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Voters Oust Maverick Horcher in Recall Election

TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Gabriel Valley voters Tuesday ousted maverick Assemblyman Paul V. Horcher (I-Diamond Bar), whose defection from Republican ranks thwarted the party’s takeover of the Assembly last year.

With about two-thirds of the vote counted in the recall election, Horcher was losing the contest by slightly less than a 2-1 margin.

Two Republicans--Gary G. Miller and Barbara S. Stone--vied for the lead among six candidates hoping to replace him. If Horcher is replaced by a Republican, it will increase the chances that the GOP will take control of the Assembly later this year.

Horcher, branded a traitor by Republicans upon declaring himself an independent, fell behind by a large margin when the first returns were reported. The trend continued against him with each update.

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Horcher, first elected to his seat in 1990, initially remained hopeful despite the early trend against him. “I’ve always been a strong finisher,” he said early in the evening.

Recall proponents, led by Assembly Republican Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), quickly predicted victory. “We believe Paul Horcher will be recalled,” said Brulte, who would have been the first GOP Speaker in more than two decades had Horcher remained a Republican.

Tuesday’s election marked the end of one of the most hard-fought special elections in the state’s history.

Partisans on both sides of the issue flew, drove and bused into Horcher’s 60th District in the San Gabriel Valley. Republicans estimated that they fielded an army of more than 1,000 campaign workers Tuesday, while the Democrats backing Horcher turned out about 800 people.

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The special election sparked intense interest in part because the stakes involved are so great.

With Horcher’s vote, the Republicans were poised to take control of the Assembly in December. But Horcher renounced his affiliation with the GOP and later gave Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) the one-vote edge he needed to retain his leadership post.

The recall effort against Horcher was launched immediately. And if he is ousted and replaced by a Republican, there will be 39 Democrats and 39 Republicans in the lower house. The Republican Caucus will be able to take control of the Assembly later this year if, as expected, GOP candidates win special elections to fill two vacant seats in Republican-leaning districts.

Four Republicans, one Democrat and a Libertarian were on Tuesday’s ballot seeking to fill the remainder of Horcher’s term, which expires in December, 1996, should the assemblyman be recalled.

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The two Republicans leading the race to replace Horcher--Miller, a developer and Diamond Bar city councilman, and Stone, a political science professor and a member of the Rio Hondo College Board of Trustees--were considered the favorites to win the seat. A candidate needed only a plurality of the votes cast to claim the seat if the recall succeeded.

District voters have given Republican candidates--including Horcher--easy victories in the past.

Campaign workers, including Assembly members and their staffers, began arriving in droves Tuesday morning at the staging grounds for both sides.

At the state Capitol, Assembly offices were virtually deserted as employees took a day of “vacation” and traveled to the 60th Assembly District. In a highly unusual move, regularly scheduled Assembly committee hearings were postponed until today. Some office doors were locked and telephones rang unanswered.

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At the pro-Horcher headquarters in West Covina, groups of about 25 people received their marching orders and were equipped with brown-bag lunches and bottled water before heading out to their precincts.

Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino) and Assembly members Liz Figueroa (D-Fremont), Grace F. Napolitano (D-Norwalk), Jackie Speier (D-Burlingame) and Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) joined the hundreds of other campaign workers.

The pro-recall forces flew in about 400 campaign workers from Northern California to complement about 600 workers from Southern California, a campaign spokesman said. The Republican foot soldiers were dispatched in two waves for 2 1/2-hour shifts, returning for lunch to the recall campaign’s temporary office at a dance club in the City of Industry.

Brulte walked precincts in the afternoon. Assembly Republican Whip Jim Battin (R-Palm Desert) and Assemblyman Brett Granlund (R-Yucaipa) were among the members of the Republican Caucus campaigning to recall Horcher as well.

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Over the past several weeks, district voters have been deluged with phone calls and mailers from both sides in the race, in which spending is expected to top $1 million.

Horcher’s act of defiance galvanized Republicans as few issues could. “Recall Horcher. He betrayed us!” was their campaign battle cry.

Staff writer Carl Ingram contributed to this article.


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