Sens. Bergeson, Seymour : O.C. Republican Faithful Face Hard Lt. Gov. Choice

Times Staff Writers

State Sen. Marian Bergeson’s expected entry this week into the Republican primary for lieutenant governor--a seat already being sought by fellow Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim--would pit two of Orange County’s most respected and well-liked legislators against each other.

It is enough, as one county politico said, “to cause a lot of heartburn” among potential supporters who are likely to be tapped by both of them for financial and political assistance.

“Marian and John both are close friends and two very effective legislators. It would be nice if they were running for two different positions instead of for the same seat,” said another GOP leader, Gus Owen. Owen, who is president of the Lincoln Club, a prestigious GOP support group, predicted that the two candidacies would be “a financial drain on the county.”


Also considering a run in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor is a third Orange County senator, William Campbell of Hacienda Heights.

“It certainly is unusual to have so many candidates who would be considered for a statewide post who all happen to be within 20 miles of each other in the same county,” said Republican Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, whose Newport Beach district lies within Bergeson’s Senate district.

Whoever wins the GOP primary will go up against incumbent Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy--a formidable opponent. McCarthy’s running mate will be the winner of what is expected to be a bruising Democratic primary for governor.

Despite the odds, however, Republicans are being drawn to the race by the prospect of having U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson as their running mate. Wilson, the former mayor of San Diego, has all but cleared the GOP primary field by announcing that he will run for the spot being vacated by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian.

Even Democrats concede that Wilson will be tough to beat in the general election. Against Democrats, the independent California Poll said Wilson was favored 49% to 39% over former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein; 46% to 38% over Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, and 51% to 29% over Controller Gray Davis.

Bergeson, 61, is expected to make a formal announcement this week, 2 months after that of Seymour, 51. This has given Seymour precious time in which to line up contributions and local endorsements. Last week, Seymour released a list of more than 80 city council and school board members from 25 Orange County cities who have endorsed him.


Some Hold Out

Still others, however, have held out to see if Bergeson would enter the race. One of them, Newport Beach City Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart, said last week, “My first loyalties are to her.”

If both stay in the race, Bergeson and Seymour face the prospect of splitting Orange County’s Republicans, a rich mine of votes and contributions that could provide the solid home base each would need to carry off a statewide victory.

At this early date, the county’s political contributors are more important than its votes. Seymour and Bergeson are in a race to raise cash that they can use later to buy television time throughout the state. Without television commercials, the candidates have little hope of spreading their message beyond their current constituents in Orange County.

“The question is: Which one can put their records and their survey data in front of potential contributors and say, ‘I can translate Orange County support into victory in June and a general election victory over Leo McCarthy,’ ” said GOP political consultant Carlos Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said he has done “a lot of survey work” locally and has concluded that “Marian Bergeson is gold in Orange County.”

Popular, Well Perceived

“She is a popular, well-perceived elected official. The question is whether she can translate that into a launching pad for her statewide campaign.


Bergeson is a tenacious legislator who has worked her way up the political ranks from being a Newport-Mesa Unified School District member to president of the state School Boards Assn. to the Assembly. She was elected to the Assembly on her second try in 1978, then was elected to the state Senate in 1984.

Seymour once called Bergeson “the Margaret Thatcher of the California State Senate.”

“Marian is no pussycat, I’ll tell you,” said GOP political consultant Dave Ellis, who recalled several occasions when Bergeson stood up to the powers that be, such as when she successfully challenged the chosen Republican Party candidate for Assembly and refused to add Speaker Willie Brown’s minority-hiring amendments to a transportation bill.

“She’s a tough lady wrapped in a St. John’s knit,” Ellis said.

Privately, Orange County Republicans are assessing Seymour and Bergeson’s strengths and weaknesses for a statewide contest: Seymour is seen as someone who can more easily raise money outside Orange County but who lacks Bergeson’s polish. Bergeson is viewed as an attractive, articulate candidate whose gender could work in her favor with voters but who will have greater problems than Seymour raising the money she will need for the race.

