Dole Pledges to Be Tough on Youth Crime but Not Forget Causes
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Courting California’s pivotal suburban vote, Bob Dole promised strict punishment Wednesday for youths drawn to gangs and drugs but said society also must help those children who ``never have a chance in America.″
Tough talk on crime is a staple of Dole’s effort to introduce himself to California voters and erase President Clinton’s big lead in the state with the biggest November electoral prize. He delivered a scathing critique of what he said was Clinton’s failure to stem the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.
But Dole also spoke compassionately about children from shattered families in what appeared to be a recognition that tough talk alone will not win over the moderate, independent-minded voters crucial to his chances here.
To illustrate his concern with battling crime, Dole visited a suburban Redondo Beach park once threatened by gangs, saluting community activists who worked with police to clean up the park and impose a curfew. ``This is the spirit I want to see all across America,″ the Republican presidential candidate said. ``We can beat gangs and we can beat drugs if we work together.″
Later, San Diego police and community leaders briefed Dole on local drug and crime problems. He visited a park where a teacher spoke of clearing hypodermic needles from the field before allowing children to play.
In his remarks, Dole lamented the ``sad fact″ that much of today’s crime problem can be traced to juvenile gangs.
``It is not with a great deal of enthusiasm that you talk about locking up children,″ Dole said in Redondo Beach. But, he said, ``we have a problem in America and we must face up to it.″
To that end, Dole said his blunt message to children who commit violent crimes was: ``You are going to be tried as an adult and you are going to be punished as an adult.″
But Dole tempered his tough talk with a somber discussion of the troubles many children face that are not of their own making, and said government _ but mostly community groups and neighbors _ had a responsibility to offer a helping hand.
``Let’s face it, some children never have a chance in America,″ Dole said. ``Some children are never loved or never touched after their birth. They are just sent out there, nobody cares. ... Their parents are drug addicts or worse. ... We’re talking about human beings.″
As Dole sought to establish a foothold in California, the White House suggested Dole was celebrating a Clinton success story.
Even before Dole spoke, Clinton aides said four of Redondo Beach’s community police officers were funded through a Clinton program that Dole opposed, and that the town was due another $215,000 to put a dozen more cops on the beat.
Dole voted against a 1994 crime bill that funded Clinton’s community policing program, on grounds it contained $5 billion in wasteful social spending. But aides noted Dole backed a Republican proposal to award $10 billion in block grants that local communities could use to hire police.
As Dole spoke in Redondo Beach, dozens of Clinton supporters waved campaign placards and chanted ``Bob Go Home.″ Several local Democratic officials also criticized Dole for lauding a success of community policing after voting against Clinton’s program.
Dole took the attention as a compliment, and joked ``I want to salute everybody, even those on the far left. I find more people in the middle and the right than on the far left.″
The battle for credit at Perry Park was a sign that the Clinton camp takes seriously Dole’s pledge to compete for California’s 54 electoral votes _ one-fifth of what it takes to win the presidency.
Dole said he would campaign aggressively throughout the state and focus on crime, illegal immigration, tax cuts and economic growth, affirmative action and balancing the budget. ``We’ve got the issues,″ he said.
Ken Khachigian, the veteran California operative tapped to head the Dole effort here, said Clinton was in for ``80 days of hell″ after the August GOP convention in San Diego. He said the Dole campaign and the Republican National Committee had vowed to spend the millions of dollars it takes to run a competitive statewide campaign in the state.
In his speeches, Dole offered few specifics of how government could help such children, except to say that ``there is no better crime prevention program than welfare reform″ that requires the able-bodied to work and instills a work discipline in the children of recipients.
To rousing applause, Dole sharply criticized Clinton for twice vetoing Republican plans to shift most welfare programs to the states, after promising in his 1992 campaign to ``end welfare as we know it.″
``Well I’ve got news, we’re going to end him as we know it,″ Dole said of Clinton. ``Then we’ll have real welfare reform.″