State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), a powerful, moderate-to-conservative lawmaker with an independent political streak, has been removed from a Democratic slate mailer by party activists angered at his support for a Republican running for Congress.
"Partisan incumbents have a responsibility to help their party ticket. That's how they got elected in the first place and they owe something back," said Ed Burke, a board member of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, an unofficial but established group of officeholders and party members that produced the mailer.
Robbins endorsed Elton Gallegly, the Republican contender for Congress in the 21st District. Gallegly is the heavy favorite over Democrat Gilbert R. Saldana, a young city councilman from Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. The strongly GOP 21st District cuts across the northern Valley and southern Ventura County.
The Valley Democratic group raises funds for slate mailers, and Robbins would normally be included on the oversized postcard arriving at Valley households this week. But Robbins' endorsement of the Republican prompted the group to remove his name from about 40,000 mailers arriving this week in Robbins' 20th Senate District, Burke said.
The number of flyers sent to Robbins' district was also cut after an "overwhelming" vote of the group's board of directors, Burke said Friday.
"The reaction was displeasure, anger. Grass-roots workers want party loyalty from the top as well," said Burke, past chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee.
Burke also charged that the Robbins campaign sent a "go-between, a Democratic Party political consultant" to offer a contribution of "more than $5,000" to the Valley club in exchange for putting Robbins' name back on the mailer.
Burke would not name the consultant but said the purported offer from Robbins was rejected in another vote of the Democratic group.
"We said no. We made our decision on principle. It's not a decision that's for sale," he said.
Robbins, in a telephone interview from Portland, Ore., where he was meeting with state insurance officials, denied offering any money to be put on the mailing.
"No offer whatsoever. We made a decision not to spend any money on mailers," he said. "It's not a mailer we're eager to be associated with."
Defying the group's criticism, Robbins, 43, not only reiterated his support for Gallegly, but predicted that the Republican will "run again in two years and win with 75% of the vote. . . . He'll be an excellent congressman."
"They're sort of venting their frustration," Robbins said of the group.
The intra-party squabble was spurred by an article in The Times in which Robbins said, "Saldana lives and spends his life . . . away from the San Fernando Valley. I believe that Gallegly knows the community well."
"There's a big difference between lack of support and going out and voicing support for our opponent," Burke observed. "In a district that's overwhelmingly Republican, the importance of running a strong Democrat is that it keeps the Republican money there and doesn't allow it to go to other districts to help out other Republicans."
Despite the sharp criticism, the squabble will undoubtedly have little effect on Robbins' own race.
He is running the easiest reelection campaign of his 14-year legislative career. He enjoys a 56%-35% Democratic to Republican registration advantage and faces a relative unknown in Republican Lynn Robert Davis, 29, a computer software executive. Robbins has built a campaign treasury of about $685,000 to Davis' $2,000, according to recent campaign statements.
To the disappointment of party loyalists, Robbins has backed earlier campaigns of conservative Republicans such as state Sen. Ed Davis of Valencia and U. S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler of Northridge. He opposes the confirmation of California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph R. Grodin.
"I happen to be a Democrat by registration, but there are a number of issues on which I take a conservative approach. I run a fairly independent path," he commented.
"I've always tried to support the best person for office. I've never told anyone I was a 100%, down-the-line Democrat," he said.