In Orange County, races for state legislative offices have historically been tidy affairs. Longtime Republican incumbents almost invariably have blown away any Democrat who dared challenge them.
But things are beginning to change. The state’s new legislative term limits law has turned incumbents--including the flock of GOP stalwarts who have dominated Orange County--into an endangered species. Though the Republican grip on the county’s legislative seats probably won’t ease, the names will certainly begin to change.
This year’s headline race is in the GOP primary in the 70th Assembly District, where three newcomers are battling to succeed Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), who is abandoning his heavily Republican seat to run for Senate.
In the 69th Assembly District, the departure of the county’s lone Democratic office holder--Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), who is running for state attorney general--has caused a feisty scramble in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.
Although a couple of incumbents--state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) and Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress)--have attracted primary challengers, most of the rest have a free ride in June. Running unopposed in the GOP primary are Assemblymen Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), Mickey Conroy (R-Orange), Ross Johnson (R-Placentia) and Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside), as well as state Sen. William A. Craven (R-Oceanside).
Even so, those incumbents don’t have long. Term limits will force Allen, Conroy and Johnson to move up or out in 1996, while Morrow, Pringle and Craven can stick around in their present jobs only through 1998.
If this year’s races for open seats are any indicator, the future of campaign politics in Orange County under term limits might begin to look like a rerun of American Gladiators. For proof, look no further than the Republican primary fight between Marilyn C. Brewer, Barry J. Hammond and Thomas G. Reinecke for the 70th Assembly seat.
Like most Orange County primary battles, the candidates differ little on the issues, so the focus has been on political mudslinging.
Reinecke and his supporters held a press conference early on to put a halt to rumors that he was sued for non-payment of an abortion allegedly performed on his girlfriend. Meanwhile, the financial dealings of Hammond, an Irvine councilman, have become an issue, most notably a 1991 personal bankruptcy. Brewer, meanwhile, has come under attack from conservatives angered because she supports a woman’s right to an abortion.
Most of the vitriol in the 69th Assembly race has come in the Democratic primary, which has been consumed by a feud between two of the four candidates--Latino activist Zeke Hernandez and Santa Ana Councilman Ted R. Moreno.
The dispute in the 69th is the subject of an investigation by the district attorney’s office. Hernandez alleges that Moreno offered him money to stay out of the race. Moreno claims Hernandez illegally taped their telephone conversation to set up the bribery charge. Both deny the charges.
Meanwhile, the two other challengers are trying to stay out of the fray. Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce President Michael Metzler has gotten the endorsement of departing Assemblyman Umberg, as well as labor and teachers. Businessman John M. Patterson is walking precincts and banking on the base he established during an unsuccessful campaign for the Santa Ana City Council in 1992.
On the Republican side in the 69th district, Anaheim manufacturer Jim Morrissey has the backing of party conservatives, particularly the big bucks of Sen. Rob Hurtt and his Allied Business Political Action Committee, which has pumped more than $2.5 million to candidates since 1992.
Two moderates are also in the running--Martin Ageson, whose one-man law firm represents small businesses; and Judy Buffin-Edge, a retired bank branch manager and party volunteer. Rounding out the list is Virgel L. Nickell, who is using shoe-leather campaign tactics and has name identification in the district from an unsuccessful primary battle in 1992.
In the 68th Assembly race, two Democrats are battling to represent their party against Republican incumbent Curt Pringle, but their campaigns have taken place largely from respective sick beds. Anaheim Councilman Irv Pickler has been hobbled by broken legs suffered in an auto accident, while Linda Kay Rigney--who ran unsuccessfully against Pringle in 1992--has been waylaid by pneumonia.
The two Republicans who have challenged incumbents of their own party have proven that at the very least they’ve got guts.
Frank L. Adomitis, an accountant, has the unenviable task of facing Hurtt and his campaign money machine in the 34th Senate District GOP primary.
In the 67th Assembly District, incumbent Allen faces a candidate she believes was put up by political rival Ferguson. Allen and Ferguson are expected to battle in a special election early next year for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who is running unopposed for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Allen’s challenger, Tony Nottke, is a former Ferguson staffer.