Local Elections : 'Three's a Crowd,' He Finds : DuBose Battles Peace, Ghost of Primary

Times Staff Writer

Although there are only two major candidates in the 80th Assembly District race, at times a third figure has overshadowed both of them. And, as Republican nominee Tom DuBose has learned, the adage "three's a crowd" is particularly apropos of politics.

Indeed, political activist Jay Martin, whom DuBose defeated 72%-28% in the June GOP primary for the right to oppose Assemblyman Steve Peace (D-Chula Vista), has been more of a political nuisance to DuBose since the primary than before it. By publicizing several incidents that have been embarrassments to DuBose, Martin has proved that, while DuBose may have officially eliminated him from the race, he has not been able to keep him out of the campaign.

"The man seems to have trouble accepting the fact that he lost--I wish he would just go away," said DuBose, a 54-year-old Chula Vista businessman. "But I'd rather have him on Peace's side than with me. That kind of help I don't need."

DuBose does not need the kind of trouble that his erstwhile primary opponent has caused, either. Since June, Martin has:

- Forced DuBose to acknowledge that he had erred on campaign financial disclosure reports by not reporting $15,000 in in-kind (non-monetary) aid from the Assembly Republican Political Action Committee. DuBose described the error as an inadvertent one and later filed an amendment to correct his financial statement.

- Accused DuBose of lying about being a World War II veteran in campaign literature, a charge that led to DuBose's disclosure that he did not enroll in the Army until Dec. 30, 1946--16 months after the war ended. Denying that he "tried to mislead anyone," DuBose contends that it is accurate to call himself a World War II veteran "because the World War II era wasn't over until a few days after I enrolled."

"I never said I was in the hills of Italy fighting the Germans," said DuBose, who spent his 18-month Army stint in the United States. "I didn't pretend to be a World War II veteran in the sense that I was a fighting vet. But I am considered a World War II veteran."

- Described a DuBose campaign brochure as "racist and distasteful," prompting negative news stories. The brochure features a photo of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who is black, next to one of Peace, a close Brown ally identified on the pamphlet as "Willie's whip." Brown's and Peace's photos appear against a black background, while DuBose's photo is against a white background. The brochure's black-and-white headline reads: "The Difference Is Like Day and Night."

DuBose, a first-time candidate who says that the "day and night" terminology refers to the differences in his and Peace's positions on issues, dismisses Martin's allegation that racist inferences can be drawn from the brochure as "absolutely ridiculous, like most of his charges." Peace, though, who serves as majority whip in the Assembly, said, "I doubt you'd see a brochure like that if the speaker were white."

"The guy's been a pain in the neck--I'll admit that," DuBose said of Martin. "But I don't think many people place much credibility in what Jay Martin says. I consider him annoying but not very significant."

The political fallout from Martin's various allegations, however, appears to have undercut DuBose's once-strong support among statewide Republican leaders. After pumping $40,000 into DuBose's June campaign, GOP leaders have stayed on the sidelines this fall, despite claims last spring that they would invest more than $300,000 in DuBose's race if he won the primary. As of Sept. 30, Peace had raised about $160,000, more than twice as much as DuBose.

GOP officials deny, however, that the lack of financial support for DuBose is attributable to the controversies generated by Martin. Similarly, Republican strategists insist that "personality differences" led to the shift of a campaign consultant paid by the Assembly Republican PAC from the DuBose campaign to another race last summer.

Martin, who once threw a punch at DuBose during a debate in their bitter primary campaign, half-jokingly suggested that he has "pretty much been running Peace's campaign for him" by keeping DuBose on the defensive.

"I'm not doing this because I'm a sore loser," Martin said. "I'm doing it because, while I disagree with Steve Peace on a lot of issues, I still admire him as a man. I cannot say the same of Tom DuBose.

"This is one time when you have to put party and ideology aside and look at the two men. . . . I don't feel I've betrayed the Republican Party. I feel completely vindicated, because everything I've said has been proved true."

Peace, meanwhile, emphasizes that he has not encouraged Martin or even spoken to him since the primary.

"It has been kind of fun to sit back and watch, though," Peace said.

