Lagomarsino, Hart Clash in Their 1st Public Debate

Times Staff Writer

Rep. Robert Lagomarsino and his challenger, state Sen. Gary K. Hart, clashed this week in a fiery debate, their first public encounter in a congressional race that reads like a referendum on the Reagan Administration.

The two candidates--whose scheduled debate in Ventura tonight has been canceled--differed sharply on many of the key issues that have also divided the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Hart (D-Santa Barbara), a liberal legislator who has served 14 years in Sacramento, stressed the need to trim the federal deficit through military cuts, increase support for education and build national security through economic strength.

Lagomarsino (R-Ventura), a conservative 14-year incumbent who is facing one of his toughest challenges, hailed the military buildup, preached fiscal restraint and charged that Hart would jeopardize thousands of local defense-industry jobs.

Both candidates, who for years have been popular in roughly the same region, are expected to spend more than $1 million each before the Nov. 8 election as they campaign for a seat in the district that is viewed symbolically, as well as geographically, as Reagan's back yard.

Before a raucous crowd Monday at Allen Hancock College in Santa Maria, Lagomarsino accused Hart of being "not in tune" with voters on basic values, including their views on defense and crime.

"I would say Gary is still thinking in terms of the '70s as we go into the '90s," the GOP incumbent said.

Hart, however, contended that the staggering national deficit, partly fueled by massive increases in defense spending during the Reagan era, is creating an economic threat that could undermine any advances in military security.

"If we are not careful, we are not going to be masters of our own economic destiny," he said.

Hart singled out the space-based Strategic Defense Initiative, or so-called "Star Wars" weapons plan, as being a "dangerously flawed" program that has drained billions of dollars from social programs.

"If we can develop a system that was going to protect us against nuclear warfare under any circumstances and we can do that at a reasonable cost, I would support that," Hart said. But "all of the studies indicate that's not going to happen."

Instead, Hart, a former high school teacher who has built part of his legislative reputation on his education measures, called for increased federal support for education, which he said has declined more than 25% over the last eight years.

"I think that's a shame and I think that's a disgrace," he said.

Lagomarsino, however, resisted any suggestion that defense spending be cut. He credited the policy of "peace through strength" for recent arms-reduction pacts with the Soviet Union and contended that the military cuts Hart envisions would threaten the local defense industry.

"There are 60,000 jobs in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties that are at risk in this election," Lagomarsino said.

Lagomarsino, a wealthy lawyer who has prospered from ranching and farming interests, described education as a matter best left in the hands of local officials.

"The basic policy and basic funding and basic direction for education should continue to come from the local and state area, not from the federal government," he said.

The candidates also clashed on the death penalty. Hart, who favors mandatory sentences of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, hailed the fact that the number of prison inmates in California has tripled in the last decade.

Lagomarsino supports the death penalty. "The trouble with life without the possibility of parole is that it never means exactly that," Lagomarsino said.

While the two lawmakers agreed on several points, such as shutting the Casmalia toxic-waste dump in Santa Barbara County and rejecting efforts to legalize or decriminalize drugs, they remained far apart by the end of the hourlong debate.

In his closing statement, Hart cited his legislative efforts on education, child-care and environmental issues.

"I want to take those leadership skills that I've developed in Sacramento and put them to good use working on serious problems facing our nation," he said.

Lagomarsino aimed a final barb at his challenger.

"If Gary, as he contends, is doing such a good job in Sacramento, let him stay there," Lagomarsino said.

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