Editor’s Notes

Pub date March 13, 2007
WriterTim Redmond

› tredmond@sfbg.com

I am not taking sides yet in the Carole Migden–Mark Leno race; the election is still a blessed 14 months away. But I think that at this point I can stake out a clear position against calling one of the candidates a "kiddie porn king."

I wish this were a joke, but it’s not. A former aide to Migden, Michael Colbruno, who (like most of the rest of the known world) has a blog, posted an item earlier this month headlined "Kiddie Porn King in Senate Race."

Colbruno clearly supports his former boss, who is defending her State Senate seat against Assemblymember Leno. That’s fine. But attacking Leno as a kiddie porn king is the exact sort of nasty, sleazy, Karl Rove–style stuff that ought to have no place in a San Francisco campaign.

Let me lay out the background here, since it’s a case study in how political smears are created.

About a year ago Republicans in the state legislature started work on a bill that was aimed at cracking down on child molesters. It wound up on the ballot as Proposition 83, a draconian law that, among other things, would have barred any registered sex offender from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park and required them to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet for life.

Leno and Migden both opposed it.

But in the meantime, while the bill was being debated, Leno, chair of the Public Safety Committee, tried to offer a less heinous alternative. His measure was called AB 50, and while it tightened laws on sex crimes, it didn’t include the bracelets or the 2,000-foot residency requirement (which many law-enforcement types said were ineffective and unworkable).

During discussions on the bill, Leno tells me, Assemblymember Todd Spitzer, an Orange County Republican, approached Leno with an offer. "He told me that if I would accept several amendments, he’d support my bill," Leno says.

One Spitzer amendment would have tightened the laws on child pornography. At the time, possession of kiddie porn was a misdemeanor on the first offense; Spitzer’s proposal would have made it a felony if the offender possessed more than 100 pieces.

Sure, said Leno. No problem. (Spitzer, by the way, confirmed this account to me.)

That, in retrospect, was a mistake; in fact, I could argue that Leno was set up by the GOP. Because shortly afterward, the right-wing media blew up. Leno was accused of supporting the child-porn lobby; according to the likes of Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Leno was arguing that 99 pieces of kiddie porn were just fine. (The federal felony standard, by the way, is 75. Leno’s bill was amended — with his support — to 25, then one.)

Let’s remember: Leno’s bill actually tightened the existing law. I have two kids, and I’m not about to defend the peddlers of underage smut, but I really don’t think AB 50 made Leno a kiddie porn king.

I shudder to think about this becoming a campaign issue; I can already see the hit pieces (or whisper campaigns) circuutf8g in Marin and Sonoma counties, the more conservative parts of the district. Mark Leno, kiddie porn. Hard to turn that around.

Paul Hefner, a spokesperson for Migden’s campaign, told me she doesn’t approve of the post and wants to see a positive race. Good for her. But I suspect that if she were as offended as I am, she would call Colbruno and tell him to take that shit down. Now.

UPDATE: After ppress time for the print edition, Migden’s office informed me that the senator had asked Colbruno to take the post down. Colbruno told me he would do so. That was the right outcome; now let’s hope we don’t ever have to go through all of this again*