Several prominent Southeast-area Republicans have declared support for Dale Hardeman's challenge to Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk), which puts them at odds with the Assembly's GOP leadership.
Saying that they are disappointed in Grisham and doubtful that he can retain his 63rd District seat, a majority of the members of the district's Republican Central Committee last week indicated that Hardeman, a former Grisham aide, is their choice in the June primary.
"I am supporting Dale," declared Mary Villegas of Cerritos, one of seven people on the party committee that recruits and grooms candidates. "I believe he's much more tuned in to the people and the needs of the district." She called Grisham "almost an absentee legislator" who "doesn't talk to anybody any more. He doesn't know what we want, what we feel."
Hardeman supporters say Grisham's loss to Democrat Cecil Green in a special Senate election last year left him politically wounded, lending strength to Democratic attempts to capture his Assembly seat.
The 63rd District race is one of a handful around the state that could help shift the legislative balance of power, and it is attracting an increasingly crowded field of Democratic contenders. The district covers Artesia, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and a small part of East Long Beach.
Grisham predicted that he would defeat Hardeman and any potential Democratic opponent. He dismissed the support that Hardeman is attracting from Republicans, saying: "I represent the people of my district . . . maybe not the people in the Central Committee but I represent the guy on the street." In an interview in Sacramento, Grisham also contended that the Central Committee members are Hardeman's friends and would be expected to support Hardeman.
Hardeman, a Downey print-shop owner, took his former boss and the Sacramento establishment by surprise earlier this month when he announced that he would challenge Grisham in the party primary.
"I think Hardeman's announcement was like a bucket of cold water thrown on everyone's face. I don't think anybody was expecting it. . .," said a Republican legislative aide in Sacramento.
Central Committee member Villegas nonetheless said she knows numerous district Republicans who view Hardeman as a logical primary contestant. In their eyes, he has both name recognition and political sophistication gained during his recent stint as president of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees and in his involvement with local and state campaigns, including Grisham's unsuccessful Senate race.
"I really feel Dale has a much better chance of winning the seat against the Democrats than Wayne does at this time," asserted Vera Eckles, a Central Committee member from Artesia.
Grisham's Republican critics complain that he never should have entered the race for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Paul B. Carpenter, who resigned from the Legislature after being elected to
the state Board of Equalization. Once Grisham was in the race, they say, he failed to campaign vigorously enough and allowed state Republican leaders to call the shots and shove aside local party workers.
They further complain that Grisham, a two-term lawmaker, is not his own man in the Assembly. "He's being told what to do," Eckles said, contending that Grisham does the bidding of Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale. "Wayne has sort of disillusioned a lot of people in the area," Eckles said.
Grisham denied the charge, saying he does not take his guidance from the Central Committee and "I have very little to do with the political leadership in Sacramento," including Nolan. Grisham, however, acknowledged that he is a close friend of Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who is one of Nolan's top lieutenants.
Grisham, a former congressman, has never exactly been the sweetheart of the party's local power brokers. He got off to a bad start in the 1984 district primary, when he took on--and defeated--Dorothy Richard, the committee's candidate.
"He kind of came in unexpectedly," said Keith McCarthy of Downey, another committee member who says he will support Hardeman. "Since then, there has been some feeling toward the Republican Assembly Caucus, that things were being foisted on us."
Barbara J. Hayden, president of the Cerritos College board, a former Central Committee member and a Hardeman supporter, agreed. "It is just the idea that Sacramento legislators have tried to handpick our candidates for us, and we really would prefer to do that ourselves."
She added that she expects Hardeman to attract substantial party support. "It appears to me that there are a number of Republicans who will be supporting his candidacy rather than Mr. Grisham's."
Minority leader Nolan has expressed continuing support for Grisham in the face of Hardeman's candidacy. Nolan aides said he is disappointed that Hardeman is forcing the two-term incumbent into a primary that will consume party funds that would be better spent against the Democrats in the general election.
With Assembly Republican money going to Grisham, Hardeman supporters concede that they will have to look to local sources for campaign funds. "I think this is going to be a very grass-roots campaign," said Hayden, who said she is running for the Downey City Council. "The money is going to have to come from within the district."
