ELECTIONS / 37TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : Primary Turns Into at Least a 3-Way Race

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In February, when the filing period ended, it looked as if a two-candidate race was shaping up for the Republican nomination in the 37th Assembly District.

With less than 10 days left before the June 2 primary, however, it has become at least a three-candidate affair with a French accent.

Alan A. Guggenheim, 42, a native of France who moved to Newbury Park three years ago, has mounted an aggressive, well-financed campaign against two veteran officeholders--former county Supervisor Madge L. Schaefer and Oxnard Mayor Nao Takasugi--and four lesser-known candidates.

Fueled by cash from antiabortion and anti-gun-control interests, Guggenheim's sophisticated campaign boasts a professional consultant, phone banks, opinion polls, mass mailings and $10,000 worth of signs scattered throughout the district, which stretches from Oxnard to Thousand Oaks and north to Moorpark.

Both Schaefer and Takasugi acknowledge that Guggenheim's strength--as reflected in his second-place showing in fund raising so far--surprised them. When Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) gave up the seat to run for Congress, Schaefer said, "I figured it was me and Takasugi."

But the former supervisor and Thousand Oaks councilwoman--whose $22,000 in contributions was a quarter of the amount Guggenheim has raised--is not depending on name recognition alone to defeat her rivals. With a loyal cadre of volunteers she calls her "crazy ladies," Schaefer, 50, has also been walking precincts and sending mailers to voters.

Takasugi, 70, the fund-raising leader with $94,000 as of May 16, the last reporting deadline, has put up signs and sent out two mailers, including one that attacked Guggenheim. The mayor has spent much of his time knocking on doors in Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, trying to expand beyond his Oxnard base.

The increasingly testy three-way battle has given hope to four other candidates that one of them could pull off an upset. Theoretically, at least, one could win the seven-candidate race with as little as 15% of the vote--or fewer than 6,000 ballots if half of the district's 78,000 registered Republicans turn out.

"I don't think any of us should be looking at real estate in Sacramento just yet," said Jon H. Williams, 49, a Camarillo podiatrist who was a surprise third in fund-raising with about $42,000. On Saturday, Williams received the endorsement of James Stockdale, the former Navy vice admiral who is Ross Perot's tentative running mate in the presidential election. The endorsement was sealed at Saturday's Perot rally in Ventura.

The other candidates are Michael D. Berger, 45, assistant principal of Moorpark High School; Kenneth (Skip) Roberts, 47, a Newbury Park property manager; and Ronald E. De Blauw, 35, the owner of an Oxnard trucking business.

"It's impossible to get a handle on that race," said one Republican officeholder who insisted on anonymity. "Anything can happen."

On the issues, the candidates have staked out sometimes overlapping claims. All deplore the rising costs of the workers' compensation system, support Gov. Pete Wilson's welfare-reform proposal and generally believe that affirmative action has gone far enough.

But Guggenheim is the only candidate actively wooing the new right wing of the party. He is the only candidate who opposes abortion rights. He is against existing gun controls. He is also the only candidate to endorse the proposed voucher initiative that would let parents use public funds to send their children to private schools.

Guggenheim's views reflect those of the socially conservative Christians who quietly took over the county GOP's Central Committee two years ago. The committee members' main political adviser, Steve Frank, acknowledged that he groomed Guggenheim for the race and is the candidate's lead strategist.

Frank characterized the race as "traditional Republican values versus no values" and grass-roots, conservative Republicans versus "the country-club set."

Schaefer said "mainstream" Republicans "don't want to be associated" with the right-wing faction. Takasugi's political consultant, John Davies of Santa Barbara, said Guggenheim is part of the "fanatic right wing" that has "screwed up this state more than anything."

He said fear of Guggenheim is a major factor in the large donations that medical, law-enforcement, labor and other special interests have made to Takasugi.

Schaefer has tried to make an issue of those contributions, which include $17,500 from the California Medical Assn., $10,000 from a developers' group, $5,000 from a lawyers' committee and $10,000 from a police officers' organization.

She said Guggenheim, too, with $10,000 from the owner of Christian radio stations and $9,000 from the National Rifle Assn., also will be a prisoner of special interests if he is elected.

Guggenheim and Schaefer have tried to pin Oxnard's financial problems on Takasugi. By cutting tax deals to lure new businesses, they say, the mayor and the City Council reduced the city's tax take while increasing its service responsibilities. As a result, they say, Oxnard has not been able to hire the additional police officers that its own consultant says are needed.

"I don't think they can lay that at the feet of one person," Takasugi said, adding that the nationwide recession has been the biggest factor in the city's budget problems. "When the recession is over, we are positioned very, very well to reap the benefits."

Takasugi has counterattacked with a mailer calling attention to the fact that Guggenheim bounced $250,000 in checks for his computer business before taking it into bankruptcy in 1987. Guggenheim says his lenders sabotaged his business but insists that he paid off his creditors.

The mayor's campaign also challenged Guggenheim's commitment to law and order after he at first refused to remove political signs that violated Thousand Oaks regulations. Guggenheim removed the offending placards early this month.

