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Tom Umberg Enters Attorney General’s Race

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Democratic Assemblyman Tom Umberg announced his candidacy Thursday for state attorney general and immediately went on the attack, saying that Republican incumbent Dan Lungren has lost the war on crime.

Umberg, a former federal prosecutor and the only Orange County Democrat in the Legislature, vowed to focus on juvenile crime to help keep first-time offenders from becoming revolving-door felons.

During a half-hour news conference, the Garden Grove Democrat repeatedly blasted his opponent in the June Democratic primary, San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith, and Lungren. Smith narrowly lost the attorney general’s race to Lungren in 1990.

Umberg, 38, said the attorney general has “presided over record-breaking violent crime” while failing to curb gangs, drug dealers and the proliferation of guns in public schools. He ridiculed Smith as an ineffective district attorney, concluding that “with a record like his, Arlo Smith should be running for cover, not for attorney general.”

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Smith said Umberg had misrepresented his record and suggested that Umberg lacks the statewide name identification and experience to mount a successful campaign. “I think I’ve probably handled more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than he’s ever brought to trial,” Smith said. “He’s totally lacking in experience.”

Joanne Stabler, Lungren’s campaign manager, defended the attorney general’s record, saying that the state crime rate fell last year and that Lungren has worked hard to press legislation designed to combat gangs and school violence. She also criticized Umberg for failing to push more legislation through the Assembly Public Safety Committee, a traditional graveyard for tough crime bills.

“The Rip van Winkle of the Public Safety Committee has finally awakened,” she said. “He’s been sitting on that committee for a long time now and hasn’t put forth any tough crime-fighting legislation.”

Umberg’s opponents also criticized him for failing early on to champion the “three strikes, you’re out” measure proposed for the ballot. Umberg is pushing his own “three strikes” bill, which he calls a “good first step,” and said he is a backer of the ballot initiative.

First elected to political office in 1990, Umberg has been embraced by state Democratic leaders as a rising star, someone whose credentials as a moderate legislator, former military officer and prosecutor might help expand the party’s base.

Umberg hopes to use a growing campaign bankroll, ties to law enforcement groups and a network of support from fellow Assembly Democrats to help his campaign.


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