There’s a story circulating around the 33rd State Senate District that Norwalk Democrat Cecil N. Green has become such a popular GOP target that he wears a T-shirt with a bull’s-eye under his dress shirt and tie.
“All they’ve been doing is taking cheap shots at me,” the 64-year-old Green said recently. “Lucky for me, they keep missing.”
For the second time in 18 months, Republicans in the 33rd District are gunning for Green in a race that has attracted statewide notice because of its importance to the partisan chess game both parties are playing in advance of reapportionment in 1990.
Won Special Election
Green, a former Norwalk councilman, captured the 33rd District in a grueling special election in May, 1987, upsetting Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) in the most expensive legislative race in state history. It was a crucial victory for Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti of Los Angeles, who pumped $1.1 million into Green’s campaign, and his pledge to maintain control of the Senate before lawmakers begin redrawing district boundaries.
For Republicans, Green’s election was a bitter blow, particularly for former Cerritos Councilman Don Knabe, who wanted a shot at Green but was asked by Gov. George Deukmejian to step aside so Grisham could run. Knabe acquiesced only to watch Grisham get trounced.
“It’s a decision I regret very much,” Knabe said of his primary retreat. “But I’m in the shadows no more.”
Knabe, 45, County Supervisor Deane Dana’s chief of staff, is carrying the GOP banner in the 33rd District, a predominantly blue-collar district of single-family homes and shopping centers that spreads across southeast Los Angeles County and northwest Orange County.
Some political consultants and district activists believe that Knabe, despite his well-placed party connections and backing from Dana’s weighty real estate and development contributors, is waging an uphill fight. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the two-county district 52% to 38%, and Green, a popular Norwalk councilman for 13 years, is the incumbent with all the advantages of incumbency.
“It is Cecil’s race to win or lose,” said Democratic activist Marshall Story of Cerritos. “He’s got the record, the office and the resources.”
To win a full four-year term, Green has tailored a campaign similar to last year’s grass-roots effort that included giving doughnuts to voters and using vans equipped with mobile phones to transport voters to the polls. That campaign was bolstered by hundreds of volunteers, many of them union members, Latinos and Democratic loyalists who walked precincts in an impressive get-out-the-vote push.
“This race, just as it was in 1987, will be decided in the streets,” said Green, a folksy type who smokes cigars and likes to fish.
Money is also likely to figure in the outcome.
Green and Knabe are counting on party leaders to bankroll their campaigns. The winner, some political experts predict, may spend more than $1 million.
As of Sept. 30, Green had received $601,000 in cash and non-monetary contributions, including $106,000 from nine fellow Democrats and $20,000 from a Roberti-controlled group. Green also received $127,048 from unions, including $25,000 from the California State Council of Service Employees, one of the state’s largest unions.
Knabe had received $481,563 in money and in-kind contributions, including $134,000 in cash from a political action committee controlled by GOP state senators. The state Republican Party had spent about $110,865 to print and send literature on his behalf.
Green, married with one daughter and two grandchildren, received mixed marks on his first year in Sacramento. He had trouble solidifying his staff and acknowledges that he made mistakes learning the Capitol ropes.
‘Very Short Leash’
An aide to one Democratic senator said Green, a Republican until the early 1970s when he switched parties, “was probably out of his depth in the Legislature.” Said another Democrat in the Senate: “The party kept Cecil on a very short leash.”
Supporters, however, note that Green took over the seat mid-session, making it almost impossible to find his political equilibrium. Others, like Ed Foglia, president of the 206,000-member California Teachers Assn., said Green delivered on campaign promises.
“I’m the first to admit he’s not the most charismatic person,” Foglia said. “But in our position we don’t need charisma. We need support.”
Green’s legislative accomplishments included an urban aid bill that delivered $3 million to schools in the 33rd District and a package of special grants and low-interest loans totaling $95 million for victims of the Whittier Narrows earthquake.
Early in the race, crime was the campaign’s central issue, but in recent weeks the nature of the race has turned more personal.
Green’s aides have complained loudly that Knabe’s political mailers have distorted the senator’s record. Green voted on 94% of the bills he faced in committees or on the Senate floor--the third-highest voting rate in the Senate. Yet, a Knabe mailer brands the senator as a part-time politician.
“They’ve been running a campaign of misinformation,” said Green, one of the Senate’s most conservative Democrats. “It is a typical sleazy Republican campaign.”
‘It’s Just Facts’
Knabe, a two-term Cerritos councilman, responded: “It’s not sleazy. It’s just facts.”
Green touched a nerve recently when he said Knabe’s “only claim to fame was serving as mayor when a plane crashed on his city.”
Knabe lost several close friends when an Aeromexico jetliner crashed in Cerritos in August, 1986, killing 82 people, including 15 on the ground.
“That’s the kind of insensitivity we don’t need in Sacramento,” Knabe said.
The Republicans are also expected to raise Green’s association with longtime friend and former Sen. Paul Carpenter, whose seat Green filled after Carpenter was elected to the State Board of Equalization in 1986. Carpenter is one of five state elected officials who are targets of an FBI investigation into political corruption in Sacramento.
Green said he has seen Carpenter only a few times since he won the 33rd District and has spent most of his energy in recent months concentrating on Knabe.
A glib, polished communicator, Knabe is a staunchly loyal conservative who talks often about family and church. Married with two children, Knabe is credited with helping Cerritos become one of the state’s most financially sound cities. He talks tough on crime, advocating the death penalty for gang murderers, and he supports government confiscation of drug dealers’ property.
“We don’t need more social workers,” he said. “We need more prison guards.”