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On the Court and Off, GOP's Hill Has Right Moves

April 12, 1987|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — When legislators choose up sides for informal, after-hours basketball games, Frank Hill is among the most sought-after players.

One Democratic colleague joked that the agile 5-foot-10 Whittier Republican is a good ball handler who "can easily move to his left or right" as he scores a basket.

Off the basketball court, Hill's teammates say that most of his legislative moves are to the right, but that he is just as skilled at scoring political points. In less than five years in the Assembly, Hill has become a top Republican fund-raiser and--although he has no official leadership position--a key adviser to Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan (R-Glendale).

Indeed, the bushy-browed Hill, 34, vice chairman of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, is regarded as a rising Republican star whose youthful good looks and breezy, straightforward style could catapult him into statewide office.

Assemblyman Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres), chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, described Hill as "a reasonable, practical political person" and predicted that he would be "a candidate for leadership in the state in the future."

Known as an Insider

Hill is known as a political insider and strategist who relishes the give-and-take of crossing swords with Democrats.

"I enjoy the political wheeling and dealing," Hill said in an interview. "I think I'm good at it."

In his behind-the-scenes role, Hill in the past year has served as an adviser to other GOP Assembly candidates and helped work out a compromise in delicate negotiations on the controversial bottle bill, which was aimed at promoting recycling.

Hill, who gets high marks from the California Chamber of Commerce for his conservative-leaning voting record, usually lines up with business groups and opposes new state spending. However, Hill, an avid hunter and fisherman, also has attracted praise from environmentalists for his support in their efforts to protect wild rivers in Northern California.

"He has one of the best understandings that protecting the environment is a bipartisan issue that all Californians care about," said Corey Brown, lobbyist for the Planning and Conservation League.

But Hill also has his detractors, who privately describe him as being too ambitious and a bit too aggressive in seeking campaign contributions from such special-interest groups as the horse-racing industry. Others, including some in his district, say the Texas native has been insensitive to his district's growing Latino population, citing his role as a leader in the effort to revamp or reduce a variety of bilingual programs.

At Odds With Brown

In fact, Hill recently has emerged in the public spotlight as the GOP point man on the emotionally charged issue of bilingual education. He has introduced legislation to narrow the scope of existing programs. As a result, he has found himself at odds with powerful Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) who has proposed a bill to extend the existing system, which is due to end on June 30.

"The focus of our bilingual system needs to change," Hill said. "Children want to learn English, yet the current bilingual structure does not allow children to learn English rapidly."

Hill proposes three key changes in the law: Speed up the time it takes to get non-English speaking students into English-speaking classes; require parents to give permission before students are placed in bilingual classes, and ease requirements for teachers to qualify as bilingual instructors.

But critics contend that Hill, whom they view as pragmatic and open-minded on other issues, has turned into a narrow-minded language policeman on the bilingual issue.

Shelly Spiegel-Coleman, president of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education, predicted that "without the protection" of current state law "many of the good bilingual programs would be diminished."

Hill discounts the criticism, saying that his detractors would not support him even if he altered his position.

Discounts Critics

Hill also discounts critics who say he is too ambitious, although he acknowledges that he is interested in seeking higher office, possibly as soon as 1990. He said he views the bilingual issue as a potential springboard. "I plan on running, down the road, and I think it's an issue that would help," Hill said.

For now, however, Hill said he plans to seek reelection in 1988 to the 52nd Assembly District seat, which he first captured in 1982. The district stretches from southeast Los Angeles County into the hillside communities overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. It includes Whittier, Diamond Bar, La Habra Heights, Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut, La Mirada and part of West Covina.

Republicans narrowly outnumber Democrats, but the district is regarded as a safe GOP seat because Republicans tend to vote in higher percentages and with more loyalty to their candidates than Democrats. Hill coasted to an easy reelection victory last Nov. 4, capturing 69.1% of the vote.

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