California Atty. Gen. Daniel E. Lungren, imploring GOP convention delegates Tuesday not to be "shamed into silence," repeated with relish the name that causes many Republicans to cringe: Willie Horton.
Horton became an issue in 1988 when an advertising team supporting President Bush used the image of the black convict in a television spot that helped defeat the Democratic candidate, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Democrats attacked the ad as racist during the campaign and have been using it against Bush ever since.
Saying that he wanted to set the record straight, Lungren said that Horton, a convicted murderer who committed rape after being furloughed from the Massachusetts penal system, had become a "liberal icon."
"When they utter those two words, we Republicans are to bow down in a frenzy of mea culpas ," Lungren said in his midmorning convention address . "Well, this is one Republican--and law enforcement official--who won't be cowed."
Lungren said Democrats "just don't get it" when they raise the Horton issue.
"They were surprised that when they gave a weekend pass to someone who was sentenced to life without parole, he didn't come back," Lungren said.
Lungren's hard-hitting anti-crime speech had delegates, particularly the contingent from California, on their feet at times. One of those cheering him on was Daniel M. Kolkey, a Los Angeles attorney and alternate delegate. Calling the Horton case "a legitimate crime issue," Kolkey said he is tired of Democrats using the 1988 campaign ad "to bludgeon the Republicans." He applauded Lungren "for hitting the issue head on."
Lungren's speech, which was cleared by Bush-Quayle campaign officials, accused Democrats of pursuing "wrongheaded crime policies," ignoring the needs of crime victims and showing excessive leniency toward criminals. He praised Bush and former President Ronald Reagan for putting "tough judges on the bench and tough laws on the books."
The speech gave Lungren, who is often mentioned as a potential candidate for governor, increased national visibility.
Lungren, who served 10 years in Congress before being elected attorney general in 1990, took over as leader of the California delegation when Gov. Pete Wilson decided to stay in Sacramento.
Lungren oversees the daily activities of the 402 California delegates and alternates, presiding over delegation pep rallies and even badgering delegates to be on time for the buses that shuttle them from their hotels to the Astrodome. On Monday, he helped quell a political brush fire over the abortion plank in the platform.