At 76, state Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena) is a year older than President Reagan. But as the spry dean of the California Senate said recently, "The President can't run for four more years, but I can."
Dills, who represents the 30th Senatorial District, is seeking his sixth term. His Republican opponent, Anthony Jay Gray, 25, of Long Beach, was only 5 years old when Dills first settled into his Senate seat in 1966.
Lee Chauser, 40, a high school English teacher who lives in Long Beach, is running on the Peace and Freedom ticket in the Nov. 4 general election.
Dills has been in and out of politics for almost 50 years.
He served in the Assembly from 1938 to 1950, when he left office, he said, because state legislators had only part-time jobs at that time.
He became a judge in the South Los Angeles Justice Court and later a presiding judge in the Compton Municipal Judicial District before returning to Sacramento in 1966, when legislators' jobs became full-time positions.
Dills' political support in the district--which covers Gardena, Carson, Harbor Gateway, Wilmington, San Pedro, northwest Long Beach, Paramount, Lynwood, Willowbrook and the southwest corner of Compton--stems to a considerable extent from his legislative efforts in the fields of education, labor and law enforcement.
The district, in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 3 to 1, is a predominantly minority, blue-collar area, with 221,455 registered voters.
Dills, who chairs the Governmental Organization Committee and sits on the Appropriations and Education committees, has raised more than $250,000 for his campaign, much of that from political action committees.
According to campaign finance statements, Dills has received contributions from such groups as the Beer Wholesalers Community Affairs Fund ($8,250), the California Assn. of Polygraph Examiners ($1,000), the California Chiropractic Political Action Committee ($2,625), the Candy Political Action Committee ($1,000), the Los Angeles Police Protective League ($4,750), the Los Angeles Turf Club ($3,000), United Teachers of Los Angeles ($1,000) and the Waterbed Industry Political Action Committee ($500).
Both Gray and Chausen charge that Dills is more concerned with keeping campaign contributors happy than with looking after the needs of his constituents.
"He receives a lot of money from alcohol-related and gambling-related businesses," said Gray. "You look at the bills he has authored and they are all for special interests."
Gray added that he expects to spend only about $3,500 on his campaign.
Chauser said he agrees that Dills favors special interests "while throwing crumbs to the district." He said he expects to spend less than $500 on his campaign.
Dills denies that he ignores his district's needs and defends his contributions as part of the political game.
'Don't Make the Rules'
"I don't make up the rules," he said. "I take the money, but I am not bought by any professional group. I look at the issues and if it's not in the best interest of the district, then I don't vote for it."
Dills has refused to debate his opponents, saying, "I'm not going to give them an opportunity to call me names."
Gray, a newcomer to politics who works as an irrigation contractor, has tried to make an issue out of the retention of state Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird.
"Crime is a big issue in the district, and, of course, the tip of the problem is Rose Bird," said Gray. "A major reason why many voters will be turning out is Rose Bird."
Chauser said he supports Bird. Dills has declined to state his position, contending that the chief justice's battle for reconfirmation has nothing to do with his job in the Legislature.
In a recent interview, however, Dills said he favors an independent judiciary free of political influences.
"You might want to assume where I stand from that," Dills said.
Both Dills and Chauser oppose the initiative that would make English the state's official language, but Gray supports it.
"We're doing a disservice to people who think they can survive here without speaking English," Gray said.
Gray supports Proposition 61, which would limit the salaries of public employees, while both Dills and Chauser oppose it.