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Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 | For months, in debate after debate, Mike Aguirre has sought to portray his challenger, Jan Goldsmith, as an uber-conservative politician who caters to the right wing of the right wing.

Goldsmith argues that the question of where his politics lie is anathema to the very fabric of the city attorney’s race, which he says should be focused on the role of the city attorney and Aguirre’s record over the last four years. Political ideology has nothing to do with being city attorney, he has continually asserted. The position is about “the law, the law and nothing but the law.”

By asserting that he is above what he calls the “political sandbox,” Goldsmith has thus, for most of the 10-month-long campaign, successfully steered clear of discussing his own political views. As Nov. 4 draws closer, however, Aguirre, clinging to his incumbency, has sought to make the city attorney’s race even more about partisan politics.

The city attorney has cast himself as presidential candidate Barack Obama’s man in San Diego, and has touted his endorsement by the Democratic Party as often as he can. Meanwhile, he’s continued to portray Goldsmith as a “good old boy” conservative who will pander to special interests and the right of the political aisle.

As such, the issue of Jan Goldsmith’s political past has become an increasingly central component of the city attorney’s race. But because the challenger has been reticent to discuss that past, or where he stands on key, divisive political issues, Aguirre’s accusations have gone unchecked. San Diego’s voters therefore haven’t an answer to a key question in the race: Whether Goldsmith is the right-wing conservative Aguirre says he is.

An analysis of Goldsmith’s voting record and a study of the legislative scorecards issued by political interest groups at the time he was a state legislator go some way towards answering that question: He voted along party lines a majority of the time, sticking closely to a conservative agenda on some issues, while breaking away on others.

For example, throughout his legislative career, Goldsmith voted in almost absolute lockstep with the recommendations of the California Chamber of Commerce. In six years, he voted with the chamber’s recommendation 103 times. He only broke rank with the group twice and he only missed two votes the chamber deemed important.

Bills Goldsmith helped pass included legislation aimed at limiting the government from imposing trip reduction measures on businesses and a bill that required applicants for state disability insurance to undergo a physical examination before being eligible for benefits.

“Was I generally supportive of trying to improve the California business climate? The answer is yes,” Goldsmith said.

But Goldsmith’s voting scorecards for the California League of Conservation Voters show a willingness to, at times, step away from the Republican mold that shaped many of his colleagues in the assembly at the time.

Goldsmith’s score with the conservationist group fluctuated over the years he was in office. In 1992, during his first year in Sacramento, Goldsmith faithfully toed the party line, voting with his Republican colleagues — and against the league’s recommendation — on all but one of the votes on legislation deemed important to the group.

For example, Goldsmith’s vote helped pass a bill, which the group had opposed, that allowed the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to waive public health data requirements for pesticides that could be harmful to the public.

But, in 1997, Goldsmith was named one of just seven Republican assembly members who scored higher than 50 percent on the league’s scorecard. The same year, no Democratic assembly member scored lower than 50 percent.

By 1998, however, Goldsmith received one of the worst declines in scores from the group. His score dropped from 50 percent to 9 percent.

Goldsmith says his votes on conservation matters show his willingness to break with convention if that meant representing the views of his constituents.

“I was independent-minded, there is no question about that,” he said.

While Goldsmith may have broken the GOP mold on conservation matters, however, Vince Hall, vice president of public affairs and communications at Planned Parenthood of San Diego & Riverside Counties, doesn’t agree with the challenger’s assertion that he was a free-thinking legislator.

Hall said Goldsmith came to Planned Parenthood for support in 1992 during his first state race when he was battling with Connie Youngkin, a militant anti-abortion activist, for the Republican nomination. He said the group contributed independent expenditures to Goldsmith’s campaign and mustered thousands of pro-choice Republican women voters who helped sail Goldsmith to victory.

It was the first time the local San Diego affiliate of the organization had committed independent expenditures in a Republican primary, Hall said. He said it chose to support Goldsmith because he had completed a questionnaire that showed he was pro-choice and would help push the organization’s agenda.

He didn’t.

Instead, for his first three years, Goldsmith was absent at many of the votes Planned Parenthood deemed vital to its cause. Then, in 1997, Goldsmith voted against the organization’s position on every one of the 13 pieces of legislation Planned Parenthood supported.

“I’ve never had a conversation with the man about what is it that happened when he was flying 20,000 feet over Fresno on his way to the capital that his core philosophy on one of the key political issues of our time turned 180 degrees,” Hall said.

Goldsmith said he doesn’t want to talk about abortion issues because they have nothing to do with the city attorney’s race.

But Hall, whose organization has endorsed Aguirre, pointed out that the city has several ordinances, such as a “bubble ordinance” that protects women on their way to an abortion clinic, that are the city attorney’s responsibility to protect and that concern a woman’s right to choose.

And, while Goldsmith doesn’t like to talk about it, the abortion issue from the early 90s also gives valuable insight into the challenger’s credibility when it comes to his pre- and post-election stances. While abortion may be a tangential issue in the city attorney’s race, the ability of a candidate to keep his promises is not.

Goldsmith has promised several local Democrats who have endorsed him, and the people of San Diego, that he will be an apolitical city attorney, and that the views he held as a legislator are immaterial to the skills and philosophy he would bring to the office.

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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