With feminists increasingly determined to make a mark on the 1990 elections, the political arm of the California National Organization for Women is about to plunge headlong and headstrong into the upcoming campaign for state attorney general, denouncing front-running Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner as "simply unacceptable to the women of this state."
The group, in a move it acknowledges is rare 10 months from Election Day, says it will endorse underdog Democratic candidate Arlo Smith, who is the district attorney of San Francisco. The announcement is scheduled for Wednesday.
The No. 1 issue for feminists right now--abortion--is not at the root of California NOW's early endorsement, according to state coordinator Linda Joplin. Both Democratic candidates are considered pro-choice.
Rather, Joplin said, it is a smorgasbord of other women's issues, from rape prosecution to Reiner's controversial record on collection of child support payments.
"There really is a qualitative difference between the two. One is strong on rhetoric and the other has shown results," Joplin said.
"Ira Reiner is simply unacceptable to the women of this state. Arlo Smith represents and has worked hard for the ideals and goals that women have been fighting for."
Joplin listed what she called three differences for starters: Reiner's record on collections of child support from errant fathers. She said NOW would show that Los Angeles is 57th out of 58 counties, costing taxpayers $10 million a year in additional welfare. Reiner's record on this has been a sore point among feminists for some time, with activist lawyer Gloria Allred crusading against Reiner each Father's Day.
Additionally, Joplin said NOW has found Reiner's record on rape convictions "the worst" in the state, and she charged that he has not given a priority to domestic violence.
Reiner's campaign was blindsided by the announcement.
"Smells to me like some kind of put-up job," said campaign manager David Townsend. "On its merits it's wrong to suggest that Arlo Smith has a better record than Ira Reiner."
On the matter of child support, Reiner's campaign indicated the district attorney viewed it as a question of cost effectiveness. "When you compare dollars collected versus dollars spent to collect them, Los Angeles has an excellent record," said campaign aide Jeff Raimundo.
The campaign said Reiner also would defend his office for its "innovative programs" on both rape and child abuse.
"And when it comes to doing what a district attorney is elected to do, Ira Reiner has an 84.3% conviction rate in Los Angeles and Arlo Smith has a 54.9% rate in San Francisco," Raimundo said.
Smith, virtually unknown in Southern California, has proved a feisty opponent in the early going even though his ability to raise campaign contributions remains in question. The NOW endorsement will be one of his most important achievements so far. "It shows that if you take the time to compare the record, Arlo Smith wins every time," said campaign manager Marc Dann.
With his own brand of media appeal and grass-roots populism, Reiner has been a proven centrist vote-getter at the nonpartisan local level. But he has not run in a statewide Democratic primary election where traditional interest groups, such as NOW, can wield more clout among more ideological and liberal voters.