When Henry J. Velasco ran against Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-El Monte) two years ago, the Assembly Republican caucus donated $213,000, sent a consultant to manage his campaign and provided research that led to a series of hard-hitting mailers accusing Tanner of everything from softness on crime to lying about where she lives.
Velasco is running against Tanner again this year but with a different sort of campaign. He doesn't have a paid staff (he is waiting for Republican leaders to decide whether to finance his race), and he has so far avoided anything that could be construed as a personal attack.
In addition, Velasco, who took a 6-month leave from his job as a real estate salesman to run in 1986, said he cannot afford to make that financial sacrifice again, so he is selling property in the morning and soliciting votes in the afternoon and evening.
Nevertheless, Velasco said, he thinks he can pick up enough support this time to unseat Tanner, who won with 53% of the vote two years ago.
Velasco conceded that his campaign in the 60th Assembly District "has started slower" this year. It also has a gentler tone. A typical 1986 press release from Velasco assailed Tanner for accepting campaign contributions from toxic polluters. This year, his releases so far contain bland statements, touting his belief in family life and calling for unspecified "new solutions" to problems ranging from gangs to child care.
Velasco said his restraint stems from the fact that he and his volunteers are not as adept at research as the paid political consultant who worked on the campaign two years ago and from "the sympathy factor" that he said arose after Tanner underwent breast cancer surgery July 20.
But, he said, he is planning a more aggressive campaign and sees no reason to retreat from any of the charges he made two years ago, when Tanner accused him of resorting to personal attacks.
Sixth Term Sought
Tanner, who returned to the district last week after a two-week vacation, said she is recovering from the surgery ahead of schedule. She said her doctor told her it would take three months to recuperate, but she has already regained much of her strength and will be ready to work full time when the Legislature convenes after the Nov. 8 election.
Tanner, 59, will be seeking her sixth two-year term. As chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials, she has authored major legislation on toxic waste, smog and water pollution.
She said she wants to remain in the Legislature to fight smog. "We have a responsibility to do something about the air," she said. "I want to stay in office long enough so that when I fly into Ontario, I don't see that brown layer."
Velasco, 55, said Tanner's accomplishments in the pollution field can be gauged by voters asking themselves: "Is my water better? Are toxics better?"
Velasco said that one of Tanner's attributes is an ability to deflect criticism like Teflon. "I don't understand how she gets away with it," he said.
In the campaign two years ago, Velasco said, newspapers reported his accusations and her denials without pursuing the matter. "We brought up issues," he said. "The media let her slip out of it. Nobody dug into those things."
But Tanner contended then that many of the charges were simply false. She was accused, for example, of not living in the district because she had moved out of the El Monte apartment she had listed as her residence. But, Tanner said, she had bought a condominium in Baldwin Park, which is in the district.
Velasco says Tanner has managed to make it appear that she is more moderate than her voting record. "She says a lot of the right things," Velasco said, "but (her) vote doesn't show it."
He says she often follows the liberal lead of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "I think the speaker in many instances tells her how to vote," Velasco said. "And so this conservative district is being liberalized because we don't have a representative with the power or backbone to say I'm representing this district and I'm going to vote for my district."
Votes Not Dictated
Tanner said her votes are not dictated by Brown, and she is not out of step with her district. She said the voters she talks to don't divide themselves into liberals and conservatives but are usually seeking responses to specific problems. "I feel I know the district," she said. "I feel close to the people of the district."
Before winning election to the Assembly in 1978, Tanner was an aide to the late Assemblyman Harvey Johnson of El Monte and former Rep. George Danielson of Monterey Park.
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1 in the 60th Assembly District, Velasco received more than 45% of the vote two years ago, falling about 4,300 votes short of victory out of 52,000 cast.
Velasco said he believes he will get more votes this time because he will be better known. Although Velasco served on the El Monte City Council for 10 years, he was not well known two years ago in other parts of the district, which includes Baldwin Park, the City of Industry, La Puente, Rosemead and part of West Covina.
Velasco, who is married and has six children and three grandchildren, is a former radio broadcast engineer and a former officer in a labor union. He describes himself as "frugally conservative" on taxes and spending but moderate on social issues. For example, he said, he believes that the state should be doing more in education.
Also running in the 60th Assembly District is a Libertarian candidate, David Argall, 43, of La Puente. Argall, who promotes chess tournaments and sells chess equipment, said he is running to promote the Libertarian philosophy and to give voters an alternative. While he doesn't expect to be elected, he said, each vote for him is a clear message in favor of less government and more freedom.
Larry Levine, who is managing Tanner's campaign, said that she is in a better position to win reelection this year than she was two years ago. He said that Democrats have widened their registration lead in the district, and a presidential election should bring a high voter turnout, which generally benefits Democrats.
He said how much Tanner spends on her campaign depends on the size of the Republican effort. He noted that Tanner was able to match Velasco's expenditures two years ago.
Velasco said he has raised about $25,000 to $30,000 so far but is hoping for a large infusion of cash after Republican leaders look closely at his chances. A spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Pat Nolan (R-Glendale), who provided most of Velasco's money two years ago, said a decision on campaign funds will be made about three weeks before the election.