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AG race focuses on death penalty

October 5, 2010 6:52:25 PM PDT
The two leading candidates to become Califonria's next attorney general mixed-it up in a debate Tuesday. There were no major gaffes between San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris and her counterpart in Los Angeles, Steve Cooley, but there is one major difference.

The job of California attorney general is to be the state's top cop, enforcing laws already on the books.

Cooley, a Republican, is quick to hammer the point that the two candidates are polar opposites on capital punishment.

"My opponent absolutely, ideologically opposes the death penalty, which is the law in California; I support it," Cooley said.

Harris, a Democrat, says she will be able to set aside her own personal feelings, like many attorneys general before her.

"The reality of it is I am personally opposed to the death penalty, I will follow the law; my position is the same as four of the last nine attorneys general," Harris said.

Cooley highlighted a San Francisco case where a known gang banger killed San Francisco Police Officer Issac Espinoza. Espinoza's widow, sister and mother sat in the audience to support Cooley.

"Absolutely, since our son was killed in the line of duty with an AK-47 by a gang member," Espinoza's mother Carol Espinoza said.

As San Francisco D.A., Harris had to play to the city's liberal base. But statewide, voters are more moderate; 70 percent support the death penalty.

Harris points out this race cannot center on just one issue. The attorney general's office handles very few death penalty cases.

In that regard, she describes herself as an innovator, creating nationally recognized programs in high tech crimes.

"I fight crime like identity theft and sophisticated financial fraud; 21st century criminals are thriving in a 20th century system," she said.

In recent years, the death penalty has not been much of an issue, but with a new death chamber at San Quentin and a death row inmate who was days away from execution before the courts stepped in, this race is now getting a lot more attention.


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