Van de Kamp Opens Reelection Campaign

Times Staff Writer

Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, unchallenged so far in the Democratic primary and seemingly facing no major Republican opposition in the general election, officially launched his bid for another four-year term Friday.

"I don't take anything for granted," said Van de Kamp, even though he seems to have a clear field with only a week left for candidates to file. He kicked off his reelection campaign in traditional fashion by holding press conferences in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego.

Age of Computers

During the statewide tour, Van de Kamp said he pushed California crime fighting into the 21st Century during his first term with development of a computerized fingerprint identification system and other high-tech advances.

He also promised to "turn up the heat" on manufacturers of synthetic drugs and to fight the Reagan Administration over opening up more of the California coastline to offshore oil drilling.

"We've put this office squarely on the side of protecting California's environmental heritage at a time when it is threatened from every direction," he said, citing his prosecution of toxic waste laws, a suit to stop overdevelopment of Lake Tahoe and legal actions to block offshore drilling.

Sidesteps Bird Question

Van de Kamp, 50, sidestepped questions about whether he will support California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird in her confirmation election in November for another 12-year term.

The attorney general, who spent seven years as district attorney of Los Angeles County before being elected to his first term in 1982, said he believed he should stay neutral on the Bird election because his office frequently argues cases before the high court.

The attorney general did say, however, that he opposed proposals by some other Democrats that Bird and other appellate justices be given lifetime tenure to avoid confirmation battles such as those now involving Bird and other Supreme Court justices.

Judging Performance

"I think it's important from time to time that we look at the performance of the court and the individuals there," he said.

During a news conference here, Van de Kamp said he would campaign for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a fellow Democrat, in his attempt to defeat Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

Apparently trying to walk a fine line, Van de Kamp, who believes it is good politics to keep a low partisan profile, also said he enjoyed a good working relationship with Deukmejian, and he praised the governor for his recent criticism of the Reagan Administration over plans to open up the coast to more oil drilling.

Van de Kamp noted that the attorney general is the lawyer for all state agencies, including the governor, and he said that despite political differences, "We have advised the governor well and faithfully and loyally, as a lawyer should for a client."

Lack of Competition

The attorney general said he was surprised that an opponent had not surfaced, considering the importance of the attorney general's office. He said one could still surface.

"I fully expect to have some opposition. Where it's going to come from I don't know, I just have to believe someone will enter the race," said Van de Kamp, whose campaign has $445,000 in contributions in the bank.

One potential Republican challenger, Sen. Ken Maddy of Fresno, said he seriously considered running against Van de Kamp but backed away because the Democrat seems so strong.

"He will be difficult, very difficult to defeat," Maddy said. He said polls consistently show that Van de Kamp is one of the best known politicians in the state, particularly in vote-rich Southern California because of his two terms as Los Angeles County district attorney.

Death Penalty Issue

Maddy said Van de Kamp's personal opposition to the death penalty was an issue that could hurt him but he was so strong that "it would take a great deal of money and campaigning" to hurt him politically.

Maddy said that "a lot of (Republicans) would like to see someone run" against Van de Kamp, because without significant GOP opposition Van de Kamp would emerge from the election in a strong position to run for governor in 1990. Others who have jumped from attorney general to governor include Gov. George Deukmejian and former governors Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and Earl Warren.

Van de Kamp acknowledged to reporters during the day that he has thought about running for governor, but he tried to steer questioning to his performance as attorney general.

"I like what I'm doing," he said. Should he win reelection, he said, he would be faced with a decision in three years about his future in politics. "I will have to make a decision then to stay or go on to a higher office. I think it's a mistake to do that now."

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