Vote Recount Called Off by Assembly Candidate

TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

The recount on behalf of defeated Assembly candidate Lou Correa was called off Thursday, when the local Democrat who filed the request withdrew it.

Ruben Gomez, secretary-treasurer of a Santa Ana-based union, wrote a letter to the registrar of voters saying he had abandoned the idea after consulting with electoral experts.

Correa, whose campaign was aided by members of Local 652 of the Laborers Union, said he and Gomez decided to withdraw the request because a recount probably wouldn't have changed the outcome.

Correa lost the race by 93 votes. When he and Gomez asked for the recount Monday, they said they were interested in examining several hundred absentee and other ballots rejected by the registrar.

On Thursday, however, Correa said he was more concerned about newly registered voters who weren't allowed to cast their ballots than he was about winning. He said his attorney told him "it's better to go through other means" to address those concerns, but did not elaborate.

"The real issues that we're concerned about are people who were denied the right to vote," Correa said. "We're not sure that going to a recount is the way to [address that issue], and it would be an expensive process. All along in this campaign of mine, the biggest problem we've had was resources."

Gomez could not be reached for comment.

Two Republican strategists gave a different explanation for the change of heart, saying the recount was withdrawn as part of an arrangement worked out between the Assembly's Democratic and Republican leadership.

The parties agreed that the Democrats would not contest the seat won by Jim Morrissey (R-Santa Ana) if the Republicans would not challenge the seat won by Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced).

Morrissey defeated Correa, and Cardoza beat Republican Tom Berryhill of Ceres, winning by 84 votes in a central California Assembly district that spans three counties.

Though he objected to the word "deal," Jeff Flint, a spokesman for Republican Leader Curt Pringle, indicated such discussions would have been appropriate.

"Of course, [the Democrats] would want to prevail on Republican leadership to cool any immediate reactions by Republicans [to seek recounts], and we would do the same," he said. "Would it be appropriate for their leadership to come to us and say, 'Is this what you want your guys to be doing?' Yes."

Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante's office did not return several phone calls.

One Sacramento-based strategist, who asked not to be identified, said it was important for Pringle that Morrissey not lose the seat in Orange County.

"The Republicans feared that if we lost that seat now, we wouldn't get it back," the strategist said. "The Democrats were concerned that they would lose in a recount up north where the margin was lower, where more people voted and where the recount would involve three less-precise registrar's offices in three rural counties."

A key factor in the negotiations was that victory in the races would not affect the balance of power in the Assembly. Democrats won control of the Assembly, holding a 43-37 edge.

The Assembly leadership had agreed in late November that neither Correa nor Berryhill would contest their narrow election losses, according to the sources familiar with the negotiations. But that arrangement was broken when Gomez filed for the recount Monday.

Morrissey immediately retaliated by filing a recount request for Berryhill in San Joaquin County, and he was prepared today to challenge the vote count in Merced County, said Morrissey spokesman David Stefanides.

Flint said that Morrissey today will formally withdraw the recount request already filed on behalf of Berryhill in San Joaquin County and will forgo the recount request in Merced County.

"Calmer heads have prevailed upon Jim," Flint said.

Correa said state Democrats had not encouraged or discouraged the recount.

"I never asked for their support and they never offered it to me," he said. 'I don't think a deal like that would be cut, but I'm not a Sacramento guy."

Neither Morrissey nor Berryhill could be reached for comment.

Cardoza said he was unaware of any deal, and didn't even know if the recount by Berryhill was on or off.

"I'm the one person who it affects the most but have been kept in the dark," Cardoza said. "I just figure it's beyond my control."

Also contributing to this report were Times staff writers Nancy Cleeland and Eric Bailey.

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