Three Republicans--Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly, Tony Hope, a lawyer and son of comedian Bob Hope, and stock brokerage executive Tom La Porte--are competing in the June 3 primary race in the 21st Congressional District.
The district extends from eastern Ventura County through parts of the western San Fernando Valley to the Sunland-Tujunga area. It also dips into the Pacific Ocean to include Santa Catalina.
Because the district is overwhelmingly Republican, the winner of the GOP primary will most likely become the 21st District's next congressman. The scramble for that privilege was touched off when the incumbent, Rep. Bobbi Fielder (R-Northridge), decided to run for the U.S. Senate.
Profiles of the three candidates follow.
TOM LA PORTE: Dark Horse Impresses Many as He Seeks to Narrow Gap
When the Republican primary season in the 21st Congressional District kicked off this year, Tom La Porte, a Thousand Oaks stockbroker, was supposed to be a mere footnote.
The real story, everyone assumed, would be devoted to the two well-financed Republican contestants, Simi Valley Mayor Elton Gallegly and Tony Hope, a lawyer and the son of entertainer Bob Hope. Locked in a close race that could end in a photo finish on June 3, the two front-runners have been hogging the headlines, mostly by hurling insults at each other.
Nevertheless, La Porte--blessed with an impressive stage presence and a briefcase full of ideas on how to cut the federal deficit--has been stealing some of the limelight as he tries to get voters to take him seriously.
People are beginning to believe him. His fans include some prominent Republicans, according to party activists.
One of them is Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).
"The candidate I'm most impressed with is Tom La Porte," McClintock said. "I think he is one of the rising stars in the Republican Party. Everybody is looking at him and saying to each other, 'Where has he been?' "
For more than 10 years, La Porte, 38, has been in Thousand Oaks trying to ignore his passion for politics until he established a career and started a family. He said he now feels ready. In the last few months, La Porte and his wife, Nancy, became parents for the first time. Also, La Porte was named a senior vice president at Dean Witter Reynolds, the highest title that the brokerage executive could attain without moving to New York City.
Trained as an architect, a structural engineer and an art historian at the University of Wisconsin, La Porte left his hometown of Milwaukee for Southern California in the early 1970s to work for one of the world's largest building contractors.
But La Porte enjoyed investing his paycheck more than he did earning it.
So, in 1976, La Porte joined Dean Witter as an account executive. He has since enjoyed a steady series of promotions.
Budget-Balancing Ideas The conservative Republican is banking on his financial knowledge and his budget-balancing ideas to win the election. He said he would like to make as great a contribution to America's financial health as Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), an economist and co-creator of the Gramm-Rudman budget-balancing act.
Voters may be mildly interested in Libya and Nicaragua, he says, but pocketbook issues are the ones that really matter to them.
The financial adviser has pledged never to vote to raise the taxes of the working man. Instead, he proposes shrinking the federal deficit by selling the U.S. Postal Service, Amtrak and any other agency that he believes could be operated more efficiently by the private sector. He also advocates closing unneeded defense bases and selling billions of dollars in surplus federal holdings.
Jokingly, he said, "The U.S. government has been collecting things for 200 years. I think we could have the biggest garage sale in the history of the world."
Incentives for Thrift La Porte further suggests that the Pentagon's stockpile of $1,000 coffeepots and toilet seats could be eliminated by offering year-end bonuses to any of the 165,000 purchasing agents who routinely buy equipment under budget. He also would like to revive a 123-year-old law that provides citizens who report incidents of federal-contractor fraud with a percentage of the recovered money.
La Porte has chided his two GOP opponents for not offering their own budget-cutting suggestions.
"We're all conservative Republicans, but I think there's a big difference in our approach to problem solving," he said. "Elton hasn't thought about solving problems. Tony is an intelligent man who has identified the problems, but who hasn't come up with solutions."
Experienced Speaker La Porte speaks with self-assuredness in crisp, concise sentences. He has had practice. For 10 years he has been sharing his financial know-how with Ventura County radio listeners.
The station manager at KWNK said La Porte's daily spots at 6:40 and 7:40 a.m. are among the most popular programs on the air.
La Porte, who is also involved in the arts community in Ventura County, does not have the political base to raise the kind of money needed to reach all the voters.
Favorable Comments "The frustrating thing about it is everyone who has heard me speak says I'm head and shoulders above the other two," La Porte said. "I always get those comments after every forum."
Nonetheless, La Porte no longer wants to be called a dark horse.
"I'm kind of the wild card," he said. "No one knows exactly what I'll get."
One of La Porte's optimistic supporters is Richard Hoefflin, an Encino lawyer and longtime friend and client.
"It's absolutely surprising how well he's doing when he started off a couple of furlongs behind," Hoefflin said.