Deukmejian Is ‘Concerned’ Over Robertson Candidacy

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian said Thursday that he and many Americans “are concerned” about what impact a Pat Robertson presidency would have on the separation of church and state.

The Republican governor, who has remained neutral in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, said his party would be better off selecting a well-known candidate with a proven track record in public life.

But Deukmejian also said he doubts that Robertson will continue to run well in the presidential race because his political talents are better suited to caucus states, such as Iowa, than they are primary elections.

Deukmejian’s comments were made during a breakfast session with The Times Sacramento Bureau and marked the first time he publicly has expressed reservations about the religious background of Robertson, former host of the evangelical “700 Club” television show and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network.


Deukmejian, an Episcopalian and the son of Armenian immigrants, has demonstrated sensitivity throughout his political career to different religions and cultures and human rights generally.

Christian Values

Robertson has been emphasizing Christian values in his presidential campaign while frequently speaking out in churches.

After stunning Vice President George Bush by beating him out for second place in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, Robertson flew to New Hampshire--battleground for the nation’s first primary Tuesday--and began proclaiming that he is “the only conservative who is able to win the presidency.”

But Deukmejian took issue with what Robertson is calling his “electability and winnability.”

Asked whether he has concerns about Robertson as a potential President, or even Republican nominee, the governor said:

“I think for most people there’s a concern because they have this concern about separation of church and state. And I think that whether it’s Pat Robertson, or whether it’s (Democrat civil rights leader) Jesse Jackson or anyone else who’s been a clergyman and been in the church, to then become the President, I think a lot of people have concerns about whether or not the person can undertake the responsibilities of that office and still separate government from their religion. . . .

“I have similar concerns, yes. It’s not to say a person, you know, can’t do it. But I think there’s some concern about it going in.”


Worrisome Enigma

Deukmejian indicated that Robertson is a worrisome enigma to him and most Republicans.

“I don’t know much about him,” the governor said, but “if he continues to show as well as he did in Iowa, obviously everybody in the country--especially all Republicans--are going to be focusing more on him and finding out more about him and his positions and policies. We’re very, very familiar with where (Kansas Sen. Bob) Dole and Bush and (New York Rep. Jack) Kemp have been, because they’ve been on the scene for so many years.”

But the governor added: “I will be very surprised if he (Robertson) does well in the primary elections. In the caucus system, as he demonstrated in Iowa and in Hawaii, he’s able to have a greater impact.”


The governor was referring to the fact that grass roots organization, in which Robertson clearly excels, counts for more in caucus contests, where only the most committed voters tend to participate.

Asked whether he thinks the GOP “would be better off” nominating a candidate who is better known than Robertson, someone with a public track record, Deukmejian replied: “Certainly.”