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Outcome of 33rd Senate Race Could Be Key in Reapportionment

May 09, 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.

The 64-year-old Grisham had anticipated the campaign would be over by now. 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, the Norwalk Republican has been spending most weekdays here and shuttling home 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 race for the 33rd Senate District in an effort 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. 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.

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 Orange and Southeast Los Angeles counties; 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.

Medi-Cal Vote

For instance, last month Grisham was among four 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.

A primary campaign mailer, which former Sen. Paul 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.

"The politicians opposing Wayne said some very cruel things about