May Best Person Win

But publicly, most people praise both legislators and take a position that can best be described as “may the best person win.” Many of their potential supporters will find an easy way out of the dilemma: they will support both of them.

“It’s not like you’re giving to people who are philosophical extremes,” said Larry Thomas, who is vice president of corporate communications for the Irvine Co.

Since 1985, the Irvine Co. has contributed $12,500 to Seymour and $28,200 to Bergeson, according to Legitech, a private service that tracks contributions to legislators.


For the moment, at least, the candidates are philosophical about the ambivalence of supporters.

“Can I live with Orange County contributors and supporters giving to both of us? Absolutely yes,” Seymour said. “What I could not live with is Orange County contributors and supporters giving to Marian and not giving to me.”

Both Bergeson, who is chairwoman of the Senate Local Government Committee, and Seymour, former president of the California Assn. of Realtors, depend on the real estate, development and related industries for a large share of their contributions--more than 35% in each case. The developers will probably be the first targets of the Seymour and Bergeson fund-raising operations.

Seymour has said he expects that by June 30 he will have raised at least $250,000--a substantial amount, but a drop in the bucket contrasted with what will be needed for the campaign. The primary, by some estimates, will cost each contender more than $2 million.

Of the two, Seymour has had more experience as a political fund-raiser. As chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus from 1983 until 1987, he raised more than $1 million for his GOP colleagues. Those who know him well say that Seymour has no compunction about calling potential contributors and reminding them, sometimes quite pointedly, that they have yet to donate to his campaign.

Seymour also was chairman of Sen. Wilson’s executive steering committee in his 1988 reelection campaign, a job that required Seymour to raise money throughout the state. He also was one of only three elected officeholders in the state--the other two were Deukmejian and Los Angeles Supervisor Pete Schabarum--who contributed $100,000 from campaign funds to become a member of the so-called “Team 100” who supported President Bush’s election effort last fall. That put Seymour in league with the big guns of fund-raising in the state.


“In terms of putting together a statewide financial operation where you need to broaden your base and get to know the major financial players, he has had a lot of exposure to them in a lot of contexts,” one GOP activist said of Seymour.

Tapping Wide Network

In addition, as a former president of the California Assn. of Realtors, Seymour may be able to tap the group’s 125,000 members for contributions--a wide network that is much valued since the passage of Proposition 73 last fall. Under the proposition’s new limitations, individual and corporate contributions are limited to $1,000 per year. Groups can give $2,500 or $5,000 if they are well established and “broad-based.”

Of the realtors’ group, one Republican activist said, “John has a sleeping giant in his corner. If he is able to marshal those resources and invigorate that base, he is going to be really tough.” (Like many who were interviewed, the activist did not want to be publicly identified as contrasting Seymour with Bergeson.)

Seymour himself is unabashed about his fund-raising capabilities.

“How do I distinguish myself at this time from Marian Bergeson?” he asked. “It’s pretty simple. I have been going around the state picking up pockets of commitment in every fund-raising area of the state.” He said he has 10 scheduled fund-raisers between now and July 1 and may add five more before that date.

Bergeson, while effective in her own way, is seen as less aggressive than Seymour. But she said she is confident that when she needs the money, it will be there.

“I think I can network statewide,” Bergeson said. As chairman of the Select Committee for Planning for California’s Growth, she said, she has been traveling around the state talking with groups about the environment, transportation and other issues.


Bergeson, who is a Mormon, may also be able to draw on support from the Mormon community for her race, much as Deukmejian called on the Armenian community for his campaigns, another political observer said.

In the 1987-88 election cycle, when neither senator faced serious competition for reelection, Seymour raised about $640,000--half again as much as Bergeson, who collected just over $400,000.

