San Diego attorney Lynn Schenk, a former Democratic member of Congress, opened her campaign for attorney general Wednesday with a vow to reinvigorate the office's pursuit of consumer fraud and white-collar crime.
Schenk, 53, spent one term in Congress beginning in 1992 before being defeated by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Imperial Beach). She is the only woman seeking the state's top law enforcement post, and the only Democratic candidate who has served as a deputy state attorney general, having worked in the office in 1971 and 1972.
"I will aggressively enforce laws on consumer protection, fraud against our elderly, environmental crime, personal privacy and antitrust policy," Schenk said.
Schenk said she would take "second seat to no one" fighting traditional crime. She would be the "worst nightmare" of the "scum who dare to sell drugs" to children, she said. Schenk also touted her support of the death penalty, as do all the major candidates for the office of attorney general, which represents county prosecutors in seeking to defeat appeals of death sentences.
But pointing to fraud schemes aimed at bilking the elderly, Schenk said: "Crime takes in a broader definition than street crime." She pledged to enforce food safety laws, combat corruption by public officials, and, identifying a favorite target of candidates this year, take aim at health care corporations that "place profits ahead of well-being."
Schenk's rivals for the Democratic nomination are state Sens. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) and Charles Calderon (D-Whittier). Both began the year with far more money than Schenk's meager $78,000, campaign finance reports show. But Schenk, who is special counsel to a major law firm, says she will have enough money to air television spots statewide.
The Republican candidates are Orange County Dist. Atty. Michael Capizzi and David Stirling, chief deputy to Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, who is running for governor.
On the Democratic side, Calderon believes Latino voters will help propel him to the nomination. Lockyer, former Senate president pro tem, is counting on vastly outspending his rivals and calling on support from allies he has acquired over the years. Schenk intends to portray herself as a relative outsider, compared to Sacramento insiders Lockyer and Calderon.
More important, Schenk believes that her gender will help her chances and that having Rep. Jane Harman (D-Torrance) in the primary election race for governor will boost her candidacy by attracting more women to the polls. Schenk would be California's first woman attorney general, a post that has been a steppingstone to the governor's office.
Noting that her old congressional district had more Republicans than Democrats, Schenk says she can attract votes from the GOP. That could prove important given that, for the first time, the state will have an open primary in June, allowing voters to select the candidate of their choice without regard to party affiliation.
In her formal campaign kickoff, Schenk chastised Lungren for failing to join other states sooner in suing the tobacco industry to recoup state costs of caring for victims of tobacco-related illnesses.
She also criticized Lungren over the state Department of Justice's investigation into deaths of inmates at Corcoran State Prison. Lungren's attorneys failed to bring any charges, while federal authorities investigated a separate aspect--the prison yard shooting death of an inmate--and brought criminal civil rights charges last week against a prison lieutenant, two sergeants and five officers.
During her brief tenure in Congress, Schenk generally was viewed as a moderate. She now works for the San Diego office of the San Francisco-based law firm Baker & McKenzie, a large international firm. Her practice involves representing large foreign and domestic companies.
Before her election to Congress, Schenk served as secretary of business, transportation and housing under Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. Earlier, she worked as in-house counsel for San Diego Gas & Electric, and she has been a significant Democratic fund-raiser.
Schenk is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. Her father is a Holocaust survivor, and a grandfather was killed during the Holocaust. She has been married for 25 years to Hugh Friedman, a law professor at the University of San Diego, her alma mater.