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Supervisor Race Pits Familiar Figure Aganist Studious Rookie : Romney Relies on His Word, Not on His Record

October 19, 1986|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

"John MacDonald resembles North County's elected officials," Romney said. "He is very much a product of the Establishment in the coastal communities. Clyde Romney, on the other hand, is considerably younger and more representative of the types of families that have been moving into North County for the last decade or more."

Romney is betting that those families share his view of the role of government in society, as an arbitrator with limited power that tends to stay out of people's lives but still helps those who are needy through no fault of their own. Romney is conservative on many issues; he opposes abortion and finds homosexuality abhorrent. Yet he strongly supports the county's role as provider of health and social services to the poor--a view shaped largely by his childhood.

Born in Altadena in 1943 and raised in Monrovia, near Pasadena, Romney was the son of a salesman and an educator. His mother, Almera, widowed when Clyde was 8 years old, was principal of a segregated elementary school. Mrs. Romney, who advocated integration and civil rights before such views were in fashion (she formed the first human relations council in Monrovia in the 1950s) took her son to school with her each day when he was in kindergarten and first grade.

That experience, as the only white child in a school of blacks and Latinos, helped shape young Romney's attitudes. Those who know him say that, despite recent criticism over his handling of the illegal alien issue, Romney retains a compassion for minorities and the underprivileged that was instilled in him as a boy.

Asked to describe Romney as a youth, attorney Kofford recalled that, in Romney's church group, one boy was frequently bullied by all the others.

"Clyde was constantly refusing to do that, and he would tell everyone else to give the kid a fair shot," Kofford said. "That was typical."

In high school, Romney was straight, even by the standards of the 1950s. He was "student judge" and president of the scholarship society, a leader among his classmates and his friends at the local Mormon church.

"He was always on the straight and narrow," said Leonard Morris, a former vice principal of Romney's high school and another longtime family friend. "He wasn't a square; he wasn't a nerd. He was just always doing the things he needed to do. . . . He wasn't a kid who went off the deep end and then came back. He never went off the deep end."

A dedicated student, Romney maintained an A average and won scholarships to help pay his way to Stanford University, where he majored in history and was in the Army ROTC program. After a two-year mission for the Mormon Church throughout the western United States, Romney entered law school at the University of Utah in 1967.

While there, he met and married Deborah Dedekind, and after Romney earned his law degree, the couple moved briefly to El Paso, where Romney began three months' active duty at an Army air defense artillery school. Upon completing the school, Romney went on reserve status with the Army and moved to San Diego County, where he worked for the law firm of Gray Cary Ames and Frye until 1974. After a brief association with Kofford's firm, Romney established his own civil law practice with Andersen, his childhood friend.

In 1981, Romney was elected to the only public office he has held, a seat on the Solana Beach Elementary School District board, where he negotiated for the district with the builders of two massive housing developments in northern San Diego. Romney quit that job after a little more than a year to join Packard's Washington staff.

With Packard concentrating on issues affecting the district, Romney was able to build knowledge and contacts in the region. He played a key role as Packard's office unsuccessfully backed the construction of two dams on the Santa Margarita River, supported a pilot project to provide federal funds for the widening of California 78, and won funds for senior citizen housing in Oceanside.

Perhaps Romney's most notable accomplishment for Packard was the resolution of a years-long dispute between North County Indians and the Vista and Escondido water districts over access to local water sources. The agreement was reached with Romney's mediation after a 17-year stalemate, and Romney has now been hired by the Vista water district to lobby for legislation in Congress that would ratify the deal.

"That required a lot of maneuvering and managing," Packard said of Romney's role in the settlement. "His skills as a lawyer are helpful in mediating and negotiating."

David Gerrie, a former aide to Rep. Jim Bates (D-San Diego) who clashed with Packard's office on many issues, said he found Romney professional and friendly, even in times of conflict.

"You've got to be able to fight like cats and dogs and then turn around and smile at one another and leave the room together," Gerrie said. "He was able to do that."

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