State senator calls for funds to battle Christian right

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Raising the possibility of a California Legislature controlled by the Christian right, one of the state's top Democrats recently appealed to Bay Area Jewish leaders for their support and money.

A religious-right majority, state Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Lockyer warned, would lead to the "absolute, utter elimination of any church-state distinction."

Lockyer offered his insider's view of state politics to about 20 Jewish leaders in San Francisco at a private forum sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

In the meeting, the Hayward Democrat summarized his view of the religious right's philosophy: anti-abortion, anti-feminist, anti-gay, pro-gun, pro-school prayer and pro-censorship — positions that contradict much of the organized Jewish world's established agenda. The state Assembly is one vote away from passing restrictions on funding and access to abortion, he said, and the Senate is but a few votes away from approving similar prohibitions.

The Christian right, said Lockyer, has become a highly sophisticated political and economic force in California, funneling millions of dollars to conservative Republican candidates, issues and organizations.

"They are very organized. They are not country-bumpkin …types," he said.

Lockyer, a state legislator since 1973 and the Senate's president pro tempore since last year, sees no point in searching for middle ground with Christian-right legislators.

"They're bullies," he said. "The only thing bullies respond to is someone who can swing back as hard as they swing."

That clenched fist apparently must be filled with dollar bills — plenty of them. That's why the Senate leader is traveling throughout the state and turning to traditional Democratic wellsprings, including Bay Area Jews, for help.

Far-right Republicans, Lockyer pointed out, already have a steady source of funds through a powerful political action committee, Allied Business PAC.

The pro-business, anti-abortion PAC, which emerged as a political force three years ago, was the biggest contributor to state legislative races in 1994.

According to Lockyer's figures, Allied Business contributed $5 million during 1993 and 1994 to state political causes, including Republican legislative candidates, the Republican Party and the failed school-voucher ballot initiative.

In November, Republicans won a majority in the 80-member state Assembly for the first time since 1971. Allied Business contributed to the campaigns of more than half of the Republicans who won Assembly seats.

Coming off these successes, the PAC is planning to close and re-emerge with an expanded focus that will include local city councils and school boards. The new group will be called California Independent Business PAC.

No equivalent political action committee exists for Democrats, Lockyer said, and none is expected to appear any time soon.

With a half-dozen charts in hand, Lockyer presented his analysis of the 1996 state Senate election and the possibility of Democrats losing their majority. Currently, 21 Democrats, 17 Republicans and two independents hold Senate seats. Next year, half of the 40 seats will be up for election.

Lockyer is focusing on seven Senate races that he predicts will be the closest, requiring the biggest infusion of cash. Four of them are within 100 miles of San Francisco.

According to Lockyer's scenario, the Democrats are in need. In December 1990, the state Democratic campaign funds topped $3.4 million compared to the Republican pot of $1.8 million. As of December 1994, however, the Democrat funds had dropped to $1.5 million compared to the Republicans' $1.3 million.

In an attempt to get a balanced perspective on the Christian right's influence, JCRC leaders promised to seek out a moderate Republican senator — possibly Tom Campbell of Stanford — to speak.

But Lockyer predicted that moderate Republicans are likely to offer a similar assessment of the Christian-right's influence on the 1996 elections.

"I'm trying to inform people how serious it is," Lockyer said.