McCarthy Says He Backs Senate’s ‘Star Wars’ Funding Level

Times Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who has been an ardent critic of the Strategic Defense Initiative, declared Friday he favors a level of funding for SDI research even higher than the amount recommended by Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis.

On Thursday, Dukakis, who has also denounced the “Star Wars” missile defense system, insisted that he was not opposed to SDI and said he would support about $1 billion in research money for the space-based defense system.

McCarthy said he was in favor of the funding level voted by the Senate--$4 billion this year and $3.6 billion last year.

“I have been in support of what the U.S. Senate has been appropriating for levels of research support. That’s been my position since the beginning of the campaign,” McCarthy said.


Earlier Remarks

When McCarthy announced his decision to run for the Senate in 1987, however, he was quoted as describing SDI as “an enormously expensive galactic Maginot Line that should not be pursued.”

This summer, he has proposed that $1 billion be taken from SDI and used for the war on drugs, and last spring he called for diverting SDI money to conventional military uses.

For Democrats up to now, SDI has been the preeminent symbol of Republican fiscal waste and military folly. As much as any other position, McCarthy’s criticism of SDI has distinguished him from his Republican opponent, Sen. Pete Wilson, who is one of the Senate’s champions of SDI.


But that difference could begin to blur with McCarthy speaking in favor of a funding level--$4 billion--that Wilson voted for.

Wilson’s staff said Friday that the senator, in fact, favors a higher level of support for SDI than $4 billion, but they took delight in commenting on what they described as McCarthy’s “conversion” on the issue.

‘It’s a Cartwheel’

“It’s not just a flip-flop. It’s a cartwheel,” said Otto Bos, Wilson’s campaign manager.


McCarthy aides said later Friday that McCarthy had not accurately stated his position on SDI funding. They said that he supported the $3.1 billion in research funds that Congress approved for 1987, the year that McCarthy announced his Senate candidacy.

Both Dukakis and McCarthy have drawn fire from Republican critics who have accused them of being soft on defense. Moreover, strategists for both campaigns have been making concerted efforts to appeal to centrist Democrats whose views on defense are thought to be moderate to conservative.

McCarthy has been treading cautiously around defense issues since last April when peace activist Helen Caldicott, speaking at a McCarthy fund-raising dinner, compared Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to Jesus Christ and likened America’s defense build-up to atrocities in Nazi Germany.

McCarthy insisted Friday that his views on SDI have not changed. Despite his willingness to fund research for it, he said he remains skeptical of the system’s potential.


Scientific Questions

“What I hear from the scientists . . . is that the major components of what was originally envisioned are not scientifically feasible,” McCarthy said. “They (scientists) certainly are not making any statements that give a lot of confidence that the Star Wars program, as originally conceived, is going anywhere.”

McCarthy made his remarks in answer to reporters’ questions at a press conference here that he had called to announce his opposition to an experimental hazardous waste incinerator in nearby La Jolla.

The local controversy over the incinerator, which has not yet started operating yet, gave McCarthy a chance to make an environmental statement in Wilson’s back yard. McCarthy, who was flanked by members of the Sierra Club, which endorsed him, hopes to discredit Wilson’s claim of sensitivity to a variety of environmental issues.


McCarthy said that Wilson urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve the operation of the hazardous waste incinerator and later received about $2,000 in campaign contributions from the company that owns the building where the incinerator is located.

Contributions Confirmed

A spokesman for the Wilson campaign confirmed receiving the contributions from the company but denied that Wilson had sought EPA approval for the incinerator.

“The senator joined in a letter from members of the San Diego County congressional delegation that simply asked the EPA to act on the company’s application in a timely manner, the same way it would for any company,” said Wilson aide Bob Hudson.


If elected, McCarthy said he would introduce a bill similar to one he sponsored in the state Legislature to require independent testing of incinerators like the one in La Jolla. McCarthy said his bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian.

Although both the EPA and the state health department have approved the incinerator, the San Diego City Council and a local citizens’ coalition have gone to court seeking to prevent the facility from operating. Critics say the incinerator will expose 200,000 nearby residents to the dangers of burning 4 millions pounds of toxic waste over five years.