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Attorney General Candidates Highlight Their Differences

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(Davis, California)
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The hour long debate didn't contain many surprises. Republican nominee Steve Cooley, currently the District Attorney for Los Angeles County affirmed he'd be tough on crime.

"I assure you as AG I will take a leadership role in making sure the death penalty passed by the voters and certain as approved by certain juries will be implemented here in California."

His Democratic opponent, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris opposes the death penalty, though she says she will enforce it if elected.

"This cannot be a one-issue debate."

Harris took a broader approach and focused on changing things in the Attorney General's office.

"It is the choice between the defense of status quo, and innovation and I believe that California right now wants a leader in the Attorney General who is prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century."

Harris' sided with current Attorney General Jerry Brown in opposing the ban on same sex marriage. Cooley says Californians voted for the ban…

"Therefore it should be defended by the Attorney General whether the AG believes in it or not. You are the people's lawyer, you present their interests."

Both candidates say they would have to investigate the legality of Proposition 19, the measure to legalize and tax marijuana. And on another hot-button California issue, Cooley says he would collect both a pension and a paycheck.

Cooley: "I earned it. 38 years of public service." 

Harris: "Go for it Steve." laughter

UC Davis Law Professor Vik Amar says the candidates didn't say anything new when it came to their stances on issues. But they both tried very hard to demonstrate their differences.

"Cooley is trying to come off as a very traditional sort of top-cop Attorney General who is non partisan and who will defend the will of the people no matter what it is. I think Kamala Harris is trying to style herself as more of a leader, and less of a mirror."

Cooley refused to voice on opinion on some issues, such as Proposition 23. That would halt a California law aimed at reducing the state's carbon emissions.

Cooley:"My personal views really don't count and that's something that my opponent, it's never really quite sunk in with her".

Harris: "You want to take on the job you've got to assume some responsibility for having opinions. That's why it's an elected position."

Reactions to the debate were mixed. Kamala Harris met with some members of the UC Davis student Democrat's association afterwards. The groups President, Sam Mahood says they were impressed with Harris' performance, and excited to meet her.

"I kind of lead us through some chants, you know. Who's the candidate that's going to protect health care? …"

But some attendees were more skeptical. Sacramento lawyer Steve Boutin says both candidates were impressive, but …  

"Mr. Cooley I think his aspiration is to be the AG for the state of California and I'm not sure whether Kamala Harris might be looking past that to other political things."

Boutin says he came in favoring one candidate. Now, he's not so sure.
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