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Challenge to Katz Fizzles : Incumbents Win Handily

November 06, 1986|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Times Staff Writer

It was touted as the hottest race in the San Fernando Valley this fall, but in the end the contest pitting Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) against Republican Robert F. Thoreson grew into a landslide for the incumbent.

As the voting figures trickled into Katz's jubilant campaign headquarters Tuesday night, it quickly became clear that Katz would trounce Thoreson, a Los Angeles police detective who took a leave of absence to run against the 39th District assemblyman a second time. Katz captured 60% of the vote to Thoreson's 40%.

It was a night of celebration not only for Katz, but for the Valley's eight other legislative incumbents and three congressmen who, as expected, defeated their opponents with the greatest of ease.

There was also no suspense in the battle for the only vacant congressional seat in Southern California. In the heavily Republican 21st Congressional District, GOP candidate Elton Gallegly, the mayor of Simi Valley, clobbered Democrat Gilbert Saldana, vice mayor of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, 68% to 28%. Gallegly will succeed U.S. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge), who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Libertarian candidate Daniel Wiener claimed 3% of the vote.

Gallegly, the newest addition to the Valley's congressional delegation, is also the first elected national lawmaker from eastern Ventura County. He has said he would like a seat on the Armed Services or Ways and Means committees. But, failing that, he would also like a spot on the Public Works or Transportation committees. As a member of those committees, he said he would seek money to ease crowding on the Ventura Freeway, which he calls the "largest parking lot in the world."

'Hard Work' Paid Off

Katz, dressed at his election-night victory party in cowboy boots, jeans and a black jacket decorated with a radial tire logo, attributed his easy win to his legislative work in Sacramento and the high priority he places on helping constituents.

"What it proves to me is that . . . cheap political slogans can't overcome hard work," Katz said.

Katz, 36, throughout the campaign seemed more anxious about meeting his future in-laws in Coolidge, Kan., during the Thanksgiving holidays than he was about election results.

Thoreson, seemingly stunned by the depth of Katz's support in the election, had spent more than $300,000 appealing to voters primarily through negative mailers aimed at his opponent. Ironically, the Republican's campaign had more money and more staff than in 1984, but he lost by a much bigger margin. In 1984, Katz beat Thoreson 54% to 46%.

'Didn't Hear Message'

"I think a lot of them didn't hear the message," Thoreson said of the district's voters. "They throw away junk mail." Thoreson, 42, said he is retiring from politics, at least until he receives his police pension in five years.

Republican leaders had taken a special interest in this race, believing it to be one of a handful of Assembly contests in which they had a chance of stealing a Democratic incumbent's seat. They based their belief on registration figures showing a healthy number of GOP voters in the district.

But Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan's faith in Thoreson's ability to pull off an upset evaporated in mid-October when a GOP poll showed Katz in the lead, according to Thoreson and GOP political insiders. Thoreson said Nolan had promised to invest $200,000 in the campaign, but that most of that money instead was funneled into other targeted GOP races. Campaign records show that Nolan's political action committee came up with $65,000 for Thoreson.

Republicans also were disappointed when they tried to pull off a coup in the 23rd Congressional District by unseating U.S. Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles). But Beilenson, who was outspent by his GOP opponent, Tarzana attorney George Woolverton, nevertheless pulled off a 2-to-1 victory. Beilenson, 54, received 66% of the vote to Woolverton's 32%, marking the congressman's biggest victory margin in his 10 years in Congress.

Woolverton, 36, who saw his negative mail campaign against Beilenson backfire, acknowledged that he was surprised by the congressman's overwhelming victory.

"I thought it would be a much, much better showing," said Woolverton, who nonetheless said he is considering running again in 1988.

Here is a rundown of other legislative and congressional races:

24th Congressional District: U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) received the highest vote percentage of any California congressional incumbent: 88%. He had no Republican opponent. Libertarian George Abrahams captured 7% and Peace and Freedom candidate James Green won 5%.

26th Congressional District: U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City) won 65% of the vote, to 35% for Republican Robert M. Kerns, a Northridge stockbroker.

18th State Senate District: Sen. Gary Hart (D-Santa Barbara) handily beat his Republican opponent, DeWayne Holmdahl, a Santa Barbara County supervisor, 65% to 33%. Libertarian candidate Jay C. Wood received 2%.

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