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He's Busy Grooming Himself for a Run in 1990 : Seymour Takes Aim at a Statewide Office

May 03, 1987|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Sen. John Seymour has been having trouble lately getting people to believe him.

Hardly anyone believed the Anaheim Republican when he denied plotting to overthrow Senate leader David Roberti, a Los Angeles Democrat.

People snickered when Seymour, about to be stripped of his own leadership post as chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said he had intended to quit anyway but had kept his decision a secret.

And despite Seymour's protestations, few of his colleagues seemed to believe that he had not tried to seize credit for himself by prematurely leaking word of Gov. George Deukmejian's recent decision to open a California Department of Transportation office in Orange County.

But on one subject, at least, Seymour is taken at his word: his desire to run for statewide office in 1990.

For in a place where ambition is king and political plotting is second nature, Seymour is seen as the ambitious plotter par excellence .

At a time when many Republicans are grumbling about the party's meager crop of up-and-coming leaders, Seymour has stepped to the front of the line and raised his hand. Not waiting to "be groomed" for statewide office, he has decided to groom himself.

So if you ask John Seymour about his future, don't expect to hear any modest dodges.

The office of governor would be his first choice, Seymour says, if Deukmejian weren't talking about running for a third term. Given that obstacle, he says he would settle for just about anything else except secretary of state.

"I like to do things," Seymour said in a recent interview. "I've been a doer all my life. I don't like to sit around sucking my thumb. I like to resolve problems. I like to meet challenges. So I wouldn't run for a statewide office just to run for a statewide office. I'd have to know you can do something with this job."

For that reason, state treasurer--an office now occupied by the the aging and ill Jesse Unruh--provides the strongest lure.

By managing the state's portfolio of investments, the treasurer can have a major impact on the budget available for government services, Seymour figures. "You can make a difference of half a billion to a billion dollars a year," he said.

But there are signs that Seymour's undisguised quest for power grates on his colleagues in the Legislature. Seymour has problems with conservatives who think he is too liberal, with moderates who think he double-crossed them in a leadership battle four years ago, and with some of his Orange County colleagues who see him, perhaps jealously, as the darling of the county establishment.

"For anyone in leadership, their first responsibility is to keep the members happy," said Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), without discussing Seymour directly. "Anyone who forgets that is generally going to find themselves with some dissatisfaction on the part of the caucus. People have got to feel they have a role in the caucus and their agendas are being met."

Another senator, who spoke on the condition that he would not be identified, said Seymour's independent style irritates his fellow party leaders. Although he took his leadership post in 1983 under an agreement that partisan affairs would be run by a five-member "board of directors," Seymour after a while was seen as less than interested in what the other four members had to say.

"He does his own thing to the exclusion of other people," the senator said. "He doesn't think he needs the rest of us. He's got his long-range plans, being governor or United States senator or whatever, and we're just so many actors in the play, his play. I can't think of one senator that would stand up for him."

Like almost any politician, Seymour enjoys the spotlight, and he maneuvers to capture it. But the openness with which he does so often shocks his colleagues.

"When it comes down to it, he's a good politician, and he probably exhibits it more than others because he's so successful," Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) said. "The others may have been knocked down a couple of times. While they're still ambitious, they don't show it so much. They don't approach every issue as 'how could this make me look better?' If you've won every time, you still might be more naked in your approach."

When Seymour was quoted recently confirming the details of Deukmejian's decision to open a Caltrans office in Orange County, he set off an angry reaction among some of his Orange County colleagues who had promised the governor that they would remain silent until the deal was officially announced. Seymour's action was seen as an attempt to take the credit for something the entire delegation had worked toward.

"John is just so overtly ambitious and so eager to thrust himself to the head of the parade," said an Orange County legislator who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his name would not be used. "He doesn't simply try and make John Seymour look good. He does it in a way that by implication makes others look bad."

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