Both Parties Target 33rd District Senate Contest : Scramble for Dollars, Endorsements Already Under Way for Special Election

Times Staff Writer

The prize is the 33rd state Senate District seat.

But it won't come cheap, as those jockeying to replace Sen. Paul Carpenter know. Carpenter, a Cypress Democrat, is resigning early next year to take a seat on the state Board of Equalization.

Winning Carpenter's seat in a special election could cost as much as $1 million, according to some political observers. Seven candidates have announced their intentions to enter the race, and even though no election date has been set, the scramble for dollars and endorsements is already in full swing. Carpenter, who was first elected to the Senate in 1976, plans to leave office Jan. 5, and Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to call a special election for late March or early April.

The race is expected to draw statewide attention, with Senate Republicans looking to build on several impressive victories in November and the Democrats trying to protect their majority.

In recent weeks, the contest has firmed up. Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) and former Hawaiian Gardens Mayor Margaret Vineyard are the announced Republican entrants. On the Democratic side are retired Municipal Court Judge Leon Emerson, Norwalk Councilman Cecil N. Green, South Whittier School District board member David Hayes and former Cypress Mayor Otto Lacayo.

Heavy Spending Predicted

In a special election, all the candidates are listed on a single ballot and voters of any party may vote for any candidate. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top vote-getters from each party compete in a runoff election.

Spending by the Republican hopefuls could be particularly heavy. Both Knabe and Grisham, who was elected last month to a second Assembly term in the 63rd District, have access to large contributors. Knabe, 43, has been endorsed by the influential Lincoln Club of Orange County, a conservative fund-raising group, and he expects to receive financial help from his boss, Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana. Knabe, Dana's top aide, says his goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of the year.

In two Assembly races, Grisham, 63, has shown that he too can attract big money. He raised more than $300,000 to win the 63rd District seat for the Republicans two years ago, and last month, in a race against longtime Norwalk Councilman Bob White, he raised nearly $200,000 for an easy reelection. Grisham said in an interview this week that he has $50,000 set aside for a Senate run.

Vineyard, who nearly upset Carpenter for the 33rd District Senate seat two years ago, said her Republican rivals have an edge in the fund-raising department. She said, however, that she thinks voters are tired of expensive, high-powered campaigns. She believes that may work in her favor, as she does not plan to match her opponents dollar for dollar.

Democrats are also talking of spending freely. Although they have a 24-15 edge in the state Senate, they lost two seats in November, and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) does not want to lose another.

Democrats Survey Area

Roberti and the Democratic caucus in Sacramento recently polled voters in the 33rd Senate District to see which Democratic candidate had the highest name recognition. Many see that move as a signal that the party plans to endorse a candidate in the primary and to finance that person's campaign with state party funds. Endorsing a candidate in the primary would be a break from tradition, Roberti spokesman Bob Forsyth said, but it would be necessary to win the seat.

"The grim reality is such that if we don't get involved early in this race," Forsyth said, "the Republicans and their big money could win it without going to a runoff. This is the only game in town next year, and both parties are keenly interested in the race." Forsyth declined to discuss the Democrats' voter survey of the district.

The 33rd state Senate District spills across two counties, with three-quarters of it taking in a portion of southeast Los Angeles County, including all or part of Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Artesia, Cerritos, Bellflower, Norwalk, Downey, Santa Fe Springs and South Whittier. The remaining quarter covers Buena Park, La Palma, Cypress and Los Alamitos in northwest Orange County. There are 285,290 registered voters in the district, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans about 54% to 38%.

Although they have the edge in voter registration, the Democrats say they have a problem in that no Democratic candidate has high name recognition.

Emerson, 61, retired last year after 24 years as a Downey Municipal Court judge. He has lived in Downey since the late 1950s. Emerson said he was encouraged to run by family members and friends as well as by several party leaders in Sacramento. However, "I'm a little rusty" when it comes to campaigning, he said, adding that he is at a disadvantage in raising money. Even if he does not get Roberti's backing, though, Emerson said, he is in the race to the finish.

