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Despite Inquiry, Wright Appears Difficult to Beat

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Despite the Ventura County district attorney’s well-publicized criticism of Assemblywoman Cathie Wright’s actions involving traffic tickets that she and her daughter received, the Simi Valley Republican appears to remain a formidable candidate for reelection in 1990.

Asked Thursday whether she still planned to seek a sixth two-year term, Wright replied, “Of course, why not?” as she left the Assembly floor.

Renowned as a determined political street fighter, Wright appears to be headed for her first serious primary challenge since she won the seat in 1980. Political professionals say she remains favored, despite any damage inflicted by Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury’s 97-page investigatory report.

“It’s a safe Republican seat,” said one prominent political consultant who asked not to be named. “It’s extraordinarily difficult to defeat a Republican in a primary. Most people don’t like to contribute financially against an incumbent.”

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It will be particularly time-consuming and costly for a challenger to become known in Wright’s heavily Republican 37th District, which extends from Lompoc in Santa Barbara County through Simi Valley in Ventura County and to the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys in Los Angeles County.

Another possible handicap for challengers is Proposition 73, the campaign reform act that limits contributions in state and local races to $1,000 from individuals and $2,500 from political action committees each fiscal year. Incumbents start with a broader base of special interest contributors who can give them $2,500 annually, and they have already been raising money during the present fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Nevertheless, Bradbury’s probe has given opponents considerable ammunition. The district attorney culminated a 10-week investigation by asserting that Wright had “demonstrated a clear pattern of attempting to obtain special treatment for herself and her daughter with the police, the courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles” over a 10-year period but had committed “no clear-cut criminal violation.”

Victoria Wright, 24, who lives with her mother, has received 28 traffic convictions since 1981. After Bradbury opened his inquiry in March, Victoria Wright’s license was revoked and she spent 20 days in the Ventura County Work Furlough Program for violating probation with a traffic offense.

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Cathie Wright, 59, responded this week by charging that Bradbury was politically motivated and had misused public funds because his inquiry failed to charge her with breaking any laws. She called the report “shameful,” but has declined to discuss its accuracy or impact. She did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment on these matters.

Both of Wright’s potential Republican primary opponents said they were encouraged by Bradbury’s findings even though the district attorney did not seek an indictment.

Bob Larkin, a Republican activist and businessman from Simi Valley who has declared his candidacy, said: “It just reaffirms my resolve to run for the office” and make ethics the cornerstone of his campaign. He vows to focus on Wright’s relationship with Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

Patronage Charged

“It starts with Willie Brown and the Legislature,” said Larkin, 52. “He brought patronage and the profit motive to California politics and with Cathie associating herself so closely with him, I think it’s rubbed off.”

Wright’s relationship with Brown has sparked controversy among Republicans in the Assembly. She refused to join her GOP colleagues, abstaining when they voted for another Democrat to replace Brown as speaker in December. A subsequent Republican bid to punish her by removing her from the Assembly Rules Committee failed when Brown and the Democrats refused to go along. The Speaker, in turn, awarded Wright unusually choice committee assignments.

Brown also recommended an attorney to Wright to represent her daughter when she faced a possible jail term for driving without a license last year. Then, according to Bradbury’s report, Brown called Ventura County Municipal Judge Herbert Curtis III on March 28, 1988, from Washington, identified himself as a close friend of Cathie Wright’s and told Curtis that Victoria Wright did not deserve to go to jail.

Brown blasted Bradbury as irresponsible for failing to take legal action but then using the inquiry “as a tool for the purposes of condemning other people.”

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Decision Expected

Hunt Braly, 34, the longtime administrative assistant to state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), said that as a result of Bradbury’s report, “I am closer today to running than ever before but have made no final decision.” He said he expects to do so within a month.

A contest between Wright and Braly “is going to be nasty,” said a Davis supporter, who predicted that Braly will run. “It’s not going to be a pretty sight.”

Braly, an attorney who lives outside the district in Woodland Hills but is buying a condominium in Valencia, said his campaign would have three major issues.

“The No. 1 issue is the Willie Brown connection. You can’t play bosom pals in Sacramento and then come down to the district and say how bad he is. That’s hypocritical,” Braly said.

“Point No. 2 is the ethics of the whole driving situation. Just because someone isn’t indicted does not mean they are cleared. There’s no question there’s impropriety and there seems to be no sense with Cathie she did anything wrong.”

The third point, he said, “is whether Cathie has been a true leader for the district on transportation, school facility issues and park/open-space issues.”

Staff Writer Mark Gladstone in Sacramento contributed to this story.

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