STATE ELECTION / 72nd ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : Winner of Pivotal Race Will Be Busy : North County contest could bear on speakership, California budget and O.C. bankruptcy. Three Republicans and one Democrat vie on July 18.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If this is July, it must be time for yet another special election in Orange County.

And like Measure R, which was soundly torpedoed by county voters last week, this election comes at a crucial political time, with implications that could reverberate throughout the state.

In less than three weeks, voters in the north Orange County's 72nd Assembly District will be asked to choose a new member of the state's lower house to wade into a political maelstrom in Sacramento unprecedented in California history. Currently swirling around the Capitol is a bitter, Republican-backed recall targeting Assembly Speaker Doris Allen (R-Cypress) for allegedly being a puppet of the Democrats. Then there's the threat of a state takeover of bankrupt Orange County and a state budget already overdue.

Four candidates--three Republicans and a long-shot Democrat--will square off July 18 in a primary election to fill the Assembly seat vacated last fall when Ross Johnson, a powerful Placentia Republican, moved to Irvine and was elected to the state Senate.

"Whoever wins will be jumping right into a hornet's nest," said state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove).

The three Republican candidates are all veteran city council members in the district, an area at the northernmost reach of the county that is home to about 370,000 people and includes La Habra, Fullerton, Placentia, Brea, Yorba Linda and small parts of Anaheim and Buena Park.

The fourth candidate, Democrat Shirley Hafner, is a longtime behind-the-scenes political player who was asked to run by her party although Democrats in the district are outnumbered by a nearly two-to-one ratio.

If none of the candidates wins more than 50% of the vote on July 18, a runoff election between the top Republican and Hafner will be held Sept. 12.

Although nearly guaranteed a spot in a runoff, Hafner acknowledges she has only an outside chance to win.

"It's a long shot, but you never know what can happen," said Hafner, 56, an Air Force veteran who has been a firefighter, a social services worker and now works at UC Irvine Medical Center.

"I think I have much more experience and much more knowledge than the other three candidates," Hafner said. "I've been in the military, I've worked with firefighters, I know what's involved in reforming welfare. I'm counting on all this to help me."

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Hafner said she is also counting on the Republicans to "bloody each other up." The three Republicans--Richard Ackerman, Barbara Kiley and Chris Norby--all call themselves loyal Republicans, fiscal conservatives and Measure R foes, but they have already traded punches.

Kiley and Norby claim Ackerman remained too quiet during the No-on-Measure R campaign, a charge he dismisses through his endorsement from Tom Rogers of San Juan Capistrano, one of the leaders of the anti-Measure R forces.

"If Tom Rogers, who led the fight, thinks enough of me to endorse me, I'd say that speaks for itself," Ackerman said.

Much is also being made about the California Teachers Assn. endorsement of Ackerman. Kiley and Norby say it shows he sympathizes with a group that has been a major backer of Assemblyman Willie Brown (R-San Francisco) and Allen.

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Ackerman responds that the teachers' group is now working with Republicans all over the state. He also points out that Norby interviewed for the endorsement but didn't get it.

"The CTA used to be totally affiliated with the Democrats, but not any longer," he said. "They realize the Republicans are now the players. They think I'm going to win and want to help somebody they can talk to and is responsible."

Ackerman, 52, a Fullerton attorney, former Fullerton councilman and a two-time mayor, scored points by winning endorsements from Johnson and U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), two men who represent the political establishment in the area.

He says he is most qualified because of his "character and consistency" and left local politics in 1992 after three terms on the council only because he is a strong advocate of term limits.

"People stay in these offices too long and the citizens need new ideas," Ackerman said. "But I've always considered running for office again."

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Kiley, 48, a member of the Yorba Linda City Council who works with her husband's political consulting firm, portrays herself as the one candidate who refused to talk to the CTA. She established a statewide reputation by being the co-author of Proposition 187, the successful immigration reform measure on the ballot last November.

"That's my claim to fame," Kiley said. "Proposition 187 passed with 67% of the vote in our district. The 187 supporters know me and what I can do."

Kiley also became mayor of Yorba Linda in her second year on the council and has won endorsements from all four of her council colleagues, as well as from state Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia). "I take that as a real credit," she said.

