North Coast Journal



Facts vs. fax

by Judy Hodgson
Editor and publisher

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR SOME FACTS concerning next month's political races, our coverage begins in this issue. (Due to limited staff and space we were not able to cover the city council races, Libertarian and Natural Law candidates or statewide ballot measures.)

You will find no phoney accusations, no character impugning remarks in these stories. None of that stuff appearing daily on your TV and in your mail box.

We wish the voters had the same opportunity we had to sit down with the candidates for Congress and Assembly -- for an hour or more each -- across the table to talk about issues. In these interviews we learned a lot about the candidates' depth of knowledge and preparedness -- and if those were the only two criteria, Frank Riggs and Margie Handley would win.

We confirmed a lot we already knew about where candidates stand on issues. And we watched their body language change when we touched upon a sensitive topic (Riggs, with his confrontational style, wanted desperately to have face-to-face debates with political newcomer Michela Alioto, something even a few Democrats said she tried to avoid; Virginia Strom-Martin became a little defensive about her heavy backing by the teachers' union.)

What readers also did not have a chance to see during this campaign is the fax war being waged in the Riggs-Alioto contest. We are on about the fifth roll of fax paper as of this writing and, like the race itself, it's about a toss-up.

Some samples:

"Alioto promises more negative campaigning and attacks on her web page... Miss Alioto knows that voters won't support her if they learn about her San Francisco values."

"Riggs campaign vows personal attacks on Alioto."

"Riggs accepts $154,000 from anti-environmental organizations (including) pro-dirty water interests... Riggs stands firm against low-income constituents."

"Alioto flip-flops on welfare reform."

"Slippery Frank: Coated with oil money"

"Alioto deplores oil price gouging, but owns stock in Chevron, Exxon, Texaco... Pro-environment candidate Alioto owns stock in country's No. 1 polluter -- Dupont."

Not a very high level debate from either side.

But the most disturbing thoughts I am left with as I prepare to mark my own ballot are about campaign financing in general and the need for reform. One candidate for municipal court judge said she had read that in 90-plus percent of contested races, the person who spends the most money wins.

What is the relevance to these current campaigns?

Well, Alioto moved into this district exactly one year ago with an almost-blank resume (compared to other candidates) and $300,000 of her own money -- and she won. With a little luck and a strong showing by President Clinton in California, she may soon be packing her bags again for Washington. (Expect big money to be spent by both national political parties on this race.)

In the contest for Assembly, a single source of revenue, the teachers union, financed the primary campaign of Strom-Martin.

Does that mean she wouldn't make a fine Assembly woman? Not at all. But it may lead citizens to conclude that in the United States today political seats are not really open to any person with a desire and qualifications for public service.

They are simply for sale.

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