Seeking to deflect potentially wounding charges that she tried to fix her daughter's traffic tickets, Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) has mailed brochures to local Republicans attacking her GOP primary opponent, Hunt Braly, for "shamelessly exploiting a sad family tragedy."
But Wright's pamphlets, mailed this week to more than 40,000 Republicans in the 37th Assembly District, refrain from any direct mention of the tickets or Wright's efforts on behalf of her daughter, who faced jail or loss of her license after accumulating 28 citations--24 for speeding--since 1981.
The brochures mark the conservative assemblywoman's first public response to Braly's repeated charges that she misused her official position by intervening with police, judges and state motor vehicle officials in an effort to help her daughter, Victoria.
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury concluded last year after a 10-week investigation that Wright engaged in a "clear pattern of attempting to obtain special treatment" for her daughter and herself from law enforcement officials. He said, however, that Wright committed no prosecutable offenses.
In her brochure, Wright, who is facing her toughest primary fight since her 1980 election, attempts to portray the intervention as a private family matter.
"Politician Braly has shamelessly exploited a sad family tragedy to satisfy his own selfish, insensitive political ambitions," the brochure states. "Abandoning any regard for the hurt he causes, he has pressed his sensationalist crusade to invade our Assemblywoman's family privacy."
Braly said he has "all the sympathy in the world" for Wright's family troubles, but they aren't the issue.
"The issue is that Cathie Wright doesn't think there's anything wrong with going to the home of a judge on a pending legal matter with the other side not present," he said. "That is wrong, unethical and improper and her failure to understand that is a legitimate campaign issue."
Wright has said that her actions on behalf of her daughter were not unethical because she gained nothing material from them.
The five-term assemblywoman's mailer follows two recent brochures by Braly challenging Wright's ethics. In one, Braly quoted a poll of members of the Legislature, their staffs, capital reporters and lobbyists conducted by California Journal, a magazine that reports on state government. The poll ranked her 73rd among 79 Assembly members in terms of integrity and 75th in overall ability.
Wright characterized Braly's mailer as a "new low for decency" and accused Braly of being "opportunistic, exploitive and contemptuous toward normal standards of decency and the truth."
She also charged that Braly, 35, engaged in a series of unethical actions, including violation of a campaign promise to take a leave of absence from his $52,848-a-year job as top aide to state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita) during his campaign.
"But after many months as a political candidate, Braly didn't take a leave of absence until April 15," the brochure contends. "Before then, he still drew a taxpayer-paid payroll check."
Braly responded that he went on leave March 5 when he officially declared himself a candidate. He took six weeks of paid vacation after that and has since gone off the state payroll, a spokesman said.
Wright, 61, also said Braly "wants you to believe that he is a longtime resident" of the 37th Assembly District--which includes portions of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties--although he moved into it "only months ago." Wright's brochure said he lives in a Santa Clarita condominium owned by a "tax-dodging investment firm."
Asked to elaborate, Wright campaign manager Mark Thompson said the firm is a corporation owned jointly by Braly, his brother and sister. Thompson said the arrangement results in lower taxes for Hunt Braly, a lawyer, because he can write off professional services such as legal fees to the corporation.
But Braly said that the firm is a general partnership and that he still pays full property and other taxes on the condominium, which he moved into last May. He said he performs no professional services for the partnership, and its tax returns are prepared by an outside accountant.