GOP Seen as Tough to Beat in New Assembly Districts


Unless Democrats stage dramatic upsets in the San Gabriel Valley's two new Assembly districts, voters this fall will send to Sacramento two freshman Republicans who share a knack for raising money but differ on their political approach.

One, Pasadena insurance broker Bill Hoge, is a tax-reduction crusader with deep beliefs in conservative principles and a lifetime of Republican service. The other, Chino Mayor Fred Aguiar, is a pragmatist who didn't get involved in partisan politics until he switched his registration from Democrat to Republican three years ago.

Both are running in new Assembly districts where party registration is almost evenly split. The GOP holds an advantage of about 1% in Hoge's 44th District, which includes Pasadena, South Pasadena, Altadena, San Marino, Temple City and La Canada Flintridge. And the difference is even smaller in Aguiar's 61st District, which takes in part of Pomona, Chino, Ontario, Chino Hills and Montclair.

But Alan Heslop, an expert on political demographics at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, said that everything he knows about those districts and their registration tells him that Hoge and Aguiar will win handily Nov. 3. That's because Republicans are more likely to turn out and vote with their party than are Democrats.

Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Ontario) said it would take "extraordinary circumstances" for a Democrat to win either district. But, he said, because these are new districts without incumbents, the Republican candidates will have to wage all-out campaigns to ensure victory.

And the Democratic nominees, pledging all-out campaigns of their own, say they believe victories are within their reach.

Jonathan Fuhrman, the Democratic nominee against Hoge, said, "We've got a potential upset here." The Republican registration edge is eroding, there's a Democratic tide building nationally, and Hoge alienated some members of his own party when he beat nine rivals in a tough primary, Fuhrman said.

Fuhrman's strategy is to brand Hoge as an extremist and to attract moderate Republicans by stressing his background in business and his concern about improving the business climate and cutting government waste.

Running against Aguiar is Democrat Larry Simcoe, a Los Angeles County firefighter who is painting Aguiar as an opportunist who switched parties to climb the political ladder.

Both Fuhrman and Simcoe say they hope to raise $150,000 or more for their campaigns even though they raised comparatively little for the June primary. Fuhrman raised less than $5,000 and Simcoe less than $35,000.

Hoge and Aguiar won contested primaries with the help of heavyweight political support and their own fund-raising skills. Both raised more than $200,000. Hoge was backed by the two assemblymen who currently represent most of the new district: Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) and Richard L. Mountjoy (R-Monrovia). He overcame the opposition of Gov. Pete Wilson, who strongly supported former La Canada Flintridge Mayor Barbara Pieper.

Wilson stayed out of Aguiar's primary race until a few days before the election, when he offered his support, which was spurned. Aguiar said he told the governor's office it was too late and he didn't want the help. The candidate already had the strong backing of Brulte, the area's current assemblyman, and other legislators.

44th District

Hoge's primary victory culminated a lifetime of devotion to the Republican Party that started when he was 10, watching the 1956 Republican convention on television. At 14, Hoge walked precincts to elect right-wing Republican John Rousselot to Congress.

A fourth-generation resident of Pasadena, Hoge, 46, said he grew up talking politics around the dinner table with family members, all Republicans. He said his career ambition, which he achieved, was to follow his father into the insurance business.

Hoge said his guiding principle is: "The less government intrusion into our lives, the better off we will all be."

For political inspiration, he regularly rereads the U.S. Constitution and "The Federalist Papers." "I start my day on the Fourth of July--wherever I am--by reading the Declaration of Independence," he said. "I've done it for 25 years."

Hoge has been state chairman of the California Republican Assembly, a political volunteer group, and was Southern California chairman of the campaign for term limits for state legislators. He would like to reduce the Legislature to a part-time operation.

He said that, when legislators work full time, they "have to make laws to justify their existence. What we don't need are more laws."

On his political literature and campaign statements he calls himself Bill (Tax Reduction) Hoge, and that sums up his approach.

If Wilson had cut the budget a year ago instead of raising taxes, the state wouldn't have had such a budget mess this year, Hoge said.

"Obviously, raising taxes is not the answer," he said. "We have raised taxes, and it didn't work. Raising taxes never works. Government always spends what it has to spend and more."

Hoge said the main problem facing the state is restoring the health of the economy, and he would help business by easing burdensome regulations.

Fuhrman, who is assistant manager of warehouse systems for the Nestle Food Co., also advocates the elimination of pointless regulations and says his own party has too often retained programs that don't work.

He said Workers' Compensation is "an example of where we Democrats have failed to look at the administration of a program. . . . The system is being raided and ripped off, and the people who truly need help can't get it. It's been a disaster." In this case, he said, Republicans have offered better reform proposals than Democrats.

But, he said, Republican attacks on government have gone too far. He said the underlying assumption seems to be that "government can do no right and that anyone working for government is by definition taking the easy way out or looking for a handout. . . . I think that's tremendously destructive."