When Hardeman announced his candidacy, he contended that Grisham was "unelectable," counting among Grisham's political weaknesses his "personal problems." Hardeman, who spent a year on Grisham's staff, refused to elaborate. But political observers say that Democrats' insinuations about Grisham's personal life linger from last year's Senate campaign.
"It's a factor," said Bob Verderber, a Central Committee member from Downey who says he has not decided whom he will endorse in the primary. "It was well planted and it stuck with some people."
During a candidates' forum last February, former Sen. Carpenter accused Grisham of firing a secretary for rebuffing his advances. Grisham vehemently denied any wrongdoing, calling Carpenter's accusation "despicable."
The Democratic primary, meanwhile, is also attracting considerable attention. Five Democrats have entered the campaign, and another has expressed a strong interest in challenging Grisham.
Three of the Democratic hopefuls--Marcial (Rod) Rodriguez, a Norwalk city councilman; Marshall H. Story of Artesia, a union official and party activist who was an unsuccessful candidate in 1984, and Bob Epple, a member of the Cerritos College Board--were in Sacramento last week to appeal for support from lawmakers. While the Assembly Democratic Caucus, made up of the 43 Democrats in the lower chamber, is not expected to endorse anyone in the primary, candidates pressed individual members for support and monetary contributions. Candidates figure that they will need between $100,000 and $225,000 for the Democratic primary fight.
Among lawmakers, Epple seemed to be receiving the most attention. Epple said he is leaning toward entering the race, although he said a few months ago he was not interested because he was concerned that the campaign and the legislative life style would strain his family life. At that point, Epple was supporting Peter Ohanesian, a Downey businessman who also was an unsuccessful 1984 candidate.
"Since then, a number of people have come to me and said they felt Pete couldn't win because he had not been elected to office (previously)," said Epple, a Norwalk lawyer. "I'm saying that it's my belief that none of the other candidates can beat Wayne Grisham in November." He also said that Hardeman, with whom he served on the college board, would "be no easy candidate to beat either."
Met With Aides
Epple said he has met with aides to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. "I have never talked to Willie," Epple said. "And there have been no promises made. There is no indication that I am their (the Democratic Assembly caucus) candidate or that they would do anything for me or for anyone else."
Story, a maintenance technician for TWA and chairman of the 63rd Assembly District Democratic Party, said he has told lawmakers and Democratic campaign consultants that district voters "will resent the leadership getting involved" in the contest if they endorse a candidate in the primary.
Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento), chairman of the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, said he does not expect the Democratic leadership to endorse a primary candidate. "I predict to you that the (Democratic) caucus will not be involved in that race."
But Story predicts that Epple will become the leadership's candidate. "They keep assuring me he is not. I tend to keep my ear to the ground and I would probably say he is."
Story also said that Ohanesian's chance of winning support from the leadership has been weakened by his friendship with Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra). Brown recently disciplined Calderon and three other Democratic lawmakers because of policy and personal differences.
"Quite naturally, if Peter comes up, he'll owe his allegiance" to Calderon and his allies, Story asserted. "There seems to be a great deal of concern about that from Willie's office," Story said.
Ohanesian said he would be independent. "I can raise my own money," he said last week. "I'm an independent candidate. I will not let anyone tell me what to do in my district."
Rodriguez said that although he had previously indicated that he would not enter the contest, he will be a candidate. "I just think it's time to commit myself to working for the district," said Rodriguez, who is an aide to Green.
The senator, who is running for reelection, said he is staying neutral in the Assembly primary. But, he said, if Rodriguez is a candidate he will need to take a leave of absence.
Also in the race is Alex Morales of Norwalk, a school administrator and president of the Little Lake School District in Santa Fe Springs. Morales said the time is overdue for a Latino to represent the district, which has a growing Latino population. But, he said: "I'm not just a Latino candidate. I can represent all groups."
So far, Morales has gained one big-name supporter, Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier).
The fifth declared candidate is Joel H. Lubin of Downey, a research specialist with the state Public Utilities Commission and a longtime Democratic activist.
Bettina Boxall reported from Cerritos and Mark Gladstone from Sacramento.