Green, 62, also said he is committed to running, with or without help from Sacramento. He has been a Norwalk councilman since 1974. Green said that his career as a public official is "unfinished . . . my next challenge is the State of California." Green, who has more than $40,000 in his campaign account from his council races, believes he will be vulnerable in Orange County, where he is a virtual unknown. He is counting on carrying Norwalk, population 89,000, the largest city in the district.

Lacayo, 51, a four-term Cypress City Councilman, is the only Orange County entrant to announce for the race. Lacayo also is a trustee on the North Orange County Community College District board. He was one of the first to announce his candidacy. Lacayo says he will need to capture a large portion of the Orange County vote to win. Like Carpenter, Lacayo is a longtime Cypress resident; he does not, however, expect Carpenter to endorse him. The two ran against each other for the Assembly in 1974 and have not become close since.

(Carpenter's blessing could be valuable to any Democrat in the race, but a spokesman said that the senator plans to wait and see who the caucus endorses before deciding whether to back anyone. "The senator is in no hurry at this point to commit," spokesman Jerry Goldberg said.)

Hayes, 37, a trustee in the South Whittier School District, was a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department until this fall, when a knee injury forced him to retire. Of the four Democrats in the race, Hayes is the least known. Although he is a distant cousin to Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), he does not expect any support from Martinez, he said. Hayes, like Lacayo, hopes to be able to draw heavily on Latino support in Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, Hawaiian Gardens and Artesia.

Robinson's Intentions

The unknown in the Democratic equation is Richard Robinson, the former Orange County assemblyman who was beaten badly in November when he tried to unseat Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in the 38th Congressional District. Shortly after losing to Dornan, Robinson changed his legal residence from Garden Grove to Buena Park, leading many to assume he was positioning himself to run for Carpenter's seat.

But Robinson has not announced what he plans to do, and despite repeated attempts, he could not be reached for comment. In recent weeks, Robinson's name has stopped surfacing as a potential candidate, according to political observers in the district and in Sacramento. "He hasn't been talked about for some time now," Roberti spokesman Forsyth said. "Nobody really knows what his status is."

Among the Republicans, speculation has focused on whether Grisham will stay in the race and force a costly showdown with Knabe, who has already received numerous endorsements in both counties. At a recent press conference, Knabe suggested that Grisham drop out for the good of the party. Two years ago, Knabe said, he was "a good soldier" and stayed out of the 63rd Assembly District race. In doing so, Knabe said, he believes he helped get Grisham elected by showing voters that the party was unified behind one candidate.

"A lot of people worked very hard to put Wayne where he is today," Knabe said, "and now 25 months later he is turning that upside down and getting into another race. . . . I think he should remember what was done for him and (help) avoid a major in-house fight."

Grisham said he had planned to wait and run when Carpenter's term expired in 1988 but that Carpenter's election to the Board of Equalization changed his timetable. "I really wish it was two years from now," Grisham said, "but the opportunity is there now, and there is going to be a new senator. . . . I hope it is me."

If Grisham should win, some have suggested that Knabe will seek the 63rd District Assembly seat. Knabe, however, said that he has no designs on Grisham's seat. "I've been planning this Senate try for many months," he said.

Knabe has come under fire from Lacayo, who has charged that Knabe is "campaigning on taxpayers' time." Knabe says he plans to take an unpaid leave from his job as Supervisor Dana's deputy beginning in January.

Knabe has hired the same political consultant who helped Rep. Ed Zschau (R-Los Altos) come within a whisker of defeating longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston in November. When Zschau entered the race, he was not widely known outside of his Northern California district, and most people were unable to pronounce his name. Knabe believes he has a similar problem with name recognition, but he has promised that before the campaign is over, "You'll know what a Knabe is."

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