Earth Day may have come and gone, but the environment remains on the political center stage. Just look at the race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor.

State Sens. John Seymour and Marian Bergeson, both from conservative Orange County, are in a struggle over who can appear tougher on pollution.

Seymour this week unveiled a television commercial highlighting his support for the Clean Air Act of 1988, which Bergeson opposed. Bergeson has been running ads describing herself as a “crusader” against air pollution and offshore oil drilling.

But before the campaign began, neither candidate was considered much of an environmentalist. Both have been heavily supported by campaign contributions from land developers and have carried legislation backed by that industry.


Doug Linney, political director for the League of Conservation Voters, said he was “shocked” last year to hear Seymour talking about the environment as an important issue. The league has endorsed Democratic Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy, who is seeking a third term.

“Neither of these candidates has shown much leadership in the past,” Linney said of Seymour and Bergeson. “Seymour has never been good on the environment. Marian at least at times gave us her vote.”

Corey Brown, a lobbyist for the Planning and Conservation League, said the GOP competition demonstrates that Republicans now recognize that environmental protection is a goal shared by voters of both parties. Seymour and Bergeson may be especially sensitive to the environmental issue because of the recent oil spill along the Orange County coast. But Brown said neither candidate in the past has been a reliable ally of the environmental movement.

“Both of them will listen to our arguments, but it’s much tougher to get their votes when there is industry opposition,” Brown said. “Hopefully, their comments reflect a renewed and greater commitment to the environment, and we hope their votes this year will reflect that as well.”

The two candidates have been squabbling for weeks over their votes on two air quality bills.

Bergeson based her “crusader” label on her vote in favor of a 1987 measure giving a Southern California anti-smog agency greater authority to control emissions in the South Coast Air Basin. Seymour voted against the bill the first time it was considered in the Senate. But he voted for the measure after it was weakened by Assembly amendments, which removed provisions opposed by the oil industry, utilities and manufacturers.

Seymour’s first television commercial says that he is the only Republican in the race who voted in favor of the Clean Air Act of 1988. That measure, described by a top Sierra Club official as “the air quality bill of the decade,” required smog control districts statewide to reduce emissions by 5% each year until they reach state standards. The bill also gave districts new powers to regulate vehicle traffic to encourage commuting and mass transit.

Bergeson voted against the bill, one of only four state senators to do so. An aide said she was reflecting local government concerns about how the new rules would be implemented. Earlier this year, Bergeson signed a letter to the state’s congressional delegation that described the bill she opposed as “the most far-reaching and comprehensive air quality program in the nation.”

She has opposed offshore oil drilling and was a central player in the fight to preserve and restore the wetlands around Upper Newport Bay in Orange County. But Bergeson also has supported efforts to limit the fees that real estate developers must pay to finance public works for their communities. And she authored a bill that would have created a “private city” run by a builder as the first stage in developing the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach.

“Her record in the environmental area is very sound,” said Eric Rose, Bergeson’s campaign coordinator. “Some environmental groups might not be content because she does not vote 100% the way they want her to. But we think she has a darn good record.”

Seymour, a landlord who became a millionaire in the real estate business, has carried legislation that would have penalized cities that adopted plans to limit growth. He also was the author of legislation allowing the construction of new toll roads in Orange County that were sought by land developers eager to build on vast tracts of open land not now served by major roads. He did not oppose offshore oil drilling until after the Alaska oil spill last year.

“I think John has evolved over time,” said Donna Kingwell, his legislative assistant, who pointed out that he voted for bills to monitor acid rain and ban the chemicals used in aerosol spray cans, and he carried legislation that would have required the state to purchase recycled oil. “If you’re not flexible enough to recognize people’s changing attitudes and change your opinions on certain things, then you’re not representing them very well.”

But John White, who lobbies legislators on air quality issues for the Sierra Club, said it was “ironic” that Seymour and Bergeson are trying to use their records on air pollution to demonstrate their environmental credentials. He said both senators have a way to go before they are considered environmentalists.


The race: Lieutenant Governor. Whose ad?: Republican candidate John Seymour, a state senator from Anaheim.

Seymour’s 30-second commercial began airing Tuesday in Los Angeles, Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, Salinas and Redding. The campaign has bought television time worth $220,000 this week and hopes to match that each week until the June 5 election.

Seymour is running against state Sen. Marian Bergeson. The winner of the primary will face

Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy in the general


Elements of the ad, with an analysis by Times staff writer Daniel M. Weintraub:

Ad: “There are two Republicans running for lieutenant governor this year. Only one is co-chairman of the Night Stalker speedy trial initiative to help crime victims.”

Analysis: Seymour is co-chairman of the campaign in favor of Proposition 115, which seeks to strengthen the death penalty law and streamline the criminal justice system by allowing defendants no more rights in California courts than they would be afforded under the U.S. Constitution. Bergeson also is a strong supporter of the measure. Both candidates have voted consistently for law-and-order legislation.

Ad: “Only one of them voted ‘yes’ on California’s Clean Air Act of 1988.”

Analysis: Neither candidate is a favorite of the environmental movement, but Seymour voted for the legislation and Bergeson voted against it. Bergeson said she opposed the bill because of local government concerns about how the new program would be implemented.

Ad: “Only one of them supports a two-term limit for elected officials.”

Analysis: Seymour endorsed a proposed initiative sponsored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum that would limit statewide officers and state senators to two four-year terms and state assembly members to three two-year terms. But in an interview, Seymour would not commit himself to leaving the Senate after his second full term if he is not elected lieutenant governor. Bergeson opposes term limits.

Ad: “Only one is pro-choice.”

Analysis: Seymour, after a lifetime opposing abortion, changed his position last year and now supports abortion rights. He said he reconsidered the issue after the U.S. Supreme Court gave states new powers to regulate abortion. Bergeson opposes abortion and charges that Seymour’s switch was a “flip-flop” designed to capitalize on renewed support for abortion rights among voters.