If elected, Kiley said, she will remain a full-time resident of Yorba Linda and not spend most of her time in Sacramento, something Johnson was often characterized as doing.

"I've made a pledge not to work in Sacramento. You get out of touch," she said. "I want to continue to go to Vons and the movies and be one of the people here. We haven't really had a representative in the Assembly who comes home and talks to the people."

Kiley is a distant third in fund-raising among the three Republicans.

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Norby, 45, a history teacher at Brea Olinda High School the past 10 years, hopes to parlay the publicity he gained from his active role in the No on Measure R campaign into an Assembly seat. He and his volunteers walked door-to-door to every house in Fullerton delivering his anti-Measure R message and is continuing that grass roots effort throughout the primary.

He has won the endorsement of several key Republican assemblymen, including Bernie Richter of Chico, Brett Granlund of Yucaipa and Steve Baldwin of El Cajon, as well as Bruce Whitaker, another one of the leaders of the No on Measure R fight, and financier Howard Ahmanson.

Norby, a member of the Fullerton City Council since 1984, suggests the record shows he is the most conservative, most anti-tax candidate in the race.

"The person who goes up there needs experience in privatizing and contracting government services. I feel my record in that area is very strong," Norby said.

He also cites his experience in education where, despite being a teacher, he is an ardent advocate of school vouchers.

"I'm a maverick teacher in that respect," he said. "Basically it's about parental empowerment. This would empower people to expand their choices."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

72nd ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

Orange County's next special election will take place July 18 to fill the vacant 72nd Assembly district seat. A look at the district, candidates and their stands on issues:

The Candidates

* Richard Ackerman Party: Republican Age: 52 Residence: Fullerton Family: Married, three children Education: University of California, Berkeley; Hastings School of Law Occupation: Attorney Background: Former Fullerton councilman for 12 years; mayor for two terms * Shirley Hafner Party: Democrat Age: 56 Residence: Fullerton Family: Divorced, four children Education: Marywood High School Occupation: Unit coordinator at UC Irvine Medical Center Background: 12-year Air Force veteran, former volunteer firefighter in Riverside County * Barbara Kiley Party: Republican Age: 48 Residence: Yorba Linda Family: Married, two children Education: Huntington Beach High School Occupation: Political consultant Background: Current Yorba Linda councilwoman, state co-chair of Proposition 187 * Chris Norby Party: Republican Age: 45 Residence: Fullerton Family: Married, one child Education: Occidental College, Cal State Fullerton Occupation: History teacher at Brea Olinda High School Background: Fullerton councilman for 11 years

Where They Stand

* On Measure R: Ackerman: Opposed. "The county has to spend more time restructuring itself and looking for additional cost-saving measures." Hafner: Supported. "I really felt we needed to do something right away to solve our financial problems. Now we will spend more money in attorney fees in the next 10 years than if we would have passed Measure R." Kiley: Opposed. "No more tax money to bail out Orange County's mistakes." Norby: Opposed. "I was active in the No on R campaign not just because I was against the tax, but because it would give us an opportunity to reinvent county government and do it right."

* On proposed recall of Doris Allen: Ackerman: "I support the recall. I would support the election of a 'true Republican' as Assembly leader." Hafner: "I think it's totally outrageous she's being recalled. It's the good ol' boy network that can't stand to see a woman in power." Kiley: "As an Assembly freshman, I will do whatever the party caucus votes to do, but I don't want to go to Sacramento to support or destroy her." Norby: "I support it. Even though she's a Republican, she has used her power to keep the Democrats in control."

* On the possibility of a state trustee taking over the county because of bankruptcy: Ackerman: "I would oppose the state taking over the operation of the county. We should be allowed to govern ourselves." Hafner: "The supervisors were not doing their job in the first place and obviously are not doing it now, so maybe that would be a solution to the county's financial woes." Kiley: "I'm opposed to a state takeover. However, I am very concerned about the lack of leadership at the county level now." Norby: "If local control and new taxes were forced upon us, I would be strongly opposed to it. If it gives the county more power to contract and privatize government, it would be good." Source: Individual candidates

Researched by LEN HALL / For the Times

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