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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES : GOP Leaders Misperceive Clinton : Republicans should look into his record in Arkansas before hailing the governor as a serious alternative to Bush.

<i> Buck Johns is a Republican activist and a member of the board of directors of the Lincoln Club of Orange County</i>

Who would have guessed that inviting a governor from a small Southern state to town for a slice of cantaloupe and a cup of coffee would cause such a stir?

The controversy centers upon what is now known nationwide as “The Clinton Breakfast"--a presentation by the governor of Arkansas (my home state, no less) and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton to more than 60 of Orange County’s business elite, with local GOP leaders Kathryn G. Thompson, a developer and Republican mega-donor, and Roger W. Johnson, chairman of Western Digital Corp., as hosts.

Breakfast organizers dubbed their session “Looking for a Leader--Identifying Alternatives,” and they believe that they have found their man.

“He has some excellent ideas,” said Johnson, who joined Thompson in pledging support for Clinton in the Democratic primary. Neither has firmly committed to support President Bush in the general election.

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Democrats are crowing. “This shows that Bush is vulnerable in Orange County,” Clinton fund-raising chairman Mickey Kantor told the Register’s political reporter, Larry Peterson. “And if he’s vulnerable in Orange County, he’s vulnerable in a lot of places.”

In this case, both the Clinton spin team and their Orange County allies have it all wrong. The breakfast is not a reflection on the President but on the political judgment of the local Republicans who sponsored it. For even the most cursory review of Clinton’s record as governor or his presidential platform would have provided ample reason to deny him landing rights at John Wayne Airport.

Defense: In a recent address at Georgetown University, Clinton attacked the Strategic Defense Initiative to date as “futile” and suggested scaling down the program to defend against “very limited or accidental losses of ballistic missiles.” Accidental losses? Now there’s a phrase for arms negotiators.

In the same speech, Clinton promised to stop production of the B-2 bomber. “That alone would save $20 billion,” this would-be commander-in-chief stated.

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Management: There is little likelihood Clinton will attempt to make “the Arkansas miracle” part of the 1992 campaign lexicon. The Institute for Southern Studies rated Arkansas 48th in the country in overall economic quality. The Center for the Study of Social Policy has ranked Arkansas 44th in the nation in overall well-being of children. The 1990 youth unemployment rate in Arkansas was a shocking 23.1%--second highest in the nation. And violent crime has nearly doubled there since 1981.

Taxes: If Orange County Republicans angry with Bush were asked to give reasons for their disappointment, almost all would point to the President’s flip-flop on tax increases. But Clinton is a proven tax-hiker.

The legacy of the Clinton years in the governor’s mansion includes 30 major tax increases, reports the Arkansas Democrat (the only statewide paper in Arkansas, whose editor, John R. Starr, is a strident opponent of “Billion $ Bill”). While the state ranks 48th in the nation in median household income, it ranks 15th in state tax collecting.

Arkansas has only a $1-billion annual budget (about one-50th the size of California’s). This year (incredibly!) Clinton boosted taxes more than $240 million--about double, relatively speaking, the tax increases that the Democrat-controlled Legislature forced through Sacramento this year (and we all know how well those tax increases have helped the California economy).

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Clinton raised sales taxes, gasoline taxes, corporate income taxes and other levies and called the result “an unbelievable success,” “amazing” and “historic.” Clinton actually likes raising taxes.

Quotas: Clinton strongly supported the Democrats’ “civil rights” bills, which President Bush and others said would lead to quotas. He supported legislation earlier this year that mandates minority appointments to the state’s pharmacy board.

Homosexual Rights: If you thought only California politicians felt compelled to take a stand on AB 101, the controversial “gay rights” legislation vetoed by Gov. Pete Wilson, think again. The measure has become a litmus test of sorts for Democrats with national ambition, Clinton told The Times in October. He said the legislation was “the appropriate thing to do.”

The fact that Clinton could be embraced by members of the local Republican elite shows that something is rotten in Newport Beach.

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But the signs were there well before Bush’s approval ratings plummeted, as both Kathryn Thompson and Roger Johnson and their network enthusiastically support liberal Republican Tom Campbell for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Alan Cranston.

Campbell, like Clinton, has criticized the Strategic Defense Initiative, supported the Democrats’ quota legislation, proposed several tax increases, and is the only Republican running for the Senate who supported AB 101.

His hometown nemesis, John Starr (and Harry Ashmore as well of the recently defunct Arkansas Gazette), is too credible a critic.

Having been mighty close to an astute free-market scholar in Paris (Arkansas!), A.C. (Rusty) Johns (more supply sider than either Laffer, Friedman or Chapman University’s bright star, Jim Doti) states: “Win Rockefeller was a remarkable governor of Arkansas. Clinton is a populist political opportunist, and John Starr has him pegged perfectly.”

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Clinton has found the weak link in the chain. A liberal masquerading as a moderate, he has simply located like-minded individuals in Orange County and hoped that others wouldn’t take the time to look at his record. Clinton (and Campbell) deserve very, very close looks.

This beachhead doesn’t make Clinton any more viable as a presidential candidate. Nor does it rattle the White House political operation. This is still Bush/Quayle country.

Mr. President, let’s do lunch.


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