Primary battles in six Southern California congressional districts outside Los Angeles County have attracted unusual attention this year, in part because candidates are flouting the so-called 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans.
Two GOP incumbents--Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Robert K. Dornan--are facing especially tough challenges. A third Republican incumbent, Duncan Hunter, may be vulnerable because of his involvement in the House bank checking scandal.
Two other primary races are for seats that reapportionment left without incumbents. In one, a former Democratic representative who lost reelection in 1990 after being rebuked by the House for a sexual harassment charge is trying to make a comeback.
23rd District: Carpinteria and much of Ventura County / 45% Republican, 42% Democrat
No Democrat has gone to the House from Ventura County in more than 40 years. Two candidates are hoping to break that tradition.
Democrat Anita Perez Ferguson, an Oxnard educational consultant, came out of nowhere in 1990 to mount a surprisingly strong race against veteran Republican incumbent Robert Lagomarsino. She is seeking her party’s nomination in a redrawn district that no longer includes Lagomarsino. Opposing her is Kevin Sweeney, an environmental activist who served as press secretary for Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s second White House bid.
Sharp personal attacks in the Perez Ferguson-Sweeney contest have triggered dismay among Democrats, who fear that neither will be viable in November if their reputations are shredded in June. Perez Ferguson has labeled Sweeney an opportunist-turned-political consultant-turned-candidate with little grasp of community problems. Sweeney has carped at Perez Ferguson for breaking campaign election laws.
The winner is expected to face three-term conservative Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly, a former Simi Valley resident with a $350,000 campaign nest egg. Long-shot candidates opposing Gallegly are Daphne Becker, a wealthy Ojai businesswoman pledging $100,000 of her own money, and Dr. Robert Shakman, a Ventura health plan executive.
45th District: Seal Beach, Stanton, Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach / 54% Republican, 35% Democrat
Whoever the Republicans nominate in June will probably go to Congress in November. For that reason, the primary battle among Rohrabacher and two formidable challengers has all the fireworks of a general election.
Costa Mesa City Council member Peter Buffa and Huntington Beach City Council member Peter Green are wailing on Rohrabacher for his eight check overdrafts that totaled close to $9,000, his support of offshore oil drilling, his vote to scale down the B-2 bomber program and his use of congressional mailing privileges.
Latino activists are angry about his statements that illegal immigrants--whom Rohrabacher generically refers to as Pedro--are bankrupting the country. Rohrabacher added fuel to the flame by sending a telegram to President Bush demanding deportation of illegal immigrants arrested in the riots.
Four virtual unknowns--Jim Foley, Patricia McCabe, Steve Olim and B.H. Sarker--are battling, probably Pyrrhically, for the Democratic nomination.
46th District: Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Anaheim / 45% Democrat, 45% Republican
For the first time since he won this seat in 1984, Dornan, a run-and-gun conservative known as “B-1 Bob,” is facing a reelection challenge from a fellow Republican.
Superior Court Judge Judith Ryan got into the race just before the filing deadline and has raised nearly $200,000. Women’s and abortion rights groups have targeted Dornan for defeat because of his unrelenting opposition to their causes and as an expression of their outrage over the all-white, all-male Senate panel’s questioning of Anita Hill last fall over her sexual harassment charges against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
As part of the anti-Dornan effort, the California Abortion Rights Action League launched its biggest money campaign to oust a California legislator. It opened a headquarters in Santa Ana and began mailings, radio ads and door-to-door canvassing.
About CARAL’s work, Dornan said: “I would have been deeply hurt beyond words if I had not made this distinguished list.”
He has promised attack letters of his own, portraying Ryan as a puppet of the left and a carpetbagger because she does not live in the district and will not move.