DuBose's problems appear to have bolstered Peace's bid for a third term in the 80th District seat, to which he was elected in 1982 when it was vacated by fellow Democrat Wadie Deddeh, who was elected that year to the state Senate. The district covers much of the southern part of San Diego County, including Chula Vista, National City and San Ysidro, extending east through Imperial County to the Arizona border.

Although Democrats hold a 51%-37% edge among registered voters in the district, Republicans are encouraged by the fact that President Reagan received more than 60% of the vote there two years ago. Prior to the recent series of political embarrassments, GOP strategists also described DuBose--a soft-spoken man who is fluent in Spanish, half-Latino and the owner of a successful cash register and computer retail business--as the perfect candidate to oppose the scrappy, sometimes abrasive Peace. A third candidate, Libertarian Randy Myrseth, who received 23 votes in June, also is on the Nov. 4 ballot.

"We're as different personally as we are politically," said DuBose, who has been campaigning for nearly 14 months, often traveling to the more distant parts of the district in his van. "I can get along with people, Republicans and Democrats. Steve Peace is a very obstrusive young man. When he acts like a 3-year-old, that hurts the district."

Last year, the 33-year-old Peace was involved in a well-publicized Capitol corridor shouting match with powerful state Sen. Alfred Alquist (D-San Jose), the 77-year-old Senate Budget Committee chairman, after Alquist's panel killed a Peace bill to appropriate $3 million to equip school buses for handicapped students. Peace later apologized for the incident, after senators had threatened to block any bill with his name on it.

"I can be abrasive, but that doesn't prevent me from being effective," Peace said. "I didn't go to Sacramento to be part of the buddy-buddy system. I'm willing to fight hard for things, even if that means making waves that some others might not like."

DuBose also faults Peace for many of the 80th District's ills, ranging from the ongoing border sewage problem with Mexico to high unemployment, particularly among minorities.

"Interstate 8 is almost like the Berlin Wall," DuBose said. "The South Bay and Imperial County haven't received their fair share of jobs and state funds. Steve Peace has to share the blame for that."

As illustrated by his controversial campaign brochure, DuBose also has tried to attack Peace via his connection to liberal Speaker Brown, calling Peace "the ramrod for Willie Brown's legislation."

"He's in cahoots with the biggest liberal in the Assembly, but he wants the district to believe he is a conservative," DuBose said.

Peace, though, says that he has voted against more of Brown's legislation than any other member of the San Diego Assembly delegation except Bill Bradley (R-Escondido). While he supports more than three-fourths of Brown's measures, Peace stressed that he has differed with Brown on major issues such as bilingual education and campaign reform.

Moreover, Peace argues that his service as Brown's whip has been "good for San Diego and good for my district" by giving added clout to his own legislation. His leadership position enabled him to block plans for a radioactive waste dump in Imperial County, Peace noted, adding that Brown also supported a $100-million border sewage bond that failed but "succeeded in finally getting statewide attention for the problem."

Peace received a favorable 80% ranking from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action last year, but said that he regards himself as "representative of the more conservative elements" of the Democratic Party. He notes, for example, that he opposes the reconfirmation of California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and calls himself an "aggressive supporter" of the death penalty, going so far as to favor the death penalty for anyone convicted of selling drugs to minors.

"As a father, if anybody sells drugs to my kids, I'd kill him," said Peace, the father of three boys. "That's what I think society's approach to drug pushers should be, too."

A former legislative aide to both Deddeh and former Assemblyman Larry Kapiloff (now a Superior Court judge), Peace also is a partner in a National City-based film production company, Four Square Productions.

Although the company is one of the largest producers of college sports highlight films in the nation, it is perhaps best known for producing the cult film classic, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." The firm recently produced a sequel, which Peace said was tentatively titled "Sour Grapes" but will be renamed by the distribution company.

While the sequel's original title perhaps is, from DuBose's perspective, a fitting one for the 80th District race--at least as far as Martin's activity is concerned--DuBose remains hopeful that his candidacy can overcome the attack.

"If Jay Martin is Peace's secret weapon, then he's in trouble," DuBose said. "Martin said he'd start helping Peace if he thought I had a chance to win. So, the more I see Martin doing, the more confident I feel."

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