The June 3 primary for the Republican nomination in Assembly District 50 pits two upstart young candidates who believe in miracles.
In one of the most heavily Democratic districts in the state--dominated for more than a decade by Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker--Republican candidates Michael L. Davis and Stephen R. Wiley are each confident that they can attract enough votes from Democrats to oust Tucker from his longtime position as what his supporters call the area's political godfather.
The primary is just the first battle in an uphill struggle for whichever of the two ends up as the Republican victor. Both Davis, 32, and Wiley, 34, have said that it will indeed take a "miracle" to beat the veteran Tucker, who is running unopposed in the primary and who has never received less than 70% of the general election vote in his six previous Assembly campaigns.
But both accuse Tucker of ignoring his constituents--especially since the former public health officer was named chairman of the Assembly Health Committee in 1983--and hope that voters will be looking elsewhere for leadership.
As chairman of the health committee, Tucker attracts substantial campaign contributions--especially from medical groups--that newcomers can't match. Davis and Wiley say the special interest groups that support Tucker control the assemblyman's interests. Tucker has said that he is not influenced by gifts or contributions he receives from people or interest groups that have business before the Legislature.
In March, Tucker filed a campaign statement reporting contributions of $116,395 for the previous 12 months. Davis and Wiley have not yet filed campaign statements but are expected to do so today.
Though Davis calls himself a moderate and Wiley leans to the conservative side, they agree that the district is due for a change.
"Tucker is too much of an Inglewood politician," Wiley said of the incumbent, a former Inglewood councilman who still lives there.
Tucker, 68, regularly supports, and in some cases grooms, candidates for the Inglewood City Council and school board and shares his political contributions with them.
"He all but ignores El Segundo and Westchester, even though people have repeatedly asked for his help in dealing with airport noise and traffic," Wiley said. Wiley, an El Segundo native who owns an auto parts distribution firm there, said Tucker may overlook communities on the west side of the district because that is where most of its Republicans live.
Wiley and Davis maintain that Tucker, with little or no opposition in past elections, has ignored the west side and has not been pushed to deal with problems on the district's economically depressed east side such as crime, unemployment, deteriorating business districts and the need for bilingual education.
"Conditions east of Van Ness Avenue and in the southeast portion of the district have not improved, but actually worsened since Tucker took office," said, Davis, who is an immigration counselor for a Los Angeles law firm and a former Los Angeles police officer. "Since he hasn't done anything to improve those areas, it's time he stepped aside and let someone else do it."
Davis says Tucker's preoccupation with health issues and what Davis called Tucker's penchant for flamboyant socializing have kept the Assemblyman from pushing legislation that would help District 50.
The district, which includes Inglewood, El Segundo and parts of Westchester, Lennox and South-Central Los Angeles, has a largely minority population. Since Tucker was first elected to the Assembly almost 12 years ago, the district has changed from a community with few minorities to one in which 61% of the roughly 295,000 residents are black, 20% are Latino and 2% are Asian. Tucker and Davis are both black; Wiley is white.
Of the district's 133,153 registered voters, 77% are Democrats and 17% are Republicans.
A win in the November election would rank Tucker second in seniority in the 27-member Los Angeles County Assembly delegation--after District 40 Assemblyman Tom Bane (D-Los Angeles)--and sixth in the 80-member Assembly.
In past elections, Tucker has easily carried the district's Democratic strongholds, including Inglewood, Lennox and portions of South-Central Los Angeles.
The district's Republican voters are concentrated west of the San Diego Freeway, with a few GOP pockets in northwest Inglewood.
Davis, married with three children, is active in several Inglewood parent and political organizations and has been endorsed by the Inglewood-Ladera Republican Assn., the California Republican League and the California Young Republicans.
Wiley is vice president and past president of the El Segundo Republican Club and has been endorsed by that group.
In largely Republican Westchester--crucial territory for both challengers--the Republican Council split its endorsement on a 3-3 vote for both candidates.