Despite Assemblywoman Doris Allen’s claim that she left the speakership to concentrate on defeating the recall against her, Orange County political observers suggested Thursday that the Cypress Republican has lost significant ground in that effort in just the past week.
Harsh predictions of Allen’s electoral future were easy to come by Thursday, the day the secretary of state’s office informed Gov. Pete Wilson that he must schedule an election because a sufficient number of voters in the 67th Assembly District had signed recall petitions.
In “a special election, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to change the minds of the few people who will vote,” said Gil Ferguson, co-chair of Citizens Supporting Speaker Allen and a former Orange County Assemblyman.
Allen would need at least $700,000 to win, said Ferguson, adding that her ability to raise money is diminished by leaving the speakership. “She doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said. “It would be a miracle if she can raise that kind of money.”
Some supporters, like the cash-laden California Teachers Assn., however, said they will stand with Allen as they have in the past when they regularly contributed the maximum $5,000 per election cycle to Allen campaigns. In a recall campaign, where there are no dollar limits, that could mean a significant contribution.
Assemblyman Richard Katz, the Sylmar Democrat who is second-in-command of the Democrats’ caucus, said he and other elected Democrats would give money to Allen and campaign for her if asked.
Allen’s opponents, however, say the recall effort took three giant steps forward this week.
The first came Monday when Allen lashed out at her critics in the Legislature and the state Republican Party, calling them “a group of power-mongering men with short penises.” The comments drew an outcry across the political spectrum statewide.
On Thursday, the secretary of state’s office certified the recall election. Later the same day, Allen resigned the speakership, only to join with 39 Assembly Democrats in electing Assemblyman Brian Setencich (R-Fresno) to replace her.
The selection of Setencich as Speaker rather than Curt Pringle, (R-Garden Grove), the choice of the Republican caucus, further infuriated Allen’s GOP colleagues. It was a virtual replay of the scenario under which Allen was elected Speaker three months ago, igniting the recall campaign.
“This reinforces our case against her that she is a Willie Brown puppet,” said Mike Schroeder, vice chairman of the California Republican Party.
Allen became speaker in June with 40 votes--her own and those of the 39 Assembly Democrats in what was then a 78-member legislative chamber. She was immediately labeled a traitor, and worse, by Republican colleagues.
A recall petition drive was announced almost immediately and has been supported with cash and campaign mailers funded by conservative Republican activists in Orange County, as well as the door-to-door efforts of several hundred volunteers. The county Republican Party and the state Republican Party also back the ouster of Allen.
“I think these actions this week have hurt her in different ways,” Schroeder said. “Her sexist comments on men with short penises is really going to alienate women and family people who aren’t used to that kind of language. The Setencich debacle makes the case that she is Willie Brown’s puppet and needs to go. Orange County people aren’t going to stand for a Willie Brown puppet, and this action proves it.”
Veteran political consultant Dan Wooldridge also said Allen had hurt herself significantly this week.
“The remark a few days ago has taken the luster off her and works against the chance she could turn this thing around,” said Wooldridge, who worked as an Allen campaign consultant in the past year. “Those kind of imprudent remarks are going to turn off a lot of people. Before, she had a fighting chance; now it has moved into the slim-to-none category in terms of her survivability.”
Wooldridge predicted that Allen’s renouncing the speakership would make it “extremely difficult for her to raise money. . . . The money guys are lining up to give money against her.”
Katz, however, argued that by leaving the speakership, Allen had actually strengthened her hand “because she is not the hate object for some of the more extreme members” of the Republican Party. In addition, Allen has improved her position because she can be more single-minded about fighting the recall, Katz said.
But most other disagreed sharply, noting the legislative session is no distraction because it ends today and does not resume until January. They also said special interests have little to gain by giving substantial sums to Allen, who because of the term-limits law cannot seek reelection.
Jim Righeimer, spokesman for the recall, said contributions from Democrats are “a Catch-22 for them. It shows the Republicans in the district that she is being supported by Democrats.” Recall officials were coy about how much they would spend on the campaign, suggesting it would be between $100,000 and $1 million.
Allen made it clear Thursday that she plans a vigorous campaign in the northwest county district, which includes all or part of 13 cities. She will contest charges she has hurt her party, emphasizing that she is being targeted by Republican elements who want the GOP to mimic the partisanship of Brown’s Democratic rule.
“I am a fighter and I will fight,” Allen said of the recall. “In so doing, I have realized it is in the best interests of my constituents and party to step aside and hand the Speaker’s gavel to another fair-minded Republican.”
Gov. Wilson is expected to act quickly in picking a date for the election, which must be held between 60 and 80 days from now. Wilson may make an announcement as early as today.
Wilson’s office received official notice Thursday that the campaign against Allen had filed the 25,606 signatures required to force a recall. They represent 20% of the voters who cast ballots in the 1994 election in the 67th Assembly District. Of the 31,176 signatures submitted, 25,752 were validated by the Orange County registrar of voters.
Recall campaign manager Jeff Flint said the likely date for that election will be the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. “I think [the governor] will call it for Nov. 28,” said Flint, basing that prediction on discussions with Wilson’s staff.
The secretary of state’s office confirmed the 28th as the most likely date. The governor’s office suggested Dec. 4 as a possible alternative.