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ELECTIONS 22ND SENATE DISTRICT : Rosenthal Feels Confident of Reelection Against Graysen

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The last time state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal sweated out an election, he and his wife, Pat, walked 92 precincts, door-to-door.

Rosenthal hasn’t lost any sleep over a campaign challenge in the intervening 16 years.

He won that race in 1974, taking over the 45th District Assembly seat vacated by his old friend Henry Waxman, who went on to Congress and eventual co-billing in the powerful Berman-Waxman political machine.

Eight years later, in 1982, Rosenthal crossed the hall to the state Senate, and the liberal Democrat has controlled the 22nd District--which includes the Westside and the East Valley south of Ventura Boulevard--ever since.

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Rosenthal is being challenged in the primary this year by a candidate who has three generations of ties to the district and fresh public name recognition. William Graysen gained media attention recently as the lawyer who represented Zsa Zsa Gabor in her cop-slapping trial in Beverly Hills. The winner of the primary will face Republican Michael Schrager, a businessman, and Peace and Freedom candidate Margery Hinds, a medical assistant, in the November election.

Still, the 72-year-old Rosenthal isn’t worried that Graysen poses a threat. And his primary campaign--or lack of it--reflects that.

Rosenthal’s hegemony in the district has been so complete that, four years ago, reporters had to call him to see if he could help them track down his elusive Republican opponent in the general election.

To no one’s surprise, Rosenthal trounced his Republican foe, Daniel Ward Sias, 68% to 29%, and marched back to the Senate to continue his career political pursuits involving education, senior citizens’ issues and environmental causes.

In his current term, Rosenthal has served as chairman of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee and chairman of the Joint Committee on Energy Regulation and the Environment. He has sponsored dozens of bills, on such varied issues as elder abuse, coastal preservation and safe playground equipment.

The airline industry has come under his scrutiny for its fares, the telephone companies for their variable pay-phone rates. A pet project for Rosenthal has been his attempt to prohibit fishing for white croaker, which he says are unsafe to eat because they are tainted by polluted water. And not long ago, he attacked Medfly spraying as “idiotic.”

Rosenthal’s message plays well in his district, which includes such liberal strongholds as Beverly Hills, Encino, Santa Monica, Studio City, Westwood and a large chunk of Venice and registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

Those numbers, and Rosenthal’s position as a Democratic Party insider, have let him smile through elections and pass on his campaign contributions to other candidates who need a boost.

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Because recent campaign reforms have banned politicians from transferring contributions to other candidates, Rosenthal is donating the surplus to initiative campaign groups. This year, he has given money to groups opposing a pair of reapportionment plans and the Proposition 112 committee, backing changes in legislative ethics rules instead of spending it fighting Graysen.

“I haven’t spent any money,” Rosenthal said. “I go to all of the homeowners group meetings and chambers of commerce, and I’ve done a couple of newspaper interviews.”

Graysen’s campaign, meanwhile, is also a low-budget affair: total expenses, $498, the cost of the filing fee. His message, delivered to small groups in his neighborhood, is fervent, if quixotic.

“In November, when the Berlin Wall came down, it led me to question, what is the state of democracy in the 22nd District? I’m not in any way comparing West L.A. to East Berlin,” said Graysen. “But I looked at an incumbent who is rarely challenged, a very low voter turnout, and tremendously difficult issues like crime and drugs and pollution and traffic congestion that the Legislature doesn’t seem to be doing anything about.

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“I saw that there were 22 ballot measures, and it looks like people are legislating for themselves. Legislators are taking bribes, soliciting bribes, and seem to be using all their time raising money to get reelected.”

Graysen’s preference is an electoral system that would operate like Costa Rica’s, where candidates run once, for six-year terms, and cannot run for reelection while in office, he said.

“I’d like to see citizen legislators go up to Sacramento for a six-year term. They would not be beholden to anybody because they would not be running for reelection,” Graysen said. Such a system, he passionately believes, would bring to the process new ideas, be they risky or expensive.

Graysen acknowledged that he has no quarrel with most of Rosenthal’s stands on district and statewide issues. They both oppose capital punishment, both support a woman’s unrestricted right to abortion in the first trimester, and both like the so-called “Big Green” initiative for its sweeping environmental reforms.

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“I guess we’re both liberal Democrats from the Westside,” Graysen said.

The big difference, he stressed, is that Rosenthal is a career politician. Graysen said if he were elected--and he admits it is a long shot--he would serve his six years and then return to his Century City law practice.

Of his opponent’s one-term idea, Rosenthal said it would create a system without any institutional memory.

“If you think things are bad now, under that system, the staff and bureaucracy and special interests would run everything, because the people in office wouldn’t know what was going on,” Rosenthal said.

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