Meet the newest star in political television advertising in California: He’s brooding, 40-ish, and bearded, and resides in fashionable Marin County.
He’s Richard Allen Davis, the convicted killer of 12-year-old Polly Klaas.
Davis, who’s on death row at San Quentin, is perhaps the most hated man in the Golden State. Now he is the featured character in ads for three California House Republicans seeking to portray their opponents as soft on crime.
“When the murderer of Polly Klaas got the death penalty he deserved, two people were disappointed,” says an ad being aired by vulnerable freshman Rep. Andrea Seastrand (R) against her Democratic rival, University of California religion professor Walter Capps. “Richard Allen Davis, the murderer. And Walter Capps.”
The ad, produced by the media firm Sandler & Innocenzi of Alexandria, Va., shows pictures of Davis and Capps side by side and displays labels under the photos: “The murderer” for Davis and “The liberal” for Capps.
The ad goes on to say that Capps “would rather see Richard Allen Davis spend 20 years in jail watching cable TV than get the punishment he deserves.”
It then shows two boys on a park swing, while a narrator intones, “Andrea Seastrand cares about victims and all the children with no safe place to hide from the Richard Allen Davises of the world.”
In the last frames, one of the boys fades from the picture while the swing continues to sway.
Similarly dramatic spots are also being run by Rep. Frank Riggs (R) against challenger Michela Alioto (D) and by Republican Tim LeFever, the businessman taking on Democratic Caucus Chairman Vic Fazio.
The Riggs ad, produced by National Media, shows pictures of Davis and then jumps to footage of an interview with Alioto in which she states her opposition to capital punishment.
A narrator then asks, “Where do you stand? With Frank Riggs and the vast majority of us on the North Coast, or Michela Alioto and her San Francisco friends?”
Klaas’s kidnapping took place in Petaluma, in Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s (D) district, but her body was found in Riggs’s district.
The LeFever spot, produced by the Sacramento firm Wayne C. Johnson & Associates, features pictures of Davis and Fazio fading back and forth into each other in what amounts to a crude morph of the Congressman and the convicted killer.
“In the race for Congress, the issue is crystal clear: one candidate supports the death penalty, the other does not,” says the ad.
“Vic Fazio says that Tim LeFever is an extremist because he believes that killers like Richard Allen Davis deserve the death penalty. Tim LeFever says that those who have built their entire public careers defending people like Richard Allen Davis from the death penalty are the real extremists. And that, Congressman Fazio, is you.”
The three Democratic campaigns denounced the spots, all of which were produced by different media firms and have been running in the past week.
So did Marc Klaas, Polly’s father, who has emerged as a national spokesman for victims’ rights.
“There’s been a lot of outrage over it, naturally,” said Capps spokesman Steve Boyd. “We’ve been getting a lot of calls from people saying, ‘I was going to vote for Andrea Seastrand, but this is outrageous.”’
Boyd added that the ad misrepresents Capps’s views on the death penalty. While he believes capital punishment “is not an effective deterrent,” he does support its use for “egregious murderers like Richard Allen Davis,” said Boyd.
A Fazio aide said that the Congressman has voted for the death penalty numerous times in Congress.
Tom Pier, Alioto’s campaign manager, called the Riggs ad “highly exploitive” and irrelevant, since Davis was sentenced under state, not federal, law.
Pier added that Alioto, while she does oppose the death penalty, would have voted in favor of President Clinton’s crime bill, which included a significant expansion of the federal death penalty.
Alioto has responded with a television spot of her own, which quotes Marc Klaas saying, “Frank Riggs should stop exploiting my daughter Polly’s death to fulfill his own political ambitions.”
In an interview, LeFever defended his ad, stressing that Fazio, while a member of the state Assembly in 1977, voted against California’s current death penalty law.
“Had Vic Fazio had his way, Richard Allen Davis would not be facing the death penalty today,” he said.
LeFever denied that the ad was “exploitive” and said it was necessary to refer to a specific case in order to get his point across. “The death penalty is not a theoretical debate we have at college or at a Washington, D.C., cocktail party,” he said. “It’s about real people.”
Riggs spokesman Beau Phillips disputed the notion that the death penalty is not a federal issue, citing the cases of the accused Unabomber and the defendants in the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Phillips added that Riggs has “great sympathy for the Klaas family” but that Klaas himself has little claim to political purity.
“Mr. Klaas himself injected his family and, by extension, his daughter’s case into partisan politics when he spoke a few weeks ago at the Democratic National Convention.”
The Polly Klaas Foundation, which is no longer affiliated with Marc Klaas, also issued a statement blasting the political use of one of California’s most notorious crimes: “We are deeply offended by the willingness of individuals who would like to be our leaders to exploit such a deep and personal tragedy in an attempt to adopt a political posture.
“We call on all candidates on all levels to refrain from taking advantage of the kidnapping and murder of a 12-year-old girl for political purposes. This behavior is beneath the level of concern and professionalism that we expect from our political leaders.”
The three Republicans are apparently not the first California political candidates to attempt to exploit Klaas’s death in a campaign.
Back in 1994, Democrat Tom Umberg, who was challenging state Attorney General Dan Lungren (R), cited the case in criticizing Lungren for his failure to provide funds for a computerized criminal-tracking system.
Marc Klaas gave his go-ahead to the Umberg campaign to use the case, but recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that he regretted the decision.
“We learned our lesson,” he told the paper. “We need to be very protective of our child and the way she is going to be used. We certainly want Polly to have a strong legacy, but we don’t want that legacy to be based on getting Frank Riggs or anyone else elected to Congress.”
MEMO: Roll Call is an independent, non-partisan newspaper that covers Congress.