The floodgates opened and 10 candidates rushed in after Speaker Willie Brown masterminded the ouster of former Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy to retain the speakership, setting up a special election on April 11 to fill the vacant 59th District seat.
Nine Republicans and one Democrat are vying to fill the remainder of Mountjoy's term, which expires in 1998. A Republican is expected to win in the 59th District, where 48% of the registered voters are Republican and 40% Democrat.
But to win the seat outright, a candidate must receive a majority of the vote, which is unlikely because of the large Republican field. If no one receives a majority, a runoff will be held June 6 between the top Republican and the lone Democrat.
The race has been relatively quiet and cordial so far. The candidates have focused on extolling their virtues rather than attacking rivals at various forums.
The 59th District includes all or part of Arcadia, Claremont, Covina, Duarte, Glendora, La Verne, Monrovia, Pomona and San Dimas.
Political pundits expect the Republican race to come down to two candidates: Arcadia Councilman and developer Bob Margett and Duarte Councilwoman and real estate agent Ginny Joyce.
Christopher (Chris) Lancaster, a former Covina councilman and the son of former Assemblyman Bill Lancaster, is considered the dark horse.
The other Republicans seeking the seat are: Glendora Councilwoman Lois M. Shade; Gary L. Woods, a member of the Citrus Community College Governing Board; James M. Oghigian, a businessman; Idris "Ed" Lloyd, a businessman; Gary V. Miller, a teacher, and Jeffrey L. Ruffner, an engineer.
Brent A. Decker, a county real estate appraiser, is the Democratic candidate.
The Republicans in the race are generally a conservative bunch, saying they represent a sure vote to topple Speaker Brown.
With one exception, they favor strict implementation of Proposition 187, which would cut most public services to illegal immigrants, and oppose affirmative action. They would reduce environmental regulations and offer tax incentives to spur economic growth in the state.
Miller is the only Republican who doesn't favor Prop. 187, saying provisions that would deprive public education to children of illegal immigrants are unconstitutional. The special-education teacher also said that affirmative action programs need to be reviewed but not necessarily eliminated.
Margett, who has served seven years on Arcadia's City Council, quickly emerged as the front-runner after receiving the endorsement of state Sen. Mountjoy (R-Arcadia).
Mountjoy, a longtime tax fighter and strong backer of Prop. 187, is popular in the conservative district. He also is a capable fund-raiser who is expected to help Margett considerably.
But Margett, a developer, did not wait for contributions. He jump-started his campaign with a $73,000 personal loan.
"I will carry on Mountjoy's legacy," Margett pledged at a recent candidates' forum, saying he would work for tax reform to help businesses in the state, as well as tort reform to rid the legal system of frivolous lawsuits.
Joyce, a Duarte councilwoman since 1987, has gathered endorsements from myriad local council members and former public officials. She also has the endorsement of Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block and Supervisor Deane Dana.
While considered Margett's main competition, Joyce may have turned off some Republican voters when she cast her vote to give preliminary approval to a utility tax to relieve a budget crunch in Duarte. Joyce ended up reversing her position, but a council majority passed a 3% tax, which took effect last November.
"It became evident that some people thought the utility tax was not the way to go," said Joyce, who also pledges to fight high taxes and over-regulation of the state's businesses.
Lancaster is expected to receive a boost from name recognition courtesy of his father, a Republican assemblyman from 1972-92. Lancaster has a liability similar to Joyce's, but more serious. He was recalled along with the entire Covina City Council in 1994 for enacting a 6% utility tax.
But Lancaster maintains he was vindicated. The utility tax expired, and after the recall election, the newly constituted City Council decided to implement an 8.25% utility tax.
"Our greatest critics said they were wrong," said Lancaster, who wants to restore lost state funding for local government. "Not only did they reinstitute the utility tax but they made it higher."
But voters may not agree. In fact, three of the new council members are targeted for recall.
Margett also voted in 1978 for a 2% increase in his city's utility tax. The Arcadia City Council lowered the tax to its original rate two years later, just after Margett left office. Margett began his current stint on the Arcadia council in 1992.
Decker, the Democrat, is a reverse image of most of the Republicans in the race. He opposes Prop. 187 and supports affirmative action. In his first race for public office, Decker calls for "responsible" economic growth that balances the need for jobs with protecting the environment and public health.
He is given virtually no chance of winning the seat, given the district's registration, and said he has received no help from the Assembly's Democratic leadership.
Assembly Democrats are concentrating on the neighboring 60th District, represented by Paul Horcher (I-Diamond Bar). It was Horcher's brash act of renouncing his membership in the Republican Party and supporting Brown that put Mountjoy in the hot seat. Horcher faces a recall election on May 16.
When Horcher bolted, it left the Assembly in a leadership deadlock. Brown had 40 votes for the speakership, the same number as Republican Leader Jim Brulte.
But then Brown engineered Mountjoy's ouster, which gave the San Francisco Democrat the speakership on a 40-39 vote.
Mountjoy immediately took his Senate seat, which was vacated by former Sen. Frank Hill, who was convicted of political corruption. Mountjoy won the Senate seat in a special election last November, as well as reelection to the Assembly.
The lawmaker tried to stay in the Assembly, while keeping the Senate seat on hold, to try to prevent Brown from winning the speakership.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
59th District Candidates:
Decker Joyce Lancaster Lloyd Margett Miller Oghigian Ruffner Shade Woods