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Remap Delay Stymies Election Hopefuls : Politics: With census-mandated redistricting headed for the courts, challengers find planning and fund-raising difficult.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The wrangle over reapportionment of congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts has stalled the campaigns of candidates who hope to challenge San Gabriel Valley incumbents next year.

Rio Hondo College Trustee Hilda Solis says she cannot decide whether to run for the Assembly until she finds out which of three potential districts will include her home in El Monte.

John Eastman, the Republican nominee against Rep. Esteban Torres (D-La Puente) last year, has been planning to run against Torres again. But reapportionment may give him an alternative: a new, open San Gabriel Valley congressional seat.

Bonifacio Bonny Garcia, who announced on Sept. 4 that he will run against Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) in the Democratic primary, said his commitment to the race is firm. But he may not be able to vote for himself, because some proposed reapportionment plans would exclude his San Gabriel home from the district.

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Solis, Eastman and Garcia are just three potential challengers whose political careers are on hold until district boundaries are redrawn to reflect the 1990 Census. Redistricting bills passed by the state Legislature were vetoed by the governor last week, putting the reapportionment issue in the hands of the courts.

Meanwhile, potential candidates can only wait.

“Everything is stalled,” said political consultant Harvey Englander, who guided freshman Assemblyman Paul Horcher (R-Diamond Bar) to victory in a wide-open race last year.

Englander said campaigns for next June’s election traditionally begin on Labor Day, but challengers cannot raise much money or line up endorsements until boundaries are settled.

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The delay benefits incumbents, because they begin almost any campaign better known and better financed than their opponents. The shorter the campaign period, the harder it is for challengers to establish themselves.

Solis said she might run against veteran Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park) in the Democratic primary, but first she has to make sure that her home is in Tanner’s district.

Solis said one of the vetoed redistricting plans would have put portions of El Monte in the districts of Assemblymen Xavier Becerra (D-Monterey Park) and Bob Epple (D-Norwalk), even though all of El Monte currently is represented by Tanner.

Solis, who grew up in La Puente, said she would not run against Epple because most of his district is outside her San Gabriel Valley political base, and she would not oppose Becerra, a fellow Latino, since her goal is to increase Latino representation.

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Others are considering running against Tanner but are in the same boat, uncertain whether the district will encompass their homes and areas of political strength, Solis said.

State Assembly and Senate candidates must be registered voters in the districts they wish to represent. There are no residency requirements for Congress, but the uncertainty hampers efforts by congressional challengers to plan campaigns.

Eastman, for example, was planning to run against Torres and in July distributed a newsletter criticizing the incumbent on issues ranging from pornography to taxation.

But there is also a chance that Eastman, who lives in West Covina, could run in a new district. California is gaining seven congressional seats, and the San Gabriel Valley might gain at least a portion of one.

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Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), a member of the Assembly Committee on Reapportionment, said one proposed redistricting plan would give Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne) the option of running in two districts--one largely confined to the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley and another running from the valley eastward into San Bernardino County.

Mountjoy said the proposed foothill district, which is the one Eastman was eyeing, might also be appealing to himself, or to Assemblyman William Lancaster (R-Covina), if Dreier shifts east. If Dreier opts for the San Gabriel Valley, the eastern congressional seat would be an opportunity for Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear).

Eastman said the reapportionment confusion has been a distraction but has not stopped his efforts to build political support. Even though he is unsure where he will be running, Eastman is forming a political organization and raising money.

For donors concerned about district lines, Eastman has suggested that they make three-quarters of their contribution as a loan and he will use the other quarter for current expenses and return the remainder if he does not run.

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Eastman said that if he winds up in a district with Dreier, he would not run. Also, he said, “it’s extremely unlikely I would run against Esteban Torres in a district that is only 25% Republican.”

The 34th Congressional District, which Torres has represented since 1983, currently has a Republican registration of 30%. If the Republican registration is increased by about 5% in the redrawn district, Eastman said he will have a chance of upsetting Torres.

For some potential candidates, the wait is not only for reapportionment lines to be drawn, but for other politicians to make decisions. San Dimas Mayor Terry Dipple, for example, said he is interested, but “I don’t see myself challenging an incumbent.”

As a Republican in a community where all the higher offices are held by the GOP, Dipple, who has been on the San Dimas City Council for 15 years, can only wait his turn. The most likely opportunity for him, Dipple said, is if Leonard gives up his state Senate seat to run for Congress.

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Hacienda La Puente school board member Ken Manning, who lost to Horcher last year in a bitter Republican Assembly primary campaign, said he doubts he will run against Horcher again. But he, too, is waiting to see the district lines.

Manning said it is so difficult to defeat an incumbent that he may wait for the term-limit initiative approved by voters last year to push an incumbent out.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the reapportionment issue, but under the schedule the court has set, it would not rule on the case until January or February.

Mountjoy said he thinks reapportionment is more likely to be decided in the Legislature than in the courts. There is still time for the Legislature to act, the assemblyman said.

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“We’re a ways from the finish line.”

The reapportionment plan approved by the Legislature for the state Senate had strong bipartisan support and one of three alternative congressional plans approved by the Legislature had at least some bipartisan support. But there has been no agreement in Sacramento on Assembly redistricting, prompting Republicans and Gov. Pete Wilson to reject all reapportionment proposals.

Even the Senate redistricting plan has its critics. Leroy Hardy and Alan Heslop, redistricting experts with the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, said in a joint analysis that the plan “forgets that districts are for voters, not for incumbents.”

Mountjoy agreed.

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“The Senate plan was a tremendous incumbent-protection plan,” he said.

Eastman said he hopes redistricting is determined by the courts, not the Legislature, so that challengers like himself have a fair chance. Incumbents are always going to be interested primarily in protecting themselves, he said.

“They have to get this out of the Legislature.”

Dreier said he is one incumbent who does not want a district that is too heavily tilted in his favor. Packing more Republicans into his district, the congressman said, just means that other nearby districts are more heavily Democratic, reducing the chances for Republicans to win there.

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Some may not believe him, Dreier said, but “I want for myself the most competitive district I can get.”

POSSIBLE CANDIDATES

* John Eastman

Has been planning to run against Rep. Esteban Torres (D-La Puente) but reapportionment may give this Republican an alternative: a new, open San Gabriel Valley congressional seat. He is forming a political organization and raising money.

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* Bonifacio Bonny Garcia

Says he has a firm commitment to run against Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) in the Democratic primary. But he may not be able to vote for himself, because some proposed reapportionment plans would exclude his San Gabriel home from the district.

* Hilda Solis

Says she might run against veteran Assemblywoman Sally Tanner (D-Baldwin Park) in the Democratic primary if Solis’ home is in that district. She won’t run against a fellow Latino since her goal is to increase Latino representation, she says.

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