The race for the California governorship, expected to be a dull affair between two of the state's most gentlemanly politicians, erupted in anger Wednesday night in the first of a series of statewide television debates between Democrat Tom Bradley and Republican George Deukmejian.
Deukmejian, trailing 53 to 31 percent in the latest Teichner poll, took the same unusually aggressive stance he had in the last days of his upset primary victory over Lt. Gov. Mike Curb.
He complained of "despicable" Bradley campaign tactics, attempted to connect Bradley to alleged failures of the outgoing administration of Democratic Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and complained that while farm worker unions were causing violence in California fields, Bradley "was nominating United Farm Workers Union leader Cesar Chavez for the Nobel Peace Prize."
Bradley, also uncharacteristically aggressive, lashed back at Deukmejian for portraying himself as a friend of taxpayers when as a state senator "he was the author and the one who pushed through the largest tax increase in the history of this state."
"I believe you're going to have to face up to these questions, George," Bradley said. "I'm going to be a good guy, but I'm not going to be a patsy, and if you distort my record or yours, you're going to hear from me."
Although Bradley, the mayor of Los Angeles, could become the first black to be elected governor of a state, neither candidate mentioned race. Bradley continued to try to lure conservative support by not attacking President Reagan.
He called for "fair" appointments to the agricultural labor relations board now dominated by farm worker union supporters and presented himself as even more fiscally conservative and pro-business than his Republican opponent.
Bradley, 64, and Deukmejian, 54, instead debated most strenuously the issue in which Republicans have put much hope: judicial leniency toward criminals and a Nov. 2 popular vote on confirmation of three Brown appointees to the state supreme court.
Deukmejian, the state attorney general, emphasized in his opening statement the need to "protect the victims of crime" and said later "I will appoint judges who are going to give great deference to the votes of the people on such subjects as capital punishment" endorsed in two statewide votes.
Bradley called Deukmejian "irresponsible" for promoting a "no" vote on the three Brown supreme court appointees so that he could appoint different judges in their place if he becomes governor.
Expecting that judges "in each and every case concur with your point of view . . . is not the system of justice that we had in mind when this country was founded," Bradley said.
But in his opening statement Bradley emphasized his 21 years as a Los Angeles police officer: "I've seen those victims suffering the tragedy of crime and street violence. I've seen law enforcement officers who have been frustrated by the criminal justice system."
Speaking at a League of Women Voters' gathering in Sacramento in the debate broadcast in all the state's major cities, both candidates decried new statistics that showed California last in the nation in the percent of personal income spent on public education.
In a debate over who could provide the state more jobs, Deukmejian criticized what he called short-sighted actions by several Democratic officials who are on the ticket with Bradley. Bradley bristled, "I'm the one who's running against you for governor. You deal with my record, my performance, my statements."