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GOP May Have to Place an Ad in State Attorney General’s Race

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Times Political Writer

The California Republican Party is ready to hang out a help-wanted sign for the 1990 attorney general’s race.

With a crucial fund-raising phase about to end, top Republicans are wondering why no one in the party has announced for a job they consider a natural for the law-and-order GOP, a job that over the years has propelled several Californians into the governor’s office.

“It is puzzling, isn’t it? Where’s our candidate?” said GOP consultant Ron Smith of Los Angeles.

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For Democrats, by contrast, it is not a matter of no one knocking on the door of the office--but how hard they are knocking.

Rival Assails Reiner

On the steps of the Los Angeles County Hall of Justice Tuesday, San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith attacked his opponent, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, for resorting to a “cheap, unreliable” tactic in the way testimony from jailhouse informants has been used in prosecutions. Reiner’s office turned aside the criticism.

The fast-paced Democratic campaign start makes the lack of a Republican contender all the more curious.

Republicans are especially puzzled because not only Deukmejian, but Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr. and Earl Warren, became governor after serving as attorney general. Current Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp is running for the 1990 Democratic nomination for governor.

Former state Republican Chairman Robert Naylor said that most party leaders have assumed that former Rep. Dan Lungren would run for the state’s top law enforcement job, but he says he still has not made up his mind.

And that concerns Naylor and others.

“I would hope Dan makes a decision sooner rather than later, so that (the campaign) can raise some money before June 30,” Naylor said.

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The first of three fund-raising cycles established by a new campaign finance law will end on June 30. An individual contributor can give up to $1,000 in each cycle or a maximum of $3,000 through the general election. But any contributor not tapped during the first cycle is limited to giving $1,000 in each of the remaining two, or a total of only $2,000.

Before the new law, which was passed last year as Proposition 73, candidates could raise their money at any time during the election cycle. A late start did not necessarily cost a candidate any funds, as a late start definitely will under the new rules.

Another candidate being mentioned as a Republican possibility is Joe Russoniello, 47, U.S. attorney for the northern district of California. Russoniello, in a telephone interview, said he would not rule out future interest in the state attorney general’s job but could not pursue the subject now because of a U.S. Justice Department policy forbidding politicking.

Lungren was cautious about his possible candidacy for attorney general.

“I’m considering the race, yes,” Lungren said in a telephone interview. “But I owe it to my family not to say more at this time. They have really been through a lot.”

He was alluding to the acrimonious debate in the Legislature last year over Lungren’s nomination to be state treasurer.

Gov. Deukmejian was ultimately forced to nominate someone else, current Treasurer Thomas W. Hayes, after Democrats in the state Senate rejected Lungren.

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By the time the nomination hearings were over, Lungren had lost his opportunity to file for reelection to the House, where he had represented parts of Long Beach and northern Orange County since 1979.

Lungren, 42, then moved his family to Sacramento and went to work for the law firm of Diepenbrock, Wulff, Plant & Hannegan.

He said in the interview, “There isn’t much money out there right now for an attorney general’s race.”

That surprised Naylor and Karl Samuelian, an adviser to Gov. George Deukmejian and a top GOP fund raiser. They said they thought campaign contributions were there for the asking. Several Republican consultants noted that Lungren dropped out of the 1986 U.S. Senate race because he could not master the task of raising money.

Important Republicans say Lungren would be a strong candidate for attorney general because of the praise he won for helping toughen federal statutes under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984.

But Democratic and Republican strategists speculate that Lungren wants to delay the attorney general’s race for as long as possible so that he can make some money in private practice before attempting to re-enter the less lucrative public arena.

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“My theory is that no Republican lawyer can afford to take the pay cut to be attorney general,” said Democrat Marc Dann of San Francisco. (The state attorney general makes $77,500.)

Dann would just as soon there were no serious Republican candidate for attorney general because he has signed on to manage a run for the Democratic nomination by San Francisco Dist. Atty. Smith.

Smith, 61, a former deputy attorney general of California and district attorney of San Francisco since 1980, will formally announce his candidacy next month. But there was no doubt about his intentions--or his strategy--on Tuesday when he ventured to the home base of Reiner, 53, who announced in January that he would seek the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

Smith sought to undercut Reiner’s advantage as a well-known Southern California figure by making the local district attorney’s performance the issue right at the start.

Los Angeles County prosecutors, Smith said, allowed abuses in the longstanding practice of using jailhouse informants, rewarding hardened criminals for “snitching” on their cellmates. Smith said abuses of the controversial practice gave “all of law enforcement a black eye” and threatened a useful tool for prosecutors.

This practice is now under investigation by a grand jury and was recently tightened by Reiner after a veteran informant demonstrated that he could fabricate confessions of other inmates.

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“In San Francisco, we try our cases the old-fashioned way,” Smith insisted. “This is a problem of one county--Los Angeles.”

Reiner chose not to respond directly on Tuesday, referring questions to defense attorney Gerald Chaleff, an original critic of the use of jailhouse informants. He credited Reiner with steps to prevent future abuses and to right past wrongs.

“Have there been abuses? Yes, but I think Mr. Reiner has taken action. He has instituted protections,” Chaleff said, adding that Reiner has encouraged that past cases be reviewed for possible injustices.

Dann said that Tuesday’s attack by Smith was only the beginning.

“We’re gonna pound Reiner every day of the campaign,” he said. “He’s vulnerable on issue after issue, from his use of jailhouse informants to his failure to enforce child support laws.”

To which Reiner’s chief campaign consultant, David Townsend, replied: “Isn’t it too early for this stuff? Look, Ira is a proven public official and we will win on the issues.”

Contributing to this story was Times political writer John Balzar.

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