Since the decisive victory of Assemblywoman Marian W. La Follette (R-Northridge) over a formidable opponent in 1984, the 38th Assembly District could easily be considered a safe seat for the Republicans.
For one thing, a sizable gain in the district's voter registration now gives Republicans a larger margin over Democrats than in 1984. The registration now is 49.8% Republicans to 41.7% Democrats; 1.7% list other party affiliations, and 6.8% decline to state their parties.
But La Follette, being challenged by retired economics professor Mark Lit in her bid for a fourth term, remembers the races she barely won in 1980 and 1982. "I'm waging a full-scale campaign," she said. "I've been working awfully hard at this job and I want to keep it."
Lit, 66, also of Northridge, said he is counting on those voters who declined to state a party affiliation when they registered to increase his chances.
"I don't believe the Republican majority is impossible to overcome," he said. "Anyway, it's time for a change."
Lit said he is depending on name recognition from his many former students in the area and on endorsements from prominent Democrats such as former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) and others to help him unseat the incumbent.
However, La Follette, 60, who is seeking her fourth term, said she feels more confident about this campaign than her previous reelection bids. One reason, she said, is that, for the first time, she is running in a district with the same boundaries as during her previous campaign.
"Each time before, I've had to run in a different district, in communities that were new to me," La Follette said.
Reapportionment twice pushed La Follette's district eastward from Malibu and the Conejo Valley in Ventura County. But it also gave her more strength as the Legislature's majority Democrats, trying to make their own districts safer, drew district lines that attempted to dilute overall GOP power by consolidating as many Republicans as possible into a few districts.
The latest configuration, drawn in 1984, puts the 38th Assembly District completely inside Los Angeles County, beginning at Calabasas on the west, reaching across the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley and ending at Mt. Wilson on the east. It includes parts of La Crescenta and Montrose.
La Follette said her campaign manager, Beverly Lane, has recruited many volunteers to staff three campaign headquarters she has opened and to help with mailings.
In 1984, when she defeated Burbank attorney Linda M. Nelson with 66% of the vote, La Follette limited her campaign spending to $100,000. She said she will do the same this year and, unless it is necessary, she will not spend even that much. "If I feel I have to spend more, I will," she said.
Records show that she has amassed $206,694 in contributions since Jan. 1.
Lit, who last taught economics at West Los Angeles College, acknowledged that he has little campaign money. He said that supporters are holding neighborhood fund-raisers such as garage sales and that he may share a mailer with other Democratic candidates.
He is relying on volunteers to walk door-to-door on his behalf, he said, and is working on what he called some "creative campaigning" ideas with his wife, Estelle, an assistant professor of history at Cal State Northridge and Cal State Los Angeles, and his campaign manager, Ed Burke, a Canoga Park High School teacher.
For example, they are asking supporters for $50 to buy a 30-second Mark Lit commercial over radio station KGIL and inviting volunteers to the Lits' home for weekend breakfasts.
"And, after breakfast," the invitation reads, "we'll provide you with a golden opportunity to walk off those extra pounds you just gained. We'll be precinct-walking, districtwide, reaching homes in the district with our door-hangers' material."
Lit said the door hangers, which he called "a critical part" of his campaign strategy, feature his picture and his stated stands on the issues.
Lit described himself as "middle of the road" on economic issues but said, "I am concerned about the quality of life. If benefits exceed the expenditure, then spend it."
La Follette and Lit agree on a few issues.
Both oppose Proposition 61, which would limit the salaries of state and local officials. They support the selection of a site near East Los Angeles as the logical choice for a 1,700-bed state prison and believe that under certain conditions public and private employers have the right to require their workers to take drug tests.
Both favor the death penalty, although Lit qualifies his support, saying it should be imposed only as punishment for multiple murders and for murder of a law-enforcement officer.
In his campaign, Lit has criticized La Follette for what he calls her failure to vote on key legislation dealing with hazardous-waste disposal and polluted water.