Takasugi has also tried to make an issue out of a photo in Guggenheim's brochure, showing the candidate shaking hands with former President Ronald Reagan. The mayor's campaign distributed a letter from Reagan's office saying he had made no endorsement.

For his part, Guggenheim issued a press release last week denouncing "smear tactics" by "career politician opponents." The statement accused Guggenheim's rivals of starting a "whispering campaign" raising questions about his citizenship and voting record, and it included documentation aimed at countering any allegation of wrongdoing.

Takasugi's supporters cite his diverse sources of support as evidence of his skills as a conciliator who can bring varying interests together. Schaefer, however, says the soft-spoken mayor will be ignored in Sacramento, and that the district needs someone who will make waves.

That kind of talk plays to Schaefer's reputation as a blunt-spoken fighter. "If people have a problem with me, it's style, not substance," she said. "People say I'm as subtle as a train wreck."

Others say Schaefer is downright abrasive, and cite that as one of the reasons behind her upset defeat two years ago in her bid for reelection to the Board of Supervisors. Today, Schaefer insists that she lost because her supporters neglected to vote, not because of anything she did.

"Should I feel contrite or guilty? I don't think so," she said. "A lot of good people stayed home. . . . I can't do anything about it."

Schaefer's loss apparently diminished her fund-raising clout, and she has been unable to match Takasugi or Guggenheim in campaign mailings and signs. But opponents say the former Thousand Oaks council member cannot be counted out because of her prominence in the Conejo Valley, where the greatest concentration of the district's Republicans live.

Republicans hold a 47%-to-41% advantage over Democrats in the district, and the winner of the June 2 GOP primary will be a prohibitive favorite against Roz McGrath, the only Democrat running for the Assembly seat, and David Harner, the Libertarian candidate.

Among the other GOP candidates, Williams has run the most aggressive campaign. A former Army infantry captain in Vietnam, Williams raised more than half of the $42,000 he reported by persuading his former commander--retired Gen. William C. Westmoreland--to speak at a fund-raiser.

"I think Jon Williams is doing a really good job," said Davies, Takasugi's consultant, and added that Berger also is running a serious campaign.

Williams is emphasizing his medical credentials, noting that there currently is no physician in the Legislature. Although taking the job would mean a 75% pay cut, Williams said, he wants to help reform the state's health-care system.

That's why the California Medical Assn. has not endorsed him, Williams said.

"I represent as big a scare to the CMA as Guggenheim does to traditional Republicans," he said. The CMA insurance initiative supported by Takasugi would "break small businesses," Williams said.

He also questioned Guggenheim's commitment to business, noting that in an 11-year span Guggenheim had moved from France to the Caribbean and then to the Sacramento area before setting up a financial-consulting firm in Ventura County three years ago.

"If he was really a businessman, he would set up shop somewhere and stay," Williams said. "He's an ill-mannered, dull-witted opportunist."

In response to Guggenheim's use of Reagan's photo, Williams decided to go for the ultimate in implied endorsements, at least for a Republican. Williams' brochure includes a composite photo of the candidate apparently shaking hands with Abraham Lincoln, along with Lincoln's quote about the impossibility of fooling all the people all the time.

Berger, who reported raising about $12,000, is stressing his experience as a teacher and school administrator for 23 years in the Conejo Valley and Moorpark. He also is familiar to some voters as a twice-elected member of the Conejo Parks and Recreation District and serves on the advisory committee of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Berger said he has one trump card the other candidates lack: thousands of students and parents whom he has encountered over the years.

Without much money, De Blauw is basing his campaign on the sheer volume of positions he has taken on dozens of issues ranging from abortion to the right to die.

"I will not hide from any issue," De Blauw says in an 11-page, single-spaced position paper outlining his mostly conservative views.

On education, for example, he favors neighborhood schools, essay tests, elected principals with total authority, and tax rebates for private schools. He opposes bilingual education, condom distribution and homosexual organizations on school campuses.

If he is elected, De Blauw said, "the first thing I will think of every morning. . .is the people of California and how I can create more good jobs and how you can keep yours."

Roberts, with less than $4,000 in contributions, acknowledges that his is a long-shot campaign. One of his main themes is the need to ease barriers to opening new businesses.

He said his low-budget campaign is a logical extension of the new term limits imposed on state legislators. "It's opening up the process to more people," he said. "That's probably why there are so many of us in the race."

Assembly District 37 Overview: For the past decade, this seat has been held by Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousasnd Oaks), who has decided to run for Congress. Seven Republicans are competing in the June 2 GOP primary. On Nov. 3, the winner of the Republican primary will face the unopposed Democratic candidate and a Libertarian Party candidate in the general election. Where: The district includes the cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Camarillo, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and the neighborhood of El Rio. To find out if you live in the district, call the Ventura County Elections Office, (805) 654-2781.

Demographics Anglo Latino Black Asian 59% 31% 3% 6%

Party Registration Demo GOP Others 41% 47% 12%

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°