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A political scramble shapes up in California

By Leon LindsayStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 14, 1982



San Francisco

On Tuesday, June 8, the Los Angeles Lakers hit 54 percent of their shots while defeating the Philadephia 76ers for the National Basketball Association Championship.

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That same day, 52 percent of eligible Californians voted in the state's primary election - well below the 61 percent vote forecast by Secretary of State March Fong Eu.

What's the connection? Just this, points out Mervin Field, director of the California Poll: The game was televised between 6 and 8 p.m., when many workers finally get a chance to go to the polls. Mr. Field says there is no doubt a lot of people, especially in southern California, rushed home to watch the game on TV rather than taking time to vote.

Just over half the electorate decided such important matters as whether to build the peripheral canal (it lost) or to put into effect a group of tough anti-crime measures (they were approved).

More Republicans than Democrats turned out: 56.8 percent were involved in making San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson and state Attorney General George Deukmejian the GOP candidates for, respectively, US senator and governor. Only 46.8 percent of Democrats participated in nominating Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley as their candidates for those two top offices.

It was the third-lowest primary vote on record; in 1942 just 47.2 percent of eligible voters turned out, and in 1974 the figure was 53.9 percent. When the now-famous Proposition 13 tax-cut measure was passed in 1978, 68.9 percent voted.

Some observers thought the canal issue would bring out a similar number this time. But Field notes that it had become clear a week or more before the June 8 primary that the canal proposal was going to be defeated. That, together with the lack of real Democratic contests for the senatorial and gubernatorial nominations, affected the turnout.

Those who aren't too distracted by baseball and football this fall can look forward to some interesting political contests in the Nov. 2 general election. National attention will focus on two California races: the Brown-Wilson tussle for the US Senate seat which has been held by S.I. Hayakawa for the past six years; and the contest between Tom Bradley, who could be the first elected black governor in US history, and George Deukmejian.

While the Bradley-Deukmejian match is expected to be very civilized; the Brown-Wilson confrontation is already throwing off sparks.

Gov. Jerry Brown, determined to hold his Republican opponent accountable for President Reagan's policies, is eager to debate Wilson as often as possible; he has, in fact, proposed a dozen such face-to-face meetings. Mayor Pete Wilson, closely identifying himself with ''Reaganomics'' and other White House policies, nevertheless will try to establish his own national political identity.

Mickey Kantor, Brown's campaign manager, says the governor will not allow Wilson to run on his generally favorable record as mayor of San Diego - that the question is not what kind of mayor he has been but what sort of senator he would be. And this is why, Mr. Kantor says, Brown will hold Wilson responsible for the Reagan record.

Brown will stress the ''Reagan-Wilson'' positions on nuclear arms control, nuclear power plants, social security cuts, other social programs such as school lunches, and Mideast policies such as the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia.

Bos says his candidate feels that on such matters as nuclear power and federal spending Brown has lost touch with a lot of the Democratic constituency - especially ''blue-collar voters.''

But while presenting himself as basically a Reagan Republican, Wilson will seek to show that he has staked out his own positions on such issues as abortion (he favors free choice for women, but not government financing of abortions), stemming the tide of illegal immigrants (he says employers of illegals should be fined, Reagan doesn't), ERA (Wilson for, Reagan against), and offshore oil development (like most California Republicans, Wilson wants to protect some areas off the state's coast that the administration would develop).

Wilson is flush with success in the Republican primary. He began tied with Congressman Paul N. McClosky, some 15 points behind Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr., and wound up handily beating both. Mervin Field says that when conservative GOP voters began to perceive Goldwater as a possible loser, they flocked to Wilson. As a result, Goldwater finished a poor third in the multiple-candidate primary.

Brown, on the other hand, got only 51 percent of the smallish Democratic vote. This is of little concern, however, says Kantor, since the governor didn't campaign much in the last three months of the campaign and didn't often use TV.

Northern California's tremendous ''no'' vote on the peripheral canal for moving more water to Central Valley farms and southern California cities has been widely interpreted as evidence of a deep north-south rift in the state. Most counties in the north voted over 90 percent against the water project.

Other observers say that although there is no doubt northern Californians tend to feel more strongly than before that ''our water'' should not flow so freely to the south, the canal vote can be over-interpreted as an indication of regional ill-feeling. Field and others note that cost - upwards of $20 billion over the next several years - seems to have been the major reason why people opposed the peripheral canal and its related projects.

Even the supposed beneficiaries in the southern region of the state gave the project only lukewarm support - voting about 5-3 in favor.

One thing all Californians know: the canal issue has been decided for now, but the water issue, or problem, remains. There will be a referendum in November on whether to set up a commission to devise a whole new water plan for the state; and various interests will be back in Sacramento next year with new legislative proposals on water transfers.