ELECTIONS : ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 59 : 2 Candidates on Defensive Over Backers


The top candidates for the 59th District Assembly seat, with seemingly guaranteed-to-win platforms such as better education, less crime and an end to malathion spraying, have found themselves spending more time than they would like in defending their chief supporters.

Two of the five candidates in the Democratic primary Tuesday have drawn fire for the help they are receiving in bids for the Assembly seat vacated by state Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier).

Diane Martinez is backed by her father, Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park). Marta Maestas, 47, is supported by Calderon, her employer.

Two opponents, Xavier Becerra, 32, and Larry Salazar, 33, have said the financial support Calderon and Rep. Martinez have given their candidates is unfair. Bill Hernandez, 41, is also seeking the Assembly seat.


“I’m not only going up against the candidates, but the muscle behind them,” Becerra said. “I’m independent. I can say what I want about an issue without worrying about where my boss or father stands on the issue.”

The insinuations anger Martinez and Maestas, both regarded as front-runners in the race. They said it would be silly to think that Martinez would not support his daughter or that Calderon would not support the aide who represented him in the district for seven years. They also said that while Becerra has criticized them, he has flaunted his support from state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), a former employer.

Both women said voters are savvy enough to choose the candidate that has the best credentials.

“I don’t envision my father calling me up and asking me to vote a certain way,” Martinez said. “We just don’t do what dad says in my family.”

Calderon, who in a special election last April won the Senate seat formerly held by Joseph B. Montoya, is running for a full Senate term, and Martinez is running for reelection to his congressional seat. Both men face no Democratic opposition but are sending out joint mailers with Martinez and Maestas.

The joint mailers have prompted Becerra and Salazar to cry foul.

“I’m disgusted,” Salazar said. “When we elected Congressman Martinez, we wanted him to work for us, not his daughter. The same goes for Calderon.”

Becerra said the joint campaigns circumvent the “spirit” of Proposition 73, which limited contributions and banned transfers of huge sums of money from politicians to aspiring officeholders.

As a result, he said, Martinez and Maestas are able to stretch their funds and “get more bang for the dollar.” That means the other candidates are forced to spend more money to compete, Becerra said.

According to the most recent campaign expenditure statements filed as of May 19 with the county registrar of voters, Becerra had outspent Maestas and Martinez.

Becerra has raised $83,595 and spent $62,218. Maestas has raised $81,620 and spent $45,371, and Martinez has raised $67,245 and spent $46,792, according to the statements. The other candidates had not filed their reports.

Both Maestas and Martinez blame the media and to some extent the other candidates for drawing attention to what they say is a non-issue. As a result, the real bread-and-butter issues of the campaign have been ignored, they said.

Nearly all candidates have been speaking out against malathion spraying, gangs, drugs, the dropout rate and the low level of education in the state.

Maestas advocates early childhood education programs to limit dropouts and apprenticeship programs in which representatives of labor unions would work with students in vocational and technical fields.

Martinez, a member of the Garvey School District board, said she would like to see government bodies get together to address the environmental issues that have plagued Monterey Park. She would also work on a solution to the increased traffic on Alhambra streets caused by the dead-end of the 710 Freeway. She supports vocational training to keep students in school.

Salazar, a marketing consultant, said he would like to take away from city government the power to condemn land for redevelopment. He said he would also like to endorse legislation that would force any vehicle carrying hazardous waste to prominently display what type of chemicals it is transporting.

Becerra said his experience as deputy attorney general would help him fight crime. He also points to his record as a legal advocate for citizens with limited English speaking ability and those who are mentally handicapped as proof that he has the insight and skill to represent the San Gabriel Valley. He supports the death penalty and said that he will introduce laws against drug dealers. He said he also supports limited terms for all elected officials.

Hernandez, a member of the Rio Hondo Community College Board, could not be reached for comment, but his media adviser, Anthony Fellow, said that among Hernandez’s top priorities is improving the education system so that students can compete with other students throughout the world. Hernandez would also like to see stricter laws governing importation of fruits and vegetables from Hawaii as a way to combat the Medfly, Fellow said.

“We all share the same message,” Martinez said. “What differs is our level of experience and commitment to the issues.”

Next Tuesday’s winner will face either Republican candidate Leland Lieberg, the president of a family-owned department store in Alhambra, or Republican Steven Kipp, a father of four, and will face Libertarian candidate Steven Pencall, an engineering technician.

Times staff writer Mark Gladstone contributed to this story.