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Statehouse Turns Attention to 33rd Senate Race : Assemblyman Grisham Wants to Ride Conservative Label to Upper Chamber

May 03, 1987|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — One wall in Assemblyman Wayne Grisham's Capitol office is lined with photographs of Santa Catalina Island, where he owns a vacation home.

Lately, Grisham says, he has had precious little time for relaxing on Catalina or for another favorite pastime--playing golf--because he is engaged in a bitter state Senate election campaign.

By now, Grisham, 64, had anticipated the campaign would be over. There had been some predictions that he could win the March 17 primary outright. But he not only failed to win a majority of the votes necessary to avoid a runoff, he actually trailed Democrat Cecil N. Green.

As a result, Grisham has been spending most weekdays here and shuttling to his Norwalk condominium on weekends to walk precincts or tap campaign contributors.

It is not the first time he has had to rebound from a setback. After losing his seat in Congress in 1982, Grisham managed a 1984 comeback by moving to Norwalk--triggering charges that he was a carpetbagger--and winning the Assembly seat against a well-financed Democrat.

But after coasting to reelection to his 63rd Assembly District seat just six months ago, Grisham finds himself in the neck-and-neck 33rd Senate District race seeking to revive his political fortunes.

Grisham, whose tanned face is framed by a receding line of white hair, seems to relish his role as a legislator. Unlike some of his more reticent colleagues, Grisham hangs his Assembly vanity license plate on his state-leased, 1987 Oldsmobile 98. Around the capital, he is known as a natty dresser in blazers, striped ties, colored shirts and saddle shoes. He smiles, shakes plenty of hands, answers his own office telephone and bewilders visitors by pacing during meetings--a habit he picked up from his father.

However, Grisham seems less comfortable with the nuts and bolts of legislation. And although the former congressman is regarded as more independent than his less-experienced and younger colleagues, he seldom speaks during floor debates or takes the lead on major issues.

Grisham says he sees his role as a "weather vane" reflecting his district. "I don't need all the statewide publicity. I'm not going to run for a statewide office . . ." nor am I anxious to get back to Congress.

Nonetheless, the special election has focused statewide attention on Grisham. The race is viewed by Republicans as a first step toward capturing control of the state Senate. Republicans estimate that in the runoff election they expect to pump $750,000 into Grisham's candidacy, which has won a major boost from appearances by Gov. George Deukmejian and drawn an endorsement from President Reagan.

Grisham not only has to run a campaign in Southeast Los Angeles County; he also has to think about the campaign in Sacramento, seeking to avoid mistakes which could provide Green with ammunition. One way has been for Grisham to side with Assembly Democrats on several highly charged issues and against the Deukmejian administration.

For instance, last month Grisham was among three Republicans who joined 43 Democrats to reject Deukmejian's proposed $300-million budget cut in the Medi-Cal program. Further, Grisham was among seven GOP lawmakers to side with 43 Democrats to save the state's $8-million worker safety program (Cal/OSHA), which the governor has proposed phasing out.

Grisham, who was regarded in Washington as a party loyalist, acknowledges that he has voted with the Democrats. He explains that his actions are in response to constituents' requests and demonstrate that, unlike many of his conservative colleagues, he supports some government spending programs. "I think a person has to be pretty hard-hearted not to vote for Cal/OSHA," Grisham said.

Former Sen. Paul Carpenter, who helped guide Green into the race, assails Grisham as "lazy" and says that Grisham "doesn't spend a lot of time in committees or working the district."

Sexist Charge Denied

A pre-primary mailer, which Carpenter helped pay for, repeated an accusation by a former Grisham secretary that Grisham fired her after she turned down his sexual advances. Grisham has denied that charge, but he says the mailer "just about cost us the election."

To counteract the attack, the Grisham campaign has sent out an unusual piece of campaign literature: a letter to voters from Millie Grisham, the assemblyman's wife of 42 years.

The letter, in script and on cream-colored stationery designed by the campaign staff, was sent to 86,000 targeted voters along with a photo of the smiling couple and, to the surprise of voters, their home telephone number. Grisham figures that his wife has received at least 300 calls, many merely seeking to verify that it was indeed his home number.

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