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Welfare System a ‘Gravy Train,’ Lewis Says

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TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Republican Assemblyman John R. Lewis said during a debate for his state Senate campaign Friday that California’s welfare system is a “gravy train” that is so lucrative for its recipients that it attracts a migration of indigents from around the country.

Lewis, of Orange, the heavy favorite to win former Anaheim state Sen. John Seymour’s seat in a special election May 14, added that the immigration of poor people to California is driving out state businesses.

“There is an influx of migration to get on the gravy train in California,” Lewis said during the half-hour videotaped debate on KOCE-TV. “. . . The production sector is leaving the state and these people are moving to California.”

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Lewis, 36, was asked by the show’s moderator if he was insensitive to the poor. “I don’t think so,” he said. “. . . Government can’t be the big brother for everybody.”

Lewis’ Democratic opponent, Francis Hoffman, said he agreed that the state’s welfare programs might be considered for cuts, but he said the assemblyman was “callous” to describe the system as a “gravy train.”

Hoffman, 42, an attorney and member of the Orange County Board of Education, said he particularly disagreed with Lewis regarding indigent health care. “To describe medical care as a gravy train is outrageous,” he said.

Hoffman suggested that Lewis, an heir to a dog food company fortune who is considered one of the Legislature’s wealthiest members, probably wouldn’t say the same thing if his family had needed public assistance.

“It shows he’s never been in a situation in which someone--himself or his family--has needed a doctor to give him care” that they couldn’t afford, Hoffman said.

Casey McKeever, attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Sacramento, said California actually ranks second in the nation, behind Alaska, for the value of its payments under the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. He said the amount of the payment is largely determined by the state’s expensive housing costs.

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But McKeever denied there is a migration to California caused by the high payments. “That’s utterly false,” he said. “There is a migration to California generally, but the idea that AFDC has a special attraction is not supported by the evidence.”

Lewis won the Republican nomination for Seymour’s state Senate seat last March after a competitive primary that included eight Republicans and two other Assembly members--Doris Allen of Cypress and Nolan Frizzelle of Huntington Beach.

Hoffman and Libertarian candidate Eric Sprik were the only candidates from their parties and automatically advanced to the general election.

Lewis is a heavy favorite to win because the 35th Senate District is one of the most Republican in the state with the GOP holding a 57%-32% advantage over Democrats among registered voters.

The district includes most of the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa as well as parts of Irvine, Fountain Valley and Westminster.

The discussion about welfare began as the candidates discussed the state’s $12-billion budget deficit. Hoffman and Lewis are both from the conservative wings of their separate parties and both opposed Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s call for an increase in the state sales tax, as did Sprik.

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All three candidates said the budget could be balanced with cutbacks in government.

On the same ballot, voters countywide will consider a half-cent sales tax proposal to pay for the proposed construction of a new jail in the 35th District. But again, all three candidates opposed the jail tax known as Measure J.

Hoffman also charged that Lewis was an unethical legislator because he was once indicted for forging President Ronald Reagan’s signature on campaign literature. The indictment was later overturned by an appeals court.

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