GOP Officials Maneuver to Exploit Deukmejian Void

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Gov. George Deukmejian’s decision to retire from politics in 1990 portends a dramatic shake-up in the executive branch of state government, and several Orange County Republicans are positioning themselves early to take advantage of the upheaval.

State Sens. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), John Seymour (R-Anaheim) and Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) are all talking about running for governor or another top state post. Former Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach) is considered gubernatorial material but may run instead for attorney general. Even Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) might join the fray.

For now, however, the county contingent is waiting to see what U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson will do. Wilson, a Republican and California’s junior senator, is reportedly leaning toward running for the governor, a job he coveted when he was mayor of San Diego. If he runs, most other Republicans would be expected to step aside.

But if Wilson stays in the Senate, and if a celebrity candidate such as Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth of Laguna Beach does not emerge, the field would apparently be open to politicians without statewide name identification and constituencies.


At that point, many believe the gaggle of upwardly mobile Orange County legislators would be well positioned. With the county’s huge and growing base of Republican votes, any county candidate who could command a majority of home-county constituents would have a leg up on candidates from other parts of the state.

If Wilson does decide to run, however, there are other ways to take advantage of that strong base.

“I’m taking a look at running for lieutenant governor with the idea that Sen. Wilson is going to run for governor,” Bergeson said. “If he decides not to run, then anything goes. I think it’s going to be a real scramble, and everyone needs to evaluate who is going to be the most likely candidate to take the general election.”

Bergeson, who served three terms in the Assembly before becoming one of the first two Republican women elected to the state Senate, said “all of us would hope” that either Wilson or Ueberroth will occupy the top spot on the ticket.

“But if they don’t, then at that point I think everyone will sort of be at the same level,” she said.

Seymour, a former mayor of Anaheim, also said he would defer to Wilson and probably to Ueberroth. And though Seymour said he now believes Wilson is leaning toward running, he pointed out, perhaps wistfully, that there are disadvantages for the two-term senator in leaving Washington.

“He would have to give up a lot of what he wants and enjoys,” said Seymour, who was statewide chairman of Wilson’s 1988 reelection campaign. “He is gaining in seniority; he has a tremendous interest in foreign policy and the armed services, and he and Gayle (the senator’s wife) have settled into the Washington life style very well. There are a lot of positives to remaining in the Senate.”

If Wilson decides not to run, Seymour said, he will begin raising campaign money in hope of accumulating about $500,000 by May or June. Seymour said he expects a contested primary campaign for governor to cost $2 million to $5 million.

Only Campbell, who represents a stretch of the county that reaches from Brea to Laguna Niguel, has said he would consider challenging Wilson in the party primary, an effort that most political oddsmakers would rate a long shot at best.

“If I decide to run, it won’t matter to me who else gets in,” said Campbell, who was his party’s nominee for state controller in 1986 but lost in the general election to then-Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles).

Like Seymour, Campbell was quick to note the disadvantages of a Wilson candidacy. He compared the possibility to what happened in 1958, when Sen. William F. Knowland and Gov. Goodwin J. Knight, both Republicans, tried to switch jobs.

“Not only did we lose the the governor’s office, but we lost the Senate seat and both houses of the Legislature, and we haven’t been able to get them back since,” Campbell said. “The people of the state think you’re playing too many games if you try to keep moving from office to office. There develops among the electorate a feeling that people are getting too cute.”

Campbell said others urging Wilson to run have blinded themselves to the possibility that he might lose.

Wilson’s ‘Strong Negative’

“I think there’s a strong negative to his running that most people aren’t realistic enough to look at today,” he said.

Campbell met with 20 to 30 supporters in Los Angeles Tuesday and may announce his intentions as soon as this week. He has repaid about 75% of his $400,000 debt from the controller’s race.

A rotund man, Campbell said he is prepared to lose some weight to improve his appearance. “But if I get the vote of every Californian who is a little overweight, I’ll win overwhelmingly,” he said, smiling.

