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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS 72ND ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : Primary Battle Proves Divisive for Democrats

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Ever since the Democrats narrowly lost the Assembly race in the 72nd District to Republican Curt Pringle almost two years ago, they have been thirsting for a rematch this year.

The Democrats figured that freshman Assemblyman Pringle--wounded by an Election Day scandal in 1988 involving the hiring of security guards at polling places--would still be vulnerable in the only Orange County Assembly District with a Democratic majority.

The race for Pringle’s seat in the general election next November could still be a close one, but Democratic Party leaders have had their biggest fears come true in a bloody and divisive primary battle between the two Democratic candidates that has split the party in half.

Candidate Jerry Yudelson has campaigned as the champion of common folk, suspicious if not resentful of government, wealth and power. Under that banner, he has attacked most of the party’s major leaders in Sacramento and Orange County, solidifying their support behind his opponent, Tom Umberg.

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The schism has become so serious that some Democratic leaders have said they would have trouble supporting Yudelson if he won Tuesday’s primary against Umberg.

Yudelson recently mailed a campaign brochure that called Umberg a “yuppie lawyer from Irvine.” It prompted Umberg to respond that Yudelson was a “compulsive liar.”

“The only person happy about all of this is Pringle,” said John Hanna, former chairman of the county Democratic Party and an Umberg supporter.

The 72nd Assembly District includes parts of Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster, Stanton and Anaheim. It has a Democratic edge in registration of 53% to 38%, but it has been represented by a Republican since 1986. Pringle is running unopposed in Tuesday’s election.

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Umberg has made his major campaign pitch on his credentials as a crime fighter, the issue he believes to be the most important in the district. He is a former assistant U.S. attorney in Santa Ana and he has served in Italy and Korea as an officer in the U.S. Army.

His campaign has been endorsed by seven law enforcement organizations from throughout the state, including the Marshals Assn. of California; the California State Police Assn.; the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California and the Westminster Police Officers Assn.

Umberg said of the endorsements: “I think crime is the greatest concern of the people who live in the district, and the fact that those who dedicate their lives to combat crime think I would do the best in the Legislature is tremendously important.”

Yudelson, meanwhile, has highlighted his activism in the community on several issues. He marched with angry mobile home owners who were upset about control of their property; he filed a complaint with the state that prompted a local public hearing on the safety of malathion spraying, and he persuaded a San Diego congressman to call for a hearing into the use of the guards at polling places in the last Assembly election in 1988.

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Pringle’s campaign organization and the county Republican Party contributed to a $400,000 out-of-court settlement in that case after a suit was brought by Latino voters who charged that they were intimidated by the uniformed guards. A criminal investigation conducted by county and federal authorities is still under way.

72ND ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

Curt Pringle

Party: Republican

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Age: 30

Home: Garden Grove

Occupation: incumbent

Background: Commercial sales manager for Pringle’s Draperies, a manufacturer; ran for Garden Grove City Council in 1980, 1982, 1984.

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Issues: Opposes abortion-rights laws; favors the death penalty; opposes Proposition 111, the 9-cent gas tax to pay for transportation improvements on the June ballot; opposes a tax increase to pay for the state deficit; supports a ban on aerial spraying of malathion.

Thomas J. Umberg

Party: Democratic

Age: 34

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Home: Garden Grove

Occupation: Former federal prosecutor

Background: Resigned from the U.S. attorney’s office in Santa Ana in March to run for Assembly after two years as a prosecutor; served in the U.S. Army in Korea and Europe; promoted to major in the Army Reserve in 1988.

Issues: Supports abortion rights and public funding for low-income women seeking abortions; supports the death penalty; opposes a tax increase to pay for state deficit; has no position on Proposition 111; supports the so-called Big Green initiative, a sweeping environmental measure proposed for the November ballot; supports a ban on aerial spraying of malathion.

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Jerry M. Yudelson

Party: Democratic

Age: 46

Home: Garden Grove

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Occupation: Marketing manager for solar electronic products

Background: Previously owner of Yudelson Associates, marketing-consultant business for alternative energy products; appointed in 1978 by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. to direct California Solar Business Office; 1988 Democratic nominee against Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).

Issues: Supports abortion rights and public funding for low-income women seeking abortions; favors the death penalty; supports Proposition 111; supports the Big Green initiative; opposes a tax increase to pay for state deficit; supports a ban on aerial spraying of malathion.


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