Cooley Steps Aside for Poochigian vs. Brown

3/31/2005
Leon Worden Opinion and Multimedia Editor


He wouldn't commit, but the last time I talked to him about it in
December, District Attorney Steve Cooley was pretty sure he'd enter
the racefor California attorney general in 2006. He was intent on
stopping former Gov.Jerry Brown from replacing the retiring Bill
Lockyer.

Cooley has had three more months to think about it. On Wednesday he
announced that he won't short-circuit his current D.A. term (it
expires in 2008) to run for attorney general.

`I always wanted to be a deputy district attorney, and then the
district attorney,' Cooley said Wednesday when I asked him if he
wouldn‚=80=99t really rather be the state's top cop.

`(District attorney is) a great job with a great mission, and I think
it's working very well.'

Voters of Los Angeles County seem to think so; they elected him
D.A. in 2000 and re-upped his tenure last year.

But don't expect him to roll over and let Brown eclipse him in
California's prosecutorial hierarchy without a fight.

`I'll do my best to make sure Jerry Brown is not the next attorney
general,' Cooley said.

Cooley isn't endorsing this early in the game, but he said he‚=80=99ll
do so `at the appropriate time.'

With Brown, Sen. Joe Dunn and L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo
duking it out on the Democratic side, there's really only one person
for Republican Cooley to support - Chuck Poochigian, a two-term
Republican state senator from Fresno.

`He's an excellent guy,' Cooley said.

I don't know Poochigian, but he's vice chair of the SenatePublic
Safety Committee, which puts him about as close as a Republican
legislator can get to law enforcement issues.

Whether Poochigian's name will be a hurdle for the voters remains to
be seen. An awkward name wasn't a problem for Poochigian's former boss
- ex-Gov.

George Deukmejian.

Brown's got the opposite problem; his name could prove to be too well
known.

It'll be his task to convince voters that their perception of
yesteryear is out of kilter with today's older and wiser Jerry Brown.

In November I interviewed a very different Jerry Brown from the one I
remember from the 1970s. Sure, the quirkiness was there, but this was
the tough-on-crime Jerry Brown; the Jerry Brown who takes credit for a
30-percent drop in crime in Oakland since he became mayor in 1999.

Of course, Brown would tell you that's nothing new. As governor from
1974-82, he reminded me, he signed then-Sen. Deukmejian's `use a gun,
go to prison' law; introduced mandatory sentences; and increased by 50
percent the number of felons who got hard time instead of probation.

Still, Brown will have to win the Democratic nomination first. Party
support might not come too easy. Although he chaired the state party
from 1989-91, he resigned in a huff over what he calls his `disgust
with the growing influence of money in politics.'

Inner-party rivalries die hard, and Dunn, a two-term Democratic
senator from Garden Grove in conservative Orange County, could prove
to be the one to watch in the primary.

With Cooley bowing out, there won't be much to watch on the Republican
side.

As a sitting lawmaker, Poochigian should have little trouble
out-fund-raising his only official GOP rival so far - Rod Pacheco,an
ex-assemblyman and current assistant district attorney in Riverside
County.

Cooley would have done a respectable job for the state of
California. But we Angelenos can take comfort in knowing Cooley will
head the county's legal team for three more years. Cooley restored
dignity and professionalism to the office of county district attorney
at a time when the office needed it most - and it's a job he genuinely
likes.


Leon Worden is The Signal's opinion and multimedia editor. His column
represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.