Tillotson Quits Assembly Race in Surprise Move
In a major political surprise, Haydee Tillotson quit the 67th Assembly District race Thursday, saying the increasingly divisive campaign between her and Scott Baugh was splitting the Republican vote and improving the chances for Democrat Linda Moulton-Patterson.
Tillotson, a millionaire businesswoman from Huntington Beach, said she came to the decision Wednesday night after talking with her family and state Senate Minority Leader Rob Hurtt of Garden Grove.
Both she and Hurtt, who had their impromptu discussion in an Irvine hotel parking lot outside a fund-raiser for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, insisted that no deal was made. Hurtt said her stepping aside ensured a Republican victory in the district, where voter registration is 51% Republican and 33% Democrat.
Tillotson, however, did not endorse Baugh, who is the leading contender among the three remaining Republicans and the candidate whom she battled for the conservative mantle.
Baugh’s campaign, which got off to a quick start behind a massive absentee ballot drive, blossomed in the last two weeks as he won every one of some three dozen endorsements given by Republican legislative and congressional leaders.
“I pretty much could see the writing on the wall as more and more of the members jumped on Baugh’s campaign,” she said. “I didn’t want to get into a nasty campaign, and that would have been the deal in the coming weeks. I would have been criticizing other Republicans, including ones who are already in office. It would have become a nasty and dirty campaign.”
The seat is now held by Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), who challenged the GOP in June and was elected Assembly Speaker with the support of the Democrats. She faces a recall election Nov. 28, and the candidates for her job will appear on that same ballot.
Moulton-Patterson is the lone Democrat on the ballot against four Republicans in the winner-take-all replacement contest.
Allen had challenged the GOP leadership and in June was elected Assembly Speaker with the support of Democrats.
The seat is critical to the GOP. Replacing Allen will almost certainly give the GOP control of the Assembly, which for almost all of the past two decades has been run by Democrats.
Politicians and the other candidates reacted with amazement at Tillotson’s announcement, which came about 4:30 p.m. Many Republicans applauded her, expressing admiration for her courage and magnanimity, while others speculated about behind-the-scenes dealings.
Gov. Pete Wilson spoke with Tillotson about 1 p.m. in a phone call from Florida, where he is making a campaign appearance for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.). “I admire and respect Haydee’s decision to put principle and the interests of the party above her desire to be elected to the Assembly,” he said in a statement.
Baugh said his campaign can now focus entirely on defeating Moulton-Patterson.
“I appreciate Haydee’s thoughtful consideration,” he said.
The Baugh and Tillotson campaigns were by far the heavy spenders in the race, with Tillotson raising about $250,000 and Baugh about $169,000. The other GOP candidates trail far behind with contributions together falling below $30,000.
“I would think that this probably guarantees a Republican victory in this race,” said state Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange), who endorsed Baugh and said in recent weeks it had become clear that Baugh would win.
Allen, however, called Baugh “an unknown” and said the entire scenario “is an example of Rob Hurtt and his Orange County political machine manipulating this race.”
“There is only one way to stop this, and that is to vote no on the recall.”
Both other GOP candidates, Don MacAllister, a former Huntington Beach mayor and councilman, and Shirley Carey, a trustee of the Huntington Beach Elementary School District, described themselves as shocked and said Tillotson’s announcement would benefit their campaigns.
Moulton-Patterson, who expressed extreme frustration that the odds of her winning had been diminished in a moment, described Tillotson’s exit as “another example of the back-room power brokers deciding who should be the Republican candidate. . . .
“I just wonder what they promised her,” she said.
Tillotson rebuffed stories being repeated in Sacramento and locally that she had been offered a supervisor’s seat by the governor or a spot on one of the state’s many salaried commissions.
“I can guarantee that if you print that I will be laughing about it for a long time,” she said.
Hurtt said the encounter in the Hyatt Regency Irvine occurred as he left the Lungren fund-raiser early and Tillotson was arriving late. He said he had a number of previous discussions with her and even talked with her husband, John.
“She began to ask me about her concerns that most of the Assembly members were getting behind Scott Baugh and said, ‘My mail is going out and it is hard-hitting, and so is his. I hope the Democrat doesn’t win,’ ” recounted Hurtt. Hurtt said he told her “you need to make a decision.”
Tillotson gave no indication to others at the fund-raiser that she had decided to end her campaign.
“I didn’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve,” she said.
About noon Thursday, she phoned Hurtt and left a message. Then she talked to the governor about 1 p.m., she said.
“I am not cut out for dirty politics,” she said. “What this campaign has proven to me is there are a lot of politicians who conduct themselves with integrity . . . but there are a handful who ruin it for the good people who have integrity. They are out there, because I have met them.”
Times staff writers Eric Bailey and Len Hall contributed to this story.