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Three GOP Rivals Make for a Tight Assembly Contest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Republicans in the sprint for a state Assembly seat in north Orange County are throwing elbows at one another and pumping up their campaigns with half a million dollars of family money.

The three Republicans battling to win the March 7 primary for the 72nd Assembly District seat have raised a combined $780,000--the most of any Assembly race in the county.

Lynn Daucher, a Brea councilwoman, has raised the most--$340,594, according to reports filed with the state last week. To get there, she borrowed $200,000, including $100,000 from her mother.

Don Bankhead, a Fullerton City Council member, has $184,109, including $150,000 that he borrowed from his wife. And Bruce Matthias, a former racetrack executive who lives in Anaheim Hills, has raised $254,000, half of which came from his own bank account and $5,000 from his parents.

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“It’s a sad fact that to run for state office you have to put in a lot of money,” Daucher said Friday. “It’s wrong, and it needs to be changed. But I care about doing this job. I want to make changes, and that’s why I’m running.”

Term limits have forced incumbent Assemblyman Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton), to seek another job. He’s running for the state Senate, and two other candidates besides the three Republicans have jumped into the race for his seat.

Those other two are Democrat Gangadharappa Nanjundappa, a sociology professor who lives in Yorba Linda, and John W. Zamarra, a Placentia physician and Natural Law Party member.

District 72 covers Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, Yorba Linda and sections of Orange and Anaheim.

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Registration in District 72 tilts heavily toward Republicans, so the winner of next week’s primary probably will coast to victory in November. Political observers say the outcome of the Republican race is too close to call, and the three Republicans are scrambling for votes by touting their conservative credentials.

“It’s been an interesting race,” said Bankhead, a retired Fullerton police captain who spent 31 years on the force. Bankhead also has served for 11 years on the Fullerton City Council, including two stints as mayor.

Most of the jousting has been between Daucher and Matthias, who has tried to paint the Brea councilwoman as a tax-and-spend liberal. The two candidates have each racked up long lists of endorsements, and they’ve squabbled over who has the backing of tax reform groups.

“I am the clear conservative choice,” said Matthias, who worked as an executive at Santa Anita Park until last summer when he became a full-time candidate. “I’m not sure it pays to be all things to all people. You have to know who you are, and I do.”

Daucher, a former teacher and former school board member, dismisses Matthias’ charges as “desperation” and “smear tactics.” Said Daucher: “I guess he thinks I’m the one to beat.”

All three Republicans say state government has grown too big and that Sacramento has too much control over local decisions and local dollars. Education reform is a priority, as well as trimming taxes. But the Republican candidates say they are willing to spend more on teachers’ salaries. They support HMO reform and say that for too long, government officials have neglected roads, water systems and school facilities, many of which have become run-down and in need of repair.

“The infrastructure of the cities is deteriorating,” said Bankhead, 67. “We keep putting off maintenance, and our maintenance money has been greatly reduced. Local control needs to be brought back to the cities.”

Orange County receives only about 6 cents of every property tax dollar it sends to Sacramento, candidates say. They stress that the state’s complicated tax structure should be revised so that Orange County is not shortchanged and its municipalities can better manage its services and schools.

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“Enough is enough,” Bankhead said. “No one seems to want to talk about this, so I decided to do it myself. We need a strong candidate who will deal with the diversion of funds.”

Daucher, 53, agreed that more attention should be paid to aging structures.

“Back in the 1950s, a great investment was made in our roads, schools and water systems,” said Daucher, a mother of four. “We need to take a long-term look. We need to make sure that we do for our children what was done for us.”

Voters this year are most concerned about education, according to polls. And District 72 candidates say education would be their priority. Bankhead said he wants to end “social promotion,” in which students are passed to the next grade regardless of their abilities.

“A number of children that graduate are not able to do simple math. They don’t have simple reading skills,” Bankhead said. “That’s not right. These young people really don’t have a chance in our society without these tools to succeed.”

Daucher, a Brea-Olinda School District board member from 1981 to 1994, said the state “needs to hold school districts accountable, but it needs to stop meddling in local school district decisions.”

“I’m a great believer that if you have high expectations, kids will reach those expectations,” Daucher said.

Matthias, a 50-year-old father of two, is trying to mobilize the most conservative Republicans by decrying the quality of public education and the problem of school violence, which he says is caused, in part, by “an education system environment bereft of any moral foundations.”

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Matthias supports a tax rebate, or vouchers, for parents that could be applied toward private and religious school tuition for their children. Public schools are failing, he said, because they lack competition.

“Our local schools enjoy a monopoly, and that monopoly stifles change, it stifles innovation and gives us the education system that we have today,” he said, adding that too much money comes from Sacramento with strings attached.

“We need to break that grip so that teachers in classrooms can figure out what works best,” said Matthias, who is making his first run for office.

Bankhead said he would support vouchers for students who attend the lowest-performing schools. Daucher said she, too, would consider vouchers for those students.


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