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Live coverage of Steve Cooley, Kamala Harris Attorney General debate

October 5, 2010 |  1:02 pm

Opening statements

The candidates for California attorney general clashed in Tuesday's debate, perhaps their only one before the Nov. 2 election.

The debate between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Steve Cooley began with Cooley focusing on the death penalty in his opening statement.

"My opponent absolutely ideologically opposes the death penalty. [She] refused to pursue the death penalty against the killer ... who shot down Officer Isaac Espinoza."

Cooley pointed out Espinoza's widow, sister and the mother of the slain officer in the audience.

Harris said California's criminal justice was "broken and it needs to be fixed." In her opening remarks, she focused on the environment and her opposition to Proposition 23, which would suspend the state's greenhouse-gas law. She talked as well about fighting identity theft and the recidivism of California inmates.

The debate is moderated by KCRA's Kevin Riggs.

Death penalty

Candidate Kamala Harris said in Tuesday's debate that there was "work that can be done" to improve the state's death penalty process. But she deflected a death-penalty question to focus instead on the issue of repeat offenders, who she said were costing the state millions.

Her opponent, Steve Cooley, countered that Harris "did not respond to the issue of the death penalty very well at all in my opinion. And I think she wants to avoid that issue because she's absolutely, religiously" opposed to that issue.

Harris said Cooley was going "below the dignity of the office" with his remarks.

Arizona immigration law

In Tuesday's attorney-general debate at UC Davis, candidate Steve Cooley said states like Arizona had the right to pass immigration laws. "I imagine that we will get some guidance from our appellate authorities," on that issue he said.

"I would suggest that there should be clarification on this issue for cities, counties, states," he added.

Cooley said he did not support the concept behind the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, but that he would defend such a law if it were passed by the Legislature.

Democratic candidate Kamala Harris said she also was opposed to the Arizona law. Harris called for comprehensive immigration reform but said she wanted to avoid "anti-immigrant and anti-family" laws like Proposition 187, and she called on Cooley to announce his position on measures that would take away state benefits for illegal immigrants.

"I am personally opposed to the death penalty," she said, "but I will follow the law."

Proposition 8

Steve Cooley says he would defend Proposition 8, the gay-marriage ban, in federal court.

In Tuesday's debate with Kamala Harris, Cooley said, "Proposition 8 was passed by a majority of the California electorate ... Therefore, it should be defended by the California attorney general whether the attorney general believes in it or not."

Harris's stand: "Now that Propositon 8 has been found to be unconstitutional by a federal district court judge, we should not use the precious resources of the state of California" on an appeal.

Cooley said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown were "abandoning their responsibilities" by not appealing the case. Cooley said, because of that, Californians were "not going to get resolution on this very important issue."

Greenhouse-gas law

Steve Cooley refused again to take a position on Proposition 23, which would suspend the state's greenhouse-gas law.

"I'm not approaching this issue from an ideological position as my opponent seems to be," Cooley said in Tuesday's debate with Kamala Harris, "but a very lawyer-like position" of enforcing the will of the people.

Cooley said he would defend Proposition 23 if it passed but would also fight for the law it sought to overturn, AB 32, if the measure were defeated on the November ballot.

Marijuana legalization

Steve Cooley said he was opposed to a measure to legalize marijuana in California.

The Republican candidate for California attorney general made his statement during Tuesday's debate  just moments after saying he would not take a position on another ballot measure, Proposition 23, because an attorney general must be in a position to defend any law passed by California voters.

Cooley said he believes Propsition 19, the marijuana initiative is "preempted by federal law. My instincts are it is unconstitutional," he said. "It's a public safety issue, a public health issue. I am really strongly opposed to Proposition 19," he said.

Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate, also is opposed to the measure.

Federal healthcare

The candidates for attorney general were asked at Tuesday's debate at UC Davis whether they would sue to block the new federal healthcare bill.

Kamala Harris said she would not. But, she said, "My opponent said he would stand with those Southern states attorneys general" to try to block the healthcare law. Harris said such legal action was "a misuse of the resources of this state. We have a state full of people who are uninsured," she said.

Harris said the differences on the federal healthcare law underscored the need for an attorney general who was "current."

Cooley said he would not sue to block healthcare legislation unless there was consensus between the new governor and Legislature.

"They need to give that directive" before he would pursue legal action, he said, adding that he would only pursue the case if it was clearly in the best interest of Californians. Cooley said such a consensus was "yet to be determined."

California prisons

Kamala Harris said in Tuesday's debate with opponent Steve Cooley that state officials "must comply" with mandates handed down by three federal judges who were currently holding the state's prison system in receivership.

Cooley said he would fight the judges' recommendations to the state's highest court.

"The experience with these panels and these recommendations is they are very costly, often very ineffective, and I would appeal the decisions of the three-judge panel all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," he said.

Local pension

Steve Cooley says he would not hesitate to collect his local pension if he were elected attorney general.

The attorney general makes about half of what Cooley currently makes as Los Angeles district attorney.

"I've definitely earned any pension rights I have," the candidate said in Tuesday's debate with Kamala Harris.

When asked for a response, Harris said with a laugh, "Go for it, Steve. You've earned it; there's no question."

Jerry Brown

Steve Cooley took a swipe at Jerry Brown for promoting local control on the campaign trail.

In Tuesday's debate with Kamala Harris, he said Brown's positions were "very inconsistent with his actions as attorney general."

The answer came in response to a question about Brown's pursuit of claims against local governments for not enforcing the state's greenhouse-gas law, AB 32.

Both Cooley and Harris said they would review those cases before deciding whether to pursue cases against locals who were not complying with state law.

 Debate concluded at 1pm.  Summary of debate is available here.

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