Lungren, whose congressional district extended into northwest Orange County, is practicing law in Sacramento. Lungren was Deukmejian’s first choice to replace the late Jess M. Unruh as treasurer but was rejected by the state Senate. He said he is in no hurry to announce his plans for 1990.

Lungren points out that former Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos was one of the last candidates to enter the 1986 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, and he won the nomination. Former Sen. S.I. Hayakawa, also a Republican, “didn’t have the money and didn’t have the organization” in 1976, Lungren said. “He just had more votes.

“One thing that proves constant is that the law of percentages is broken, and conventional wisdom is exploded,” he said.

Although the primary election is still 16 months away, many California politicians feel a sense of urgency because Proposition 73, approved by the voters in June, for the first time limits political contributions to candidates for state office. The initiative caps donations at $1,000 from individuals and businesses, and $5,000 from political action committees during each fiscal year, so candidates will have an advantage if they can complete a round of fund raising before the current fiscal year ends June 30.

But Lungren, who raised money for congressional races with a $1,000 contribution limit under federal election law, isn’t worried.

Lungren’s ‘Different Timetable’

“Others are making early decisions, and I’m not,” Lungren said. “I have a different timetable.” He declined to disclose what that timetable is.

Ferguson of Newport Beach probably has too low a profile as an assemblyman to run for governor. But some think the maverick Ferguson might challenge newly appointed Treasurer Thomas Hayes, who was never registered in a political party until Deukmejian tapped him to replace Unruh. Ferguson will not say which posts he is considering.

“Like a lot of other folks, I’m analyzing the situation,” Ferguson said. “I’m looking to see what kind of strengths we’d have, what kind of support. I haven’t anywhere near made up my mind to run or not to run.”

Ferguson noted that his years as director of Californians for Environment, Employment, Economy & Development--a pro-growth coalition--gave him a network of supporters in business and labor who might be counted on to help him run statewide.

Anti-Hayden Bid Remembered

His well-publicized effort in 1985 to oust Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) because of Hayden’s work as a Vietnam War protester did not hurt his standing with conservatives. A 1988 crusade against pornography also raised Ferguson’s visibility.

“I’m looking to see if that’s enough to really run a good campaign,” said Ferguson, who--unlike Campbell, Seymour and Bergeson--is up for reelection in 1990 and would have to forfeit his seat to run for higher office. “If I couldn’t run a good campaign, I wouldn’t do it.”

Any GOP candidate from Orange County starts with a huge base of potential support from among the county’s 650,000 Republicans. If 60% of those voters went to the polls, they would provide about one-third to one-half of the votes needed to win a statewide Republican primary.

“In the Republican primary, you could put together a three- or four-county strategy,” said Martin R. Wilson, a Sacramento lobbyist and former aide to Seymour and Sen. Wilson, to whom he is not related.

GOP 4-County Strategy

“You could put Orange County together with suburban Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino and be a pretty strong candidate,” he said.

Bruce Nestande, a former assemblyman and county supervisor who was the Republican nominee for secretary of state in 1986, said it is “not surprising” that so many county politicians are considering state office.

“Orange County, more so as time goes on, is becoming a tremendous political base for Republicans,” Nestande said. “Now that Orange County is becoming more populous, I would expect to see a significant number of statewide office holders coming out of here.”

Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said the county’s Republican politicians have been a “well-kept secret” because Los Angeles-based TV stations and newspapers have failed to pay them sufficient attention.

“What these candidates offer is a clearly conservative choice, in contrast to the liberal offerings from the Democrats, a true conservative choice that might not be so articulately enunciated by more moderate Republicans from other parts of the state,” Fuentes said.

County’s Fund-Raising Base

Another advantage in coming from Orange County is the big fund-raising base the county offers. Campbell, Seymour, Bergeson and Ferguson are some of their party’s most successful money-raisers.

Until Proposition 73 outlawed the practice, county lawmakers were also among the most generous in transferring their political money to the party’s other candidates.

“There’s probably $1 million you could raise in Orange County alone,” Martin Wilson said.