They may have less drama and receive even less attention, but campaigns are in full swing in three of the quieter Southeast-area Assembly races. In the 54th Assembly district, which hugs the Long Beach coast and encompasses Ranchos Palos Verdes in the west and Lakewood in the east, Assemblyman Gerald Felando is busy acquainting himself with new voters inherited through redistricting.
Farther north, into Bellflower, Cerritos and Downey, two Republicans--a real estate broker and a former city councilman--are duking it out in the 56th Assembly district, while incumbent Assemblyman Bob Epple, a Democrat with no opposition, watches warily.
And in the 60th Assembly district, which includes La Habra Heights, La Mirada and eastern Whittier, as well as several San Gabriel Valley cities, Republican Assemblyman Paul Horcher and Diamond Bar City Councilwoman Phyllis Papen are embroiled in a bitter name-calling campaign.
60th Assembly District
Of the three, the Horcher-Papen race has generated the most controversy and ill will as the pair take their battle to the airwaves. On cable television commercials, a Horcher ad shows an unflattering picture of Papen popping out of a garbage can. A Papen ad compares Horcher to a dog rolling over, a trained seal and a school of fish in a feeding frenzy.
Horcher, a 40-year-old attorney, said Papen, a 47-year-old real estate agent, has been trying to get even ever since he defeated her in a Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council election 10 years ago. Nonsense, said Papen, "I don't hold a grudge."
Papen and Horcher have been political enemies almost from the day they were elected to Diamond Bar's first City Council in 1989.
Papen said Horcher is constantly backtracking and changing positions because he is "unprincipled and without a philosophy of government. . . . I've known the man for 10 years. My experience is that he votes based on the barometer or applause meter. He counts the number of spotted owls and loggers in the audience."
For example, she said, he provided the decisive vote in the state Assembly for Gov. Pete Wilson's budget last year, but contends he is not responsible for the tax increases needed to support the budget since he didn't vote for the individual levies.
Horcher, one of nine Republicans who voted for the budget, said he supported it in hopes the governor would use his line-item veto to reduce expenditures. "I helped him on the cuts, not the taxes," said Horcher, who is being backed by Wilson.
Papen has failed to gain support from conservative Republicans at odds with the governor. She attributed the lack of support to her abortion rights stance.
But Republican sources, also pointing out that Horcher supports abortion rights for women, said Papen has failed to persuade them that she could beat Horcher, given his status as an incumbent, and the strong support from the governor.
Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Stan Caress, a political science professor from West Covina, and American Independent candidate Robert Lewis, an industrial electronics engineer from Rowland Heights.
56th Assembly District
Compared to the 60th Assembly district race, the campaign in the conservative, working-class 56th district is positively tame. Though the district has more Democrats, Republicans are within reaching distance and are expected to pour thousands of dollars into the November general election in an attempt to defeat incumbent Bob Epple.
Two Republicans will square off in the primary: former Cerritos Councilman Daniel K. Wong, and real estate broker Phillip Hawkins.
Of the two, Wong is better known. After 14 years on the council, many Cerritos and Norwalk residents are familiar with the good-humored obstetrician, who has a flair for puns and a love for lounge singing. Throughout the district, Wong's arresting yellow signs urge residents to vote for him because "Wong is Right."
However, Wong's high profile has not helped him raise much money or garner the support of Republican leaders. Wong was unable to raise more than $1,000 in the first three months of the year and said in the past three months he has managed to raise about $25,000.
The underwhelming reaction to his candidacy has angered Wong, who says after 14 years of civic leadership, countless hours of volunteering, and 22 years as a doctor who has seen the worst of society's ills, he is obviously the best candidate.
"Look at what the Republican Party does to the few Asian Republicans there are," Wong said. "If the party is supporting Hawkins based on his record, there is no reason. His record cannot compare to mine. Mr. Hawkins is a fine man, but he cannot wake up in 1992 and say, 'I'm gonna be a state assemblyman.' "
Hawkins has rounded up a long list of endorsements from Republican legislators but insists he is not the "handpicked" candidate of the Republican Party and has received no financial support from Republican leaders.
"There has been no money, just endorsements," said Hawkins, who estimated that he will spend about $35,000 on the primary. "And as for the endorsements, I went up to Sacramento before I decided to run to see if I would have the support. I just beat him to the punch."
Both Wong and Hawkins said jobs are a key campaign issue. Hawkins said business has been overburdened by regulations and taxes. He favors tax breaks and alternative financing for first-time home buyers. Both echo tough-on-crime sentiments. Hawkins is against abortion. Wong supports the right to choose and emphasizes education reform.
54th Assembly District
Political pundits say that incumbent Assemblyman Gerald Felando has the kind of race incumbents dream about. While reapportionment completely did away with the districts of other legislators or otherwise made it more difficult to win, Felando's district simply slid south, from Manhattan Beach and Torrance into Long Beach and Lakewood. Like the old district, the new one has a majority of Republican voters, and a conservative, working-class base. Felando also will continue to represent Rancho Palos Verdes as he has for the past 10 years.
A stalwart Republican, Felando is expected to cruise to an easy victory in both the primary and general elections. His only competition in the primary is Don L. Bullock, an easygoing gun show promoter who said he is running on an anti-tax platform and "the usual things politicians claim they are going to do but don't."
Bullock is spending less than $1,000 on the race and said he is counting on votes from those who know him on the gun show circuit.
"I'm rather famous anyway," he says unabashedly. "Most people know how I feel about issues and they know I'm a nice guy."
Felando, a dentist who has served in the Assembly 14 years, has represented Ranchos Palos Verdes for the last decade but is somewhat new to the Long Beach area. Despite the low-profile of his competitor and his own record of wins, Felando is not taking anything for granted.
"I don't count any election as a shoe-in," he said. "Doing so in a campaign would surely be courting disaster."
Tom Shortridge, Felando's campaign manager, said that in a sense the competition is the new district and its constituents who might have never heard of Gerald Felando.
Felando is known as a tough-on-crime legislator who favors the death penalty, is against abortion and is pro-business. He said an immediate priority is stopping the exodus of businesses from the state by cutting regulations and taxes and simplifying the permit process.
The biggest concern to Republican party strategists is Felando's health. The assemblyman is suffering from lymphoma, a cancer that strikes the lymph nodes. However, Felando, said that the cancer is in remission and his health is "very good."
If Felando wins as expected, in November he will face longtime Democratic Party activist and teacher Betty Karnette, who is unopposed, and American Independent Part candidate Joseph G. Fields, who describes himself as a "full-time activist."
Times staff writer Mike Ward contributed to this story.