Embarrassed to discover that a follower of ultraconservative presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche was the only Democratic candidate in a local congressional race, Orange County Democratic leaders laid plans Friday to run a write-in campaign for the seat.
"I feel it's important for a party to be represented by people who are truly part of the mainstream of the party," said Bruce Sumner, chairman of the Democratic Central Committee of Orange County.
If the LaRouche candidate becomes the party nominee in the June primary, he automatically wins a seat on the county and central Democratic committees, Sumner noted.
At stake is the race in the 40th Congressional District against Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach).
The LaRouche candidate, Art Hoffman, 29, a technical writer, called the proposed write-in effort against him unethical.
Recruit Write-In Candidate
"All parties are prohibited from endorsing candidates in a primary," he said in an interview at his Santa Ana home Friday.
After meeting Friday, Democratic leaders said they expect to recruit a write-in candidate by early next week and to begin gathering signatures for write-ins. There is a May 20 deadline for signatures. The Democrats are now prepared to spend $50,000 on the write-in effort, Sumner said.
He said the cost would be worth it, just to show that mainline Democrats had no interest in such LaRouche causes as quarantining AIDS victims or such theories as conspiracies involving Queen Elizabeth.
Added party Vice Chairman Hazel Stover: "We don't believe (the LaRouche candidate) is reflective of Democratic policy at all. We do not agree with (LaRouche) positions. . . . Really they're just a far-out fringe group."
Hoffman called the characterization unfair. With his interest in halting communism and continuing the space program, he said, "I consider myself a Democrat in the mold of John F. Kennedy."
Hoffman added that he favors a gold-backed currency, considers Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker a "domestic enemy" for working, he said, to get rid of small banks, and favors the use of laser devices in space and to improve production in factories. As his visitors left, Hoffman showed them several books, including "Treason in America" and "Beam Defense," that represented LaRouche views.
Sumner and other Orange County Democrats said they had been unconcerned when they learned that several LaRouche Democrats had filed for state, congressional and Central Committee offices by the March 7 deadline. One or two LaRouche Democrats had sat on the Democratic Central Committee in previous years but had not attended meetings or said little when they did attend, party regulars said.
The Democrats' mood changed from nonchalance to concern on Tuesday, however, after two LaRouche followers won an upset victory in Illinois. LaRouche-backed candidates won the Democratic primary for secretary of state and lieutenant governor. In doing so, they threatened mainstream Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson III's hopes of becoming Illinois governor in November. State law requires that the governor and lieutenant governor be elected as a team.
After the news from Illinois, Orange County Democratic leaders reviewed the list of those who had filed to run for office this June. Hoffman was the only Democrat running unopposed, but LaRouche Democrats had also filed as candidates for the 58th, 64th and 67th Assembly districts and 10 LaRouche Democrats filed for the Democratic Central Committee seats, Sumner said.
Mainstream Democrats are not really worried that the LaRouche candidates "are actually going to take over," Democratic activist John Hanna said. "It's more a concern that we have a nominee for the Democratic Party who is an extremist. . . . It's actually more of an embarrassment."
Longtime Democratic activist Howard Adler agreed. In failing to promote a mainstream Democrat to run against Badham, "it appears that we may have been caught with our pants down," Adler said.
Recalling earlier service by LaRouche Democrats on the central committee, Adler said they have not done any damage but added that "they're a pain in the neck." He mentioned a woman who was on the panel in 1982. "She was kind of meek," Adler said. "She didn't speak up much, but she'd advance these strange resolutions about a whole variety of issues--the space beam defense and Queen Elizabeth as the head of an international banking conspiracy."
Two Parties Joined Forces
In 1984, Republicans and Democrats worked together to make sure a LaRouche Democrat, unopposed for a seat on the Orange County Board of Education, did not win by default. Citing an obscure section of the state Elections Code, they forced the registrar of voters to allow a successful write-in candidacy, Adler said.
Also that year, some LaRouche Democrats ran for the party's central committee, Adler said. The county's Democratic Foundation, a fund-raising group for local candidates, took out newspaper ads against the LaRouche candidates, who were defeated, Adler said. That strategy will be considered again this year, he said.
At least one Democratic leader said, however, that he considered all the concern about LaRouche Democrats unnecessary.
"If some LaRouche Democrat wants to run anywhere where he can't win, let him run," said Michael Ray, president of the Democratic Foundation.
"LaRouche people have been knocking around for some time now. Last time they took a run at several central committee seats and we beat them off. . . . If the Democratic Central Committee is threatened by two or three crazies, it might as well not exist."