Smaller Contributions

The two lawmakers’ campaign disclosure statements show that Bergeson raised more of her money in smaller, individual contributions from sources within Orange County. Seymour’s funds tended to come in larger amounts from institutional givers--corporations and political action committees--and he raised more money outside Orange County than did Bergeson.

Kenneth L. Khachigian of San Clemente, a speech writer for former President Reagan and close adviser to Gov. George Deukmejian, said both Bergeson and Seymour have been “basically friendly voices” in the Legislature for business issues.

“As a result, that’s probably going to cause a lot of heartburn within the business community, which feels both of them have been very supportive of issues such as education and transportation,” Khachigian said.

Although they share similar political philosophies, the legislative styles of Bergeson and Seymour could not be much more different.


In the Legislature, Bergeson is a plodder. She takes an issue and works at it for years, building a consensus, compromising, negotiating. She uses finesse, quietly working the back rooms and the hallways, to bring colleagues around to her point of view.

These tactics helped Bergeson win $5 million in state funds over several years for the restoration of upper Newport Bay. The same approach helped her obtain legal relief for beachfront cities burdened with lawsuits from accidents on public property.

Care for Pregnant Women

And last year, Bergeson brokered a deal to provide $46 million a year in added care for pregnant mothers too poor to afford essential prenatal services, but too well off to qualify for aid through Medi-Cal.

Seymour, by contrast, has a flair for the dramatic. He prowls for hot issues and seizes them whenever he can. He calls this “catching a wave.” When he runs into an obstacle, Seymour is not above raising his voice and questioning the motives of any legislator who stands in his way. Several times a year, he finds himself in loud confrontations with colleagues at committee hearings.

While Seymour’s approach carries risks, it also can yield quick results. In 1987, he pushed through legislation giving Orange County the right to build toll roads after several other lawmakers had tried and failed to advance the same issue over the years.

Last year, Seymour jumped into the controversy over car-pool lanes on the Costa Mesa Freeway. His action helped force the California Department of Transportation to modify the lane and led to the passage of a bill establishing new safety standards for such lanes throughout the state.


Seymour also carried legislation that rescued the state’s special education program from demise after Democrats tried to condition its future funding on the state’s continued involvement in bilingual education.

As for Sen. Campbell, many still expect him to enter this fray. He has run for statewide office before, winning the GOP nomination for controller in 1986 but losing the general election race to Gray Davis after spending $2.5 million. He has raised more money than either Seymour or Bergeson in recent years, although much of it has come in large blocks that are no longer legal under new campaign financing laws.

Still Paying Off Debt

In an interview, Campbell, who is still paying off his 1986 campaign debt, said he is still considering a run for lieutenant governor but “has no idea” when he might make a decision.

“People couldn’t care less now about who’s doing what politically,” Campbell said. “They just want us to solve some problems here in Sacramento and wait until next year to talk about the elections.”

Bergeson and Seymour, despite their Orange County roots, both represent the moderate wing of the Republican Party. For that reason, their entry into the race may not sit well with the party’s more conservative elements.

Former state Sen. H.L. Richardson, a feisty right-winger known mainly for his adamant opposition to gun control, pronounced his two former colleagues “lightweights” who have rarely carried any substantive legislation “that the left didn’t like.”


Richardson, who owns his own direct-mail campaign firm and is considered an expert at targeting voters, predicted that Lt. Gov. McCarthy would have an easy time with either Seymour or Bergeson. Both, he said, wrongly believe that they can pick up Democratic votes by moving closer to the political center rather than staking out a clearly conservative position.

He cited their recent votes in favor of a bill to ban certain semiautomatic rifles, dubbed “assault weapons” by their detractors. By voting for that legislation, Bergeson and Seymour “wrote off” a huge segment of conservative Democrats, Richardson said.

But Edward R. Royce of Anaheim, considered the most conservative of the five senators who represent parts of Orange County, said of Seymour and Bergeson:

“These two are in the mainstream of the Republican Party and lean to the conservative side on most issues. Either of them would have appeal not only to Republican voters, but to voters statewide.”