CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR : Miscues Have Brown on the Defensive : She prematurely announces an agreement to debate Wilson and finds herself in an embarrassing spot over remarks about fellow Democrats and the death penalty.

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

The Kathleen Brown campaign prematurely announced agreement on a gubernatorial debate Tuesday as Brown herself scrambled to explain to fellow Democrats her statement that she had stood on principle on the death penalty while they had changed their positions for their own political advantage.

The Democratic gubernatorial campaign issued a press release during the day declaring that Brown had signed a formal agreement to participate in a one-hour debate with Republican Gov. Pete Wilson to be broadcast statewide Oct. 16 from San Francisco.

The release proclaimed that "Wilson caves on debate demands." The text of the statement said that the Wilson campaign had abandoned two of its debate rules "after public outcry."

However, the Wilson campaign and television station KRON in San Francisco both said there was no agreement.

Steve Glaser, senior adviser to Brown, said a KRON official had indicated that Wilson had agreed to the proposed debate, co-sponsored by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Commonwealth Club and public television station KQED from 6 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 16.

But Janette Gitler, KRON's director of local programming, said Tuesday evening that the announcement was premature.

"I can only say it's progressing," she said of the negotiations, which had been conducted secretly until now. "We're still negotiating."

Meanwhile, the Wilson campaign sought to keep Democrats buzzing among themselves by sending out faxes of Brown's quote on the death penalty taken from the Sept. 10 issue of National Journal.

Brown called the tactic political mischief but did not disavow the Journal quote, which said: "I could have done what every politician in California has done. I could have changed my position like Dianne Feinstein did and Barbara Boxer did and Leo McCarthy did and Mel Levine did and Willie Brown did.

"Every single one of them changed their position to run for higher office. I couldn't do that the way I was raised. I was raised to believe that politics was also about principle and not just politics."

An aide to Sen. Feinstein, who is engaged in a fierce battle for reelection, reacted angrily to the comment and Brown issued a clarification saying: "Mistakenly, Dianne Feinstein was included among a list of political figures who have changed their position on the death penalty."

Feinstein supported the death penalty long before she ran for statewide office.

Asked for comment after a luncheon address to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Brown told reporters: "The only point I was endeavoring to make is I did not change a position when it would have been politically advantageous to do so.

"This is the Republicans trying to make mischief with their favorite hot-button political issue," she added.

Brown is personally opposed to the death penalty but has said that if she is elected governor she will fully enforce the law. The Wilson campaign has repeatedly attempted to exploit her position, saying it is evidence that Wilson would be tougher on crime than Brown.

Brown was asked if she had had any problems with Feinstein or Sen. Boxer, who issued a statement late Tuesday saying she has favored the death penalty since "a series of horrifying murders" committed by the so-called Night Stalker in 1985. Boxer did not run for statewide office until 1992.

Brown said: "No, the only point was to speak to my own position and, again, I think it is somebody trying to make mischief."

Political Scorecard

41 days to go before Californians go to the polls

THE GOVERNOR'S RACE

* What Happened Tuesday: Gov. Pete Wilson continued acting on bills sent to him by the Legislature, taking one brief timeout to visit a crew filming an episode of the television series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" in the Capitol. State Treasurer Kathleen Brown addressed a luncheon of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

* What's Ahead: Brown is scheduled to address supporters in Riverside this evening. Wilson will continue signing and vetoing bills in his Sacramento office. Of 1,216 awaiting action at the end of the legislative session Aug. 31, about 500 remain. The deadline for the governor to act on the bills is the end of the day Friday.

A LIGHTER NOTE

After her luncheon speech in Hollywood on Tuesday, Kathleen Brown cited her astrological forecast printed in The Times on Sunday, her 49th birthday: "Repair work in October. You'll be on solid ground. Recent travel assignment bears fruit. . . . You are sensitive, psychic, seeker of perfection, spiritual, your own most severe critic. Participation in political, charitable activities highlighted this year. You'll be asked to prepare written summary in November. Popularity moves upward."

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