Evelyn R. Hart, who angered county Republican leaders by challenging Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), has been accused of using an "unethical and unfair tactic" against Ferguson in public statements before the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee.
The party's ethics committee concluded that Hart violated the party's code of ethics in statements she made at a March 21 Central Committee meeting.
Hart at that time referred to pending investigations of Ferguson by the FBI and the state Fair Political Practices Commission, stemming from allegations that he illegally funneled campaign contributions to two pro-growth candidates for the Costa Mesa City Council in 1986.
According to an April 25 letter from the ethics committee to Hart, the statements of concern were: "Assemblyman Ferguson is being investigated by the FBI" and "When he is indicted, I will be available to run."
The letter noted that the statements were "not necessarily exact quotes" from Hart.
Hart said Wednesday that she did point out at the March 21 Central Committee meeting that Ferguson was being investigated by the FBI and the FPPC. But she said she did not recall saying that she would be available to run if he were indicted.
In any case, at that point, Hart had been officially in the race for nearly two weeks. "I wasn't thinking about running, I was running," said Hart, the mayor pro tem of Newport Beach.
She added, "I said Gil Ferguson is being investigated by the FBI, and Gil is being investigated by the FBI. . . . That's a fact."
Hart's candidacy stirred up hostility within the party because it forces Ferguson to defend himself in a safely Republican seat at a time when the party wants to conserve money for the defeat of Assembly Democrats in the November election.
Ferguson is a leader in the so-called Project '90, which is aimed at defeating five Assembly Democrats by 1990 to give Republicans a majority before redistricting of legislative and congressional districts that will take place after the 1990 census.
Before Hart entered the race March 9, she was warned that Republican Party leaders might mount a recall effort against her on the Newport Beach City Council if she went ahead with her challenge of Ferguson.
Her campaign manager, Paul Deffebach, characterized the ethics committee's action as "just another extension of those intimidation tactics."
"I think this is carrying it way too far," Hart said.
Hart accused Ferguson of being behind the ethics committee action. The committee is headed by Dorothy Hughes, Ferguson's community liaison.
However, Hughes temporarily turned over the committee to vice chairman Curt Pringle when the Hart matter came up.
Hart said she believes that Ferguson hopes to use the committee's action in a campaign mailer against her.
"I think probably Mr. Ferguson wants to put out a hit sheet on me," Hart said.
Ferguson said, however, that he had mailed a letter to Hart Wednesday in which he proposed that they send each other any campaign mailers three days before they go out to voters as a means of ensuring that neither engages in negative campaigning.
"I promise not to send any hit pieces or negative pieces against Mrs. Hart," Ferguson said. "I don't intend to even recognize that there are other candidates in the race."
He added, speaking of Hart: "I've known this lady for over 10 years, and I'm just absolutely flabbergasted by her meanness . . . (and) the awful things that she says. It's totally out of character for her."
Told of Ferguson's proposal, Hart said, "I would be more than willing to give him a copy of anything I printed."
But she said she did not find it appropriate for either of them to approve each other's campaign pieces.