Cooley and Harris Duke It Out in Davis

Calif. attorney general hopefuls clash in debate

By DON THOMPSON
|  Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010  |  Updated 4:06 PM PDT
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State AG Candidates Duke It Out in Davis

Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley both want to be the next Attorney General of California

The major party candidates for state attorney general clashed Tuesday on issues ranging from the environment to the death penalty as they tried to distinguish themselves in their only scheduled debate before Election Day.

From his opening statement, Republican Steve Cooley painted Democrat Kamala Harris as soft on crime for her personal opposition to capital punishment.

Cooley is the Los Angeles County district attorney, while Harris holds the same position in San Francisco.

To help make his point, Cooley introduced the widow, mother and sister of slain San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza as his guests in the audience.

"My opponent absolutely, ideologically opposes the death penalty, which is the law in California," Cooley said, accusing Harris of putting her own views before the will of the people.

Harris declined to seek the execution of Espinoza's killer in 2004, and he is now serving a life term. Harris, however, has repeatedly said she would enforce the law on capital punishment if she is elected.

Harris said Cooley was reluctant to endorse California's tough environmental restrictions and pending greenhouse gas reduction standards.

"The next attorney must be vigorous to take on criminals who pollute our environment, and I will do that," Harris said during the hour-long debate at the University of California, Davis School of Law.

It was the only time Cooley has agreed to debate Harris.

The two prosecutors are vying to replace Jerry Brown, who is running for governor.

Neither candidate committed any major gaffes and both did a good job illustrating the style they would bring to the office of attorney general, said Vikram Amar. a professor and assistant dean at the UC Davis law school.

He believes Harris would be an innovator who wants to move the office beyond the common perception as the state's "ubercop," while Cooley would be a more traditional, populist attorney general.

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