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Bergeson Confident in 37th Race

Times Staff Writer

For state Sen. Marian Bergeson, seeking reelection is an exercise in efficiency.

Long regarded as a precision politician, she executes a campaign much as she handles her legislative workload--with little wasted effort and without much fanfare.

“I was elected to do a job,” said the Newport Beach Republican, a veteran of 6 years in the Assembly and 4 in the Senate. “My performance speaks for me.”

It has, by most accounts, been a solid showing. Republicans and Democrats alike describe the senator from the 37th District as tough and hard-working, a reputation that leads to mention of her name in discussions of future candidates for statewide office. She was a leading--and openly interested--candidate for the state treasurer’s post that ultimately was filled by Gov. George Deukmejian’s appointment of Auditor General Thomas W. Hayes.

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For the present, however, she resists being drawn into any speculation about higher office. Right now, she’s running for reelection, and “what happens down the road will happen,” she says. “Retaining my seat comes first. . . .”

The 37th District, which stretches across four counties from Newport Beach to El Centro, is predominantly Republican. Registered GOP voters outnumber Democrats 55% to 34%, an equation that does not favor Bergeson’s two opponents in Tuesday’s election--Democrat Pat McCabe, 39, of Huntington Beach and Libertarian J. Mark Sugars, 27, of Irvine.

Bergeson has quietly spent about $100,000 in the race, including $60,000 on one mailer sent recently to more than 250,000 households. She also has placed newspaper advertisements and bought spots on local radio and cable television that began airing this weekend. In typical Bergeson fashion, she sized up the competition early on and decided to wait until the final days of the race to campaign.

“We are very confident about the senator’s chances,” Bergeson’s top aide, Julie Froeberg, said. “We wanted to get the most for our money. There was no sense in spending too much too soon.”

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McCabe and Sugars are seeking elective office for the first time.

A lifelong Democrat, McCabe said one reason she is running is that she was afraid the Democratic nomination might go to a supporter of political extremist Lyndon LaRouche Jr..

“I didn’t want to vote for a LaRouche candidate,” she said.

Sugars, a graduate student at UC Irvine, is in the race because “the Libertarian Party asked me to run.”

McCabe has spent $9,000 on her candidacy; Sugars, less than $500.

“If nothing else, I wanted to let voters know there was a choice,” said McCabe, an accountant with a master’s degree in business administration from Cal State Long Beach. “It’s time we awakened the Democratic voters in this county. . . . It’s uphill, I know. But we’ve got to fight anyway.”

She has taken several swings at her GOP incumbent, most notably on women’s issues and Bergeson’s involvement in efforts to develop the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

McCabe says Bergeson “is not a feminist--she’s a myth.” Bergeson’s opposition to abortion, for example, “denies women the freedom of choice,” McCabe says.

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McCabe opposes, except on a “very limited scale,” the proposed $300-million marina and housing development near the Bolsa Chica wetlands, a mammoth project that she contends Bergeson supports, despite widespread opposition from environmentalists.

‘Wetlands as Wetlands’

“I am committed to keeping the wetlands maintained as wetlands,” McCabe says.

Bergeson, one of five women in the 40-member Senate, bristles at McCabe’s remarks, saying that “women’s issues go beyond the litmus test” of abortion. She notes that she authored legislation, which Deukmejian signed into law, extending Medi-Cal coverage to prenatal care for low-income women.

A former schoolteacher, Bergeson also won passage this year of a package of bills aimed at improving and toughening the credentialing process for teachers. She believes that the quality of instructors is the key to improving student performances.

“What issue is more important to women than the education of their children?” Bergeson asked. “The best insurance against a failed educational system is making sure you have the best teachers.”

Bergeson denies that she has been on the side of Signal Landmark Inc. in its efforts to develop the Bolsa Chica.

In June, she withdrew a bill that would have helped finance the project. In a recent interview, Bergeson said she sponsored the bill because she believed that “all parties concerned wanted the development . . . but things changed.” She said she will not reintroduce the measure “until there is some sort of consensus” among local and county officials on the size and scope of the development.

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Caltrans Bill

One of Bergeson’s most notable successes in the Senate was the passage in February of a bill allowing Caltrans to hire private engineers to design and develop freeway projects. Faced with losing $338 million in federal highway funding, the bill streamlined the approval process for a series of Orange County freeway projects deemed critical to relieving county traffic congestion. Its passage was accomplished by forging several tough compromises between Republicans and Democrats and local and state officials.

“Nobody is a tougher or a fairer negotiator than Marian Bergeson,” said Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk), a member of the Senate’s Local Government Committee, which Bergeson chairs. “Among Democrats, Marian Bergeson is one of the most respected Republicans in the Senate.”

In a reference to the British prime minister, Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) described Bergeson as “a calm, cool, Maggie Thatcher. . . . She is qualified for any job in politics.”

In January, Bergeson was faced with her toughest decision yet.

When Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach) announced that he would not seek a seventh term, Bergeson was urged to run for his seat in the 40th Congressional District, one of the wealthiest and most heavily Republican districts in the nation. While most political observers agreed that the seat was Bergeson’s for the asking, she decided to run for reelection to the Senate instead.

Bergeson cited the arduous cross-country commute and the fact that it takes years to build enough seniority to have clout in Congress as her reasons. She said: “I believe I can find greater satisfaction and have a greater impact staying in the Senate.”


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