Fuhrman said Hoge's advocacy of tax reduction while government services are being cut is "extremist and simplistic."

He said government must live within its means, but education and other vital programs should be protected. He said he could support a small tax increase on incomes of more than $200,000, increased taxes on tobacco, beer and liquor, and authorization for school districts to pass bond issues by a simple majority instead of the currently required two-thirds majority. Building roads and schools on money borrowed while interest rates are low would be a wise investment and would stimulate the economy, he said.

Fuhrman and Hoge differ on numerous issues. Fuhrman supports abortion rights, restrictions on gun ownership and retention of air pollution standards. Hoge favors an abortion ban, unrestricted gun ownership and easing of air quality controls to help business.

Fuhrman, 42, grew up in New York and came to Pasadena in 1971 to pursue a doctorate in biology at Caltech. He subsequently changed his career direction, earning a master's degrees in business administration from UCLA. But he remained in Pasadena, where he has been active in community affairs and politics.

He has served as campaign treasurer for several candidates, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Voters will have a third choice in the Nov. 3 election: Ken Saurenman, 54, a Pasadena contractor running on the Libertarian ticket. As of May, there were 843 Libertarians registered in the district.

Saurenman said he regards the choice of the Democratic and Republican nominees as a question of which hungry fox you want in the chicken coop. For a drastic reduction in government and cuts in taxes, he said, voters should consider Libertarian candidates.

More than 100 Libertarians have been elected across the country, he said, and "no Libertarian officeholder has ever voted for a tax increase."

61st District

While Hoge, Fuhrman and Saurenman are poles apart politically, the differences between the leading candidates in the 61st District are more subtle.

On abortion, for example, both Aguiar and Simcoe would leave the choice to women. But Aguiar opposes government funding of abortions, whereas Simcoe supports it.

Aguiar, 43, was born in Artesia and grew up on a dairy farm in Chino. He served in the Army in Vietnam, dropped out of college to work in real estate, and is now director of office and commercial development in California and Nevada for Lewis Homes of Upland.

He has served on the Chino City Council for 14 years. In 1989, he said, he started thinking about running for higher office and reevaluated his political beliefs. He said he decided the Republican Party's attitude toward business was more in line with his own than the Democratic Party's, so he changed his registration. And he plunged into Republican politics, assuming key fund-raising tasks for the party in San Bernardino County.

Aguiar denied that he switched parties to gain political advantage. In any event, he said, party identification carries little weight in the 61st District, a burgeoning area of new homes and young families.

"People don't care whether you're a Republican, Democrat or independent," he said. "They're looking for solutions to problems."

Mostly, he said, they are worried about jobs.

Aguiar said government needs to ease regulations to accommodate business and stimulate economic growth.

In Chino, he said, the city has adopted an aggressive business retention program. A few months ago, city staff members began calling on businesses to offer assistance and learned that a company that employed 200 workers was considering a move to Bakersfield. Aguiar said the city helped the company solve some problems and stay in Chino. That's the sort of practical, aggressive approach he would take in Sacramento, Aguiar said.

Aguiar said he can go to Sacramento without being "beholden to any faction or group."

But to Simcoe, Aguiar is just another "career politician" trying to work his way up.

"The question is whether people want to elect another career politician to go up and have status quo in the state Legislature, or if they want someone to go there and make changes," he said.

Simcoe, 54, was born in Kansas City, Mo., served in the Navy and has been a firefighter for more than three decades. He lives in Chino, where he holds an elective office, serving on the board of a fire district that serves Chino and Chino Hills.

Simcoe said his work as a firefighter in East Los Angeles has given him a good understanding of the hardships people are facing these days.

"I have been a working firefighter for 32 years," Simcoe said. "I know real-life problems. I'm out there where 15-year-olds are having babies, where young people are shooting up with needles and dying on their wedding day, out there every week on the shootings and assaults."

Simcoe said the state should step up spending on schools and roads, redesign the welfare system to provide more incentive for work, and make health care affordable. There are places to save tax money, such as through elimination of unnecessary boards and commissions, he said, but the state also must provide services.

Although Simcoe is a firefighter, Aguiar has picked up endorsements from most of the fire and police associations in the district. Simcoe said that is because he entered the race late. Aguiar said the employee endorsements are a reflection of the good relationship between city government and its employees in Chino.

Also on the ballot in the 61st District is Cynthia Allaire, 34, an office manager who lives in Pomona and is running on the Green Party ticket. Allaire said she joined the Green Party, whose concerns include the environment and social justice, because she opposed the Gulf War, which both major parties supported. The party's registration was 209 in the district in May.

She favors a moratorium on construction in areas of ecological significance, such as canyons and hillsides, that are now in a natural state. Allaire said the loss of species and habitat in Southern California should be a primary concern. In addition, Allaire said, since she resides in the nation's smoggiest region, she would step up efforts to improve air quality.

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