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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Wilson, Brown Escalate Battle Over Rape Ad : Incumbent again criticizes challenger for her stance on a revised ‘one-strike’ sentencing bill. In new TV ads, she accuses him of exploiting the pain of victims.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Democrat Kathleen Brown escalated an increasingly bitter dispute over tougher sentences for rapists even though both candidates now support the only version of the so-called “one-strike” bill that is considered to have any chance of winning approval in the Legislature.

Wilson held a news conference at Los Angeles County Jail to criticize Brown, the state treasurer, for being too slow and too meek in proclaiming her support for the revised rape sentencing bill sponsored by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach).

“Our ad is fair,” Wilson said in defense of his anti-Brown television commercial that Brown has denounced as a lie and insisted be removed from the air. “It is accurate. And it reflects the differences in our records supporting tougher laws for rapists and other violent thugs.”

At the same time, Brown was going on television with two new ads that accuse Wilson of lying about her position and of “exploiting the pain of rape victims to cover up his failed record.”

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“As a woman in California,” Brown asks the television audience, “do you feel safer today than you did four years ago?”

Brown won support from half a dozen representatives of women’s groups who called a news conference Tuesday to “speak out against Pete Wilson’s use of an irresponsible version of the ‘one strike and you’re out’ bill for rape in his campaign.”

Brown campaign strategists concede that Wilson, as a Republican male with a long record of being tough on crime, has an inherent advantage on the general issue of crime. But they hope to blunt that advantage by attacking specific aspects of his record. Campaign experts say it is difficult or impossible for a male candidate to better a woman candidate on the issue of rape, for example.

The exchange grew out of an ongoing Brown attack on Wilson over another element of the crime issue--her allegation that relaxed parole policies under Wilson have improperly allowed dangerous criminals back onto the streets to rob, rape and kill. Wilson responded July 26 with an ad accusing Brown of false attacks.

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On Friday, Wilson released his latest ad, which said Brown opposed his original “one-strike” bill to put all convicted rapists in prison for life without possibility of parole. The ad implied that Brown opposed any “one-strike” bill, even after it was amended to provide a maximum term of 25 years to life with the possibility of parole.

Brown called that a lie and said she had endorsed the amended bill. She demanded that he pull the ad from the air. Wilson refused. On Tuesday, he called the news conference at the jail with Bergeson to say that “there was absolutely no public record that she ever supported even the compromise version.”

In fact, Brown aides told reporters July 18 that she supported the amended version of the bill. No major newspapers apparently felt the comment was worthy of a story, thus allowing Wilson to contend that “no public record” of her support existed.

Wilson has said he would sign the revised Bergeson bill into law if it passes this year as an interim step. But he added that he would continue to fight for a true “one-strike” law that would send any convicted rapist to prison for life without parole.

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Brown and others opposed the sentence of life without parole as impractical, saying that it would make it impossible to win convictions in many rape cases. Democrats accused Wilson of pushing the bill as a campaign ploy, knowing that it has virtually no chance of winning approval in the Legislature.

Crime--including tougher sentences for rapists--was a cornerstone of Wilson’s first campaign for governor against Democrat Dianne Feinstein in 1990.

When he opened his 1990 campaign on Labor Day, then-U.S. Sen. Wilson vowed: “This state will not be under siege to rapists or thugs or sellers of crack cocaine.”

However, Wilson had little success with that issue against Feinstein, who had developed a record as a tough crime fighter as mayor of San Francisco.

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This year, Wilson has focused on the crime issue against Brown, who did not face many crime matters in her two elective jobs to date, as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education and state treasurer.

Wilson in particular has attacked Brown for her personal opposition to the death penalty although she has pledged to enforce the death penalty law. His July 26 ad striking back at her on the parole issue noted that “Brown is strongly against the death penalty.”

Brown’s latest ads all contain some version of this litany: “I support the ‘one-strike’ law against rapists, ‘three-strikes’ law against felons, and as governor, I will enforce the death penalty.”

Wilson did not have the death penalty as an issue in 1990 since Feinstein was a strong advocate of executions. But Brown has an advantage over Feinstein because Wilson has been in office for nearly four years and failed to win many of the tougher sentences that he talked about in the 1990 campaign.

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In 1990, Wilson put most of the blame on Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco for appointing committees that had thwarted tougher anti-crime bills. This time, Wilson is not heaping scorn on Speaker Brown, who has been a valuable Wilson ally on a number of critical issues.


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