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Mountjoy’s Battle : Politics: The state senator-elect is a key player in the speakership fight. In an effort to oust Willie Brown from power, he refuses to give up his Assembly seat.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Assemblyman/Sen. Richard L. Mountjoy walked into a local auto parts store, greeted the employees and asked, “Do I let him stay or do I kick him out?”

“Give him the boot,” said one worker, with others chiming in that Assemblyman Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has been Speaker of the lower house far too long.

The Arcadia Republican walked out, committed as ever to staying in the Assembly for as long as it takes to keep Brown from continuing his reign as Speaker.

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Mountjoy had planned to give up his Assembly seat by now to take his place in the state Senate, a seat he won last month in a special election. But now that the Assembly is mired in a speakership battle, Mountjoy vows to stick around as long as he can to keep Brown from retaining the powerful speakership.

Brown has 40 votes and Republican leader Jim Brulte has 40 votes. So if Mountjoy moves to the upper house, Brulte loses one of his supporters and Brown retains the speakership on a 40-39 vote.

Mountjoy said that if the issue drags on so long that he has to give up his Senate seat to thwart Brown, then so be it.

“I’ve got to carry out the will of the voters in my district,” Mountjoy said in an interview this week, adding that he thinks Brown has done a “horrible job. The easy course for me to take would be to run to the Senate and duck the heat.”

Mountjoy has been in the political oven since Dec. 5, the day the Assembly’s 41 Republicans were supposed to anoint Brulte. Instead, Assemblyman Paul V. Horcher of Diamond Bar slammed down his fist in the Assembly’s ornate chambers and announced he was voting for Brown, creating the deadlock. He also said he was abandoning the Republican Party to become an independent.

Never before have two state legislators from the San Gabriel Valley been at ground zero of a political explosion like last week’s, experts and observers say.

“In my recollection of the last quarter of a century, we haven’t had this kind of local notoriety,” said political scientist Alan Heslop, a professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Mountjoy and Horcher both have left the center of the storm in Sacramento and returned to their conservative districts, where they have become celebrities of sorts.

Mountjoy appears to bask in the public spotlight, driving around his district and chatting with constituents. The 59th Assembly District includes all or part of Claremont, Covina, Monrovia, Pomona and San Dimas.

He said the preliminary results of a telephone poll indicate that his constituents support his stance by more than 2 to 1.

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“It’s not a position I looked for. It’s a position the voters of the district have put me in, and I’m going to carry out their will,” said Mountjoy, leaning back in a chair at his district office. “I don’t get nervous in battle.”

Mountjoy contends that state law doesn’t set a deadline for him to fill his Senate seat, just as long as he does so sometime during his term of office. The Assembly or Senate could vote to expel Mountjoy, but he considers such a move unlikely.

“It would be a display of outrageous political power, and the people of the state would come unglued,” Mountjoy said.

But if the speakership battle lingers and paralyzes the Assembly, local Republicans could try to pressure Mountjoy to take his Senate seat, even if it means Brown will be Speaker.

Already, one of Mountjoy’s key supporters says that he is fed up with the bipartisan bickering and that it’s time for legislators to focus on running the state.

“The idea that Dick Mountjoy wants to stay in the Assembly to get rid of Willie Brown is not sound,” said Forest Tennant, an influential Republican who is Mountjoy’s friend and campaign contributor. "(Mountjoy’s) job is to vacate his Assembly seat and move on to the Senate.”

Horcher, written off by local Republican leaders, has been lying low, observers say.

The assemblyman, who returned to his district last week, said he has met with supporters but has made no public appearances and has none planned. He said he is taking precautions, such as posting a guard at his district office, after reportedly receiving death threats at his Sacramento office.

“It’s a shame you have to do this in a democracy,” Horcher said. “Most people who threaten you are cowards. However, there is a chance someone may make good on it.”

Horcher’s 60th District, which neighbors Mountjoy’s, includes Diamond Bar, West Covina, Hacienda Heights, La Mirada, La Habra Heights, Rowland Heights, and portions of Pomona and Whittier.

The defiant assemblyman lashed out at local Republican leaders who are organizing a recall effort against him.

“There’s quite a few Republicans in front of me who voted for Mr. Brown long before I was on the scene. Why don’t they recall Mr. Mountjoy?” said Horcher, repeating a line of attack he used earlier this year during his unsuccessful campaign against Mountjoy for the Senate’s 29th District seat. The Senate district includes Mountjoy’s and Horcher’s Assembly districts.

In 1980, Mountjoy and more than 20 other Republicans voted Brown in as Speaker, preferring him over then-Assemblyman Howard L. Berman. Mountjoy has defended the 14-year-old vote, saying that Brown was the lesser of two evils.

Now Mountjoy optimistically predicts that he will be able to hold the party line and knock Brown off the top of the hill.

If forced to give up the newly won Senate seat, Mountjoy said he would try to win it again in another special election.

“I will be a senator eventually,” he said.


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