Running for his first major political office, Curt Pringle was decked out in a new crew-neck sweater, khaki slacks and Topsider shoes when he showed up for a recent $1,000-a-person cocktail cruise around Newport Harbor at sunset.
He was the guest of honor, the GOP hope in the 72nd Assembly District.
Still, at 29, Pringle, married and with a 2-year-old son, sometimes looks more like a college senior than a successful businessman and aspiring legislator. So it was not altogether surprising that someone aboard the 55-foot cabin cruiser mistook him for the candidate’s son. His cheeks showing red, Pringle awkwardly corrected the woman, laughing lightly to defuse embarrassment.
“It’s my own personal curse that I look 3 or 4 years younger than I am,” Pringle said later. “I guess I will appreciate it in 10 years, but right now it is something I struggle with.”
But, he quickly added, “the up side is, should I win, I’m young enough to serve a long time.”
That would suit the Republican brass just fine. Party activists believe that Pringle--a conservative, churchgoing family man whose past is firmly rooted in blue-collar central Orange County--is an ideal match with the 72nd District. Pringle, a Garden Grove homeowner who helps manage a family dry cleaning and drapery business, has lived in the county since the late 1960s, never more than a mile or two from Disneyland.
It is a legislative district in transition, a collection of aging cities where housing, by county standards, is comparatively cheap. Young families and new immigrants are moving in, changing the social and political makeup of Westminster, Garden Grove and Santa Ana, the core of the district.
Crime, taxes and traffic are the dinner-table issues here, where Richard E. Longshore (R-Santa Ana), a conservative who preached family values, was the assemblyman for two terms, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans. Longshore died June 8, the day after winning the GOP primary in the 72nd District.
In July, after an acrimonious search for a replacement candidate, the Orange County Republican Central Committee selected Pringle to run in Longshore’s stead against Democrat Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach, an Anaheim resident and a prosecutor with the Riverside County district attorney’s office.
Pringle has faced the delicate task of mending fences with Longshore supporters and would-be successors, including the former assemblyman’s widow, Linda Longshore, who actively sought to become the GOP candidate in the 72nd District after her husband’s death.
Pringle, chairman of the Garden Grove Planning Commission, was chosen largely because of his district ties and service as vice chairman of the county central committee. Despite her last name and the obvious advantage it might have on the ballot, Longshore was passed over because she was considered politically too inexperienced.
After Pringle’s selection, Longshore criticized the selection process as “flawed” and withheld her endorsement of the party’s candidate until recently. Some of her husband’s supporters have defected to Thierbach’s camp.
“The Republicans played a dirty trick on Linda,” said Bill Schofield, a Democrat and Santa Ana mobile-home owner who backed Richard Longshore but says he plans to vote for Thierbach this time. “This has nothing to do with Pringle. He’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The GOP leadership disagrees, and the party has funneled cash, consultants and volunteers into Pringle’s campaign.
As of Sept. 30, the $395,543 in cash and non-monetary contributions he had received in the race included $187,000 from local and state GOP leaders and groups. Statewide interest in the race is high because of the partisan battle to control the Assembly when legislative boundaries are redrawn, beginning in 1990.
“Both parties want this seat badly,” said Assemblyman Dennis Brown (R-Signal Hill), chairman of the GOP caucus in the Assembly. “We consider the 72nd a Republican incumbent seat. We have given it the absolute highest priority we can.”
Thomas Fuentes, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, agreed: “If we lose that seat, there will be a void in the solid conservative voice this county has in Sacramento.”
Pringle knows the stakes are high. He has plunged into the campaign with the same energy and commitment that have earned him high marks as an official with the county party.
“Work energizes him,” said Pringle’s wife, Alexis. “He’s not much on talk. He prefers rolling up his sleeves and getting dirty.”
Pringle worked through high school and college, and until recently he stopped every morning at the family’s drapery business to check on orders before turning to the campaign. “Curt is intensely loyal,” Alexis said, “and his biggest fear in running for Assembly was what would happen to the family business.”
