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Something Else to Talk About

Sitting in the Oak Room of the Century Plaza Tower, I got the idea that the campaign for governor is missing the point.

Dick Blum, husband of Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic nominee, was holding a press conference to discuss his work, which is advising companies and rich people how to profitably invest their money.

Blum is a tall man with the thin, slightly driven face of the California entrepreneur, a type who mixes money-making with frantic exercising, over-consumption of healthy foods and, in his case, hiking in the Himalayas. He told his story in considerable detail, so detailed, in fact, that Laurel Erickson of Channel 4, in asking him a question, preceded it with a request: “Short and sweet for TV.” Blum tried, but it’s just not in him to be short and sweet.

The purpose of the press conference was to give him a chance to rebut Sen. Pete Wilson’s charges that Blum’s political connections got him a sweetheart deal on the acquisition of a failing Oregon savings and loan. It was sparked by a series of efforts by Feinstein and Wilson, the Republican candidate for governor, to tar each other with the savings and loan scandal.

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Nobody has actually shown that Feinstein or Wilson had anything to do with the savings and loan scandal. All we’re seeing are killer campaign consultants on both sides using misleading television commercials in an attempt to blast their opponents out of the race early in the game.

So, as I listened in the pleasant surroundings of a Westside hotel meeting room, I thought about some of the things the candidates might be talking about.

Let’s start with the downtown Los Angeles freeway system. That’s run by the state. Are we going to see the gridlocked freeways enlarged with the higher gas tax? And will the new governor dare to come down here to tell the mayor, the City Council and downtown developers to cool it on approving more high rises that compound congestion?

Then there are the county hospitals--County-USC Medical Center, Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center, Harbor UCLA Medical Center and Olive View Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley. Sick people stand in line five or six hours in some of the hospitals’ outpatient clinics. Beds are in the hallway. The state provides most of the financing for these hospitals. Is the new governor going to provide more money to keep them going?

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And what about the homeless? A substantial number are mentally ill, wandering the streets because the state closed hospitals that used to care for them. Neighborhood clinics, designed to replace the hospitals, have been cut back or closed down. And they’re almost totally financed by the state.

Finally, let’s not forget the mess at Los Angeles International Airport. The new governor could show some imagination and put together a proposal for a high-speed Los Angeles to San Francisco train to provide an alternative to air commuting.

I didn’t bring all these matters up at Blum’s press conference. But later, I mentioned the deplorable state of the campaign to Wilson and Feinstein officials.

As a matter of fact, said Wilson press secretary Bill Livingston, the senator has compiled volumes of position papers on issues such as education, crime and the environment. The trouble is, he said, reporters won’t write about them.

Feinstein’s also got many position papers. And Thursday, she took note of a local issue by visiting polluted Santa Monica Bay.

But I’m skeptical. Position papers are vague. Political candidates don’t like to offer specifics.

I remember when reporters tried to question former Gov. Jerry Brown. He’d be evasive or just look down his nose as if we were far beneath his intellectual level.

Most politicians aren’t that rude. They can, however, be just as evasive.

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This campaign could be different. Possibly the solutions to the state’s problems lie within that dusty stack of Wilson position papers. Maybe that visit to Santa Monica Bay will inspire Feinstein to provide a solution to the problem of cleansing our waters.

And hopefully, they’ll share their solutions with us before election day so we can make an informed choice. If they do, that would be news.


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