immigration initiative on the
November ballot, Proposition 187, which would cut illegal immigrants off
from public social and health services. As of late September, Lungren
had yet to take a position on the measure whose enforcement would fall
largely within the attorney general's purview.

Yet another similiarity between the two is that they are both from
the conservative Orange County. As a moderate Democrat, Umberg has a
chance to peel off those cross-over voters who simply aren't comfortable
with Republican candidates they view as too far to the right. "He is
much more of a Feinstein-type of Democrat," says Ross, referring to an
Umberg voting record that didn't always follow party lines. "Tom will
probably lead the Democratic ticket" in terms of vote-getting throughout
the state compared to the other Democratic candidates, Ross says.

Trying to parlay any kind of hometown appeal into something tangible
early on, Umberg loudly touted his receipt of the Long Beach police
officers' endorsement. It was a bit of a slap in the face to Lungren
since the group had endorsed him in 1990. Still, while each candidate
can point to a number of law-enforcement endorsements, Lungren is the
candidate of choice among those who wear badges. In August, the much
bally-hooed Peace Officers Research Association of California

endorsement of Lungren was a blow to Umberg; the group's gubernatorial
nod went to fellow Democrat Brown. Predictably, both candidates point to
their respective law-enforcement support, which will tend to neutralize
that support as a campaign advantage.

If the waters become muddied anywhere, it is in the realm of special
interests. Umberg has received a couple of bucketfuls of money from the
California Trial Lawyers Association, a heavy contributor to Democratic
races and one of the reasons pro-civil liability reformers claim reform
proposals have been consistently blocked in the Legislature and from the
initiative process. Umberg says he "isn't a 100-percenter with the trial
lawyers." For Lungren, some bad press surrounding a Bank of America
request appeared like a sore bunion in August, bad timing when you're
running for office. At the behest of the bank, he had requested that the
state Supreme Court do away with a requirement that businesses clearly
identify a contract clause that forces consumers to agree to binding
arbitration when they sign a contract. The bank is a Lungren campaign
contributor. Although criticized for compromising the responsibilities
of his office, the attorney general maintained his move was entirely
legal and in the interest of Californians.

Voters will have the chance to see the two candidates debate; their
respective camps are scheduling joint media appearances up and down the

Whoever Californians decide should serve as the state's top cop, it
is evident both candidates recognize the challenges of the post with
4000 employees and the opportunities within a job with so many arms. In
reminiscing over the denied appointment to state treasurer, Lungren
said: "What's it like being attorney general for four years instead of
being treasurer? It's a much more enjoyable job, a much more important
job from a substantive standpoint ... because of its breadth. I have the
power to represent the people of the state of California in my own name,
to protect the environment, to protect them from consumer fraud."

Umberg, who said he wanted to be a prosecuting attorney since the
eighth grade, enthusiastically acknowledges the office's strong suits.

"If I could be pointed at any job ... I'd ask you to point me to
attorney general. It's a great job. It's just a great job."

So, once the political blinders are removed, those blue eyes do see
some things similarly after all.


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