Five Democrats are running in the primary. They are trial lawyer Ricardo A. Nicol III; Nazeer Ahmed, a former member of the Indian Parliament and an executive aerospace engineer; union organizer and gay-rights activist Jeff LeTourneau; Placentia City Councilman Norman Eckenrode, and senior services administrator Robert Banuelos. Although this working-class district is half Latino and 11% Asian, only one in 10 of these minority residents is registered to vote.
Dornan wrote one disputed check on the House bank, for stones for a back-yard grotto he says he was building to the Virgin Mary. He also insists it was the bank’s accounting mistake that caused the problem.
49th District: San Diego, La Jolla, Imperial Beach, Coronado / 45% Republican, 39% Democrat
Five Democrats and 10 Republicans are vying for this open seat. “At candidate forums, they start at one end of the table and by the time they reach the other end, it’s the next morning,” jokes GOP contender John C. Weil.
Two onetime aides to former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown--lawyers Byron Georgiou and Lynn Schenk--are prime contenders in the Democratic primary. Also in the race are Troy X. Kelley, Carol Lucke, and Bill Winston.
The GOP candidates have labored to pull themselves above the pack. Former San Diego City Councilman Bill Mitchell stresses that he is the only contender with experience in elected office. Nurse Judy Jarvis hopes that being the only woman will boost her chances. Businessmen Ray Saatjian and Alan Uke and financial planner Skip Cox say their experience could help them with economic problems. Oral surgeon Ron Hecker says he has special insights into the nation’s pressing health care needs. Real estate agent Dave Pierce, the lone abortion opponent in the GOP field, hopes that the issue will give him the conservative vote.
Rounding out the field are Weil, Roy Moeller and Bob Tatum.
Anti-Washington themes have dominated much of the campaign dialogue. Capturing that mood, Libertarian candidate John Wallner told a debate audience: “Politicians are like diapers. They both should be changed often--and for the same reason.”
50th District: San Diego, La Mesa, Chula Vista, National City / 51% Democrat, 36% Republican
Reapportionment left this district without an incumbent and made it the only solid Democratic congressional seat in San Diego. The party’s primary has attracted six candidates, including three with 50 years in public office among them. Two also carry considerable negative baggage.
Former Rep. Jim Bates’ rebuke by the House in 1989 on sexual harassment charges led to his loss to a Republican in 1990. His hopes of rebounding this year were hurt when it was revealed that while in the House, he wrote 89 overdraft checks for more than $170,000.
State Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh is on CARAL’s “enemies of choice” list. He also has been attacked for accepting more than $800,000 in special-interest campaign contributions during the past seven years, being delinquent in property taxes on land development companies he invested in and accepting more than $50,000 in free trips and gifts from large companies, foreign governments and interest groups.
The third high-profile candidate is San Diego City Councilman Bob Filner, a 1960s civil rights Freedom Rider. The harshest criticism being directed his way is for seeking higher office six months into his second term.
Although the three have daunting name recognition and fund-raising advantages, the challengers in this acrimonious race--Greg Akill, Lincoln Pickard and Juan Carlos Vargas--hope voters will look to one of them as alternatives to politics as usual.
“These guys may carve each other up so much that . . . it’s just going to reinforce people’s dissatisfaction with professional politicians,” Vargas said.
The three Republican candidates are Luis Acle, Lou A. Monge and Tony Valencia.
52nd District: Imperial County, El Cajon, Santee / 48% Republican, 38% Democrat
One of the purest measures of the depth of public anger over the House check-writing scandal could emerge here, where a six-term Republican incumbent hip-deep in the controversy faces two relative unknowns.
Over 39 months, Rep. Duncan Hunter wrote 407 overdrafts totaling $129,225 at the House bank. Hunter believes voters will accept his explanation that he did nothing wrong but simply availed himself of the overdraft protection--at no cost to taxpayers. And his two challengers, lawyer Robert Krysak and construction contractor Eric Epifano, have made only passing reference to the flap.
Within political circles, however, the race is viewed as a “Rubbergate” referendum.
Democrat Janet M. Gastil is unopposed.