Winning the race has now become his full-time occupation. He has been walking precincts almost daily and has worn out two pairs of shoes. He is also waging an aggressive mail campaign to establish name identification with the district’s 114,776 voters. His mailers have attacked Thierbach by linking him with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Endorsements From Mayors
Pringle has also picked up key endorsements from the mayors of Anaheim, Santa Ana and Stanton.
Courting the district’s growing Latino and Southeast Asian populations has also been a Pringle priority. While the two ethnic groups make up just 23% of the countywide population, their ratios are substantially higher, 40% or more, in certain precincts in Santa Ana, Westminster, Stanton and Garden Grove. Both parties actively pushed voter registration in the ethnic neighborhoods of the 72nd District.
To bridge the cultural gap and win support, Pringle sent a political mailer in Vietnamese. He plans to spend the final days of the campaign walking Latino precincts in Santa Ana. Among Asians, Pringle has won favor.
“We have a lot of middle-age or older politicians in this county,” said Republican Frank Jao, a Vietnamese developer in Garden Grove. “Curt is a bright young man who can bring some fresh ideas to this district. Older politicians sometimes don’t listen or understand us. I think Curt will.”
Pringle, an avid baseball fan and newspaper reader, was preparing to run this fall for the Garden Grove City Council when Longshore died and friends urged him to seek the GOP nomination in the 72nd District. It would have been his fourth crack at a council seat. He first ran for council in 1980 at the age of 20 and finished fifth. He also failed in two successive tries, which has been raised often by the Democratic camp in the Assembly race.
Pringle contends that he simply ran against popular incumbents. But the current Garden Grove mayor, J. Tilman Williams, one of 11 candidates in the 1980 council race, said Pringle’s youth has hurt him. “He’s young,” Tilman said, “and some people in this town don’t think he’s got enough experience.”
Rallying to Pringle’s defense, state Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) noted that he was just 30 when he was first elected to the Senate in 1982.
Royce said that the age issue “is really irrelevant” and that experience comes with serving.
“Curt is a quick study, and with his enthusiasm he’ll be effective almost immediately,” he said.
Addressing crime is at the top of Pringle’s agenda. Convicted drug dealers, he said, should receive an automatic prison sentence, and he wants to toughen property seizure laws.
“I want drug dealers to know that if they deal out of their house they could lose it if arrested,” said Pringle, who has also pledged to fight bids to build a new county jail in the 72nd District.
A conservative on fiscal matters, Pringle said he opposes, except as a last resort, raising the state sales or gas taxes to pay for building new roads. He is opposed to current abortion law.
He opposes Proposition 102, sponsored by Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), which calls for reporting the names of those who test positive for the AIDS virus to health authorities. But Pringle, a Cal State Long Beach graduate with a degree in business administration and a graduate degree in public administration, does support Proposition 96 on the November ballot, which would require people charged with certain sex crimes or assaults on police, fire or emergency personnel to submit to tests for acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
In a district with more than 20,000 mobile-home owners, Pringle has pledged to draft legislation giving those residents first right of refusal to buy their mobile home parks if and when they are offered for sale. Pringle, who opposes rent control, believes mobile-home owners should have 30 days to match any outside offer to buy the parks.
Running for office has been a family affair for Pringle, who is a member of the Methodist church. His wife, a former GOP central committee staff member, often spends as many hours at campaign headquarters as Pringle. To accommodate the couple’s 2-year-old son, Kyle, one corner of the office has been converted into a carpeted play area with a small TV.
A sign on the wall above his toys reads: “Daddy, win one for the Gipper.”
“Above all else, my family comes first,” Pringle said. “I’m running so that someday I can make a difference for Kyle and his generation.”
VOTER REGISTRATION WAR
Feb. 10, 1987 72nd Assembly District Democrats: 50.3% Orange County Democrats: 35.6% 72nd Assembly District Republicans: 39.6% Orange County Republicans: 54.5% Sept. 6, 1988 72nd Assembly District Democrats: 53.6% Orange County Democrats: 35.3% 72nd Assembly District Republicans: 37.3% Orange County Republicans: 54.4%
Source: Orange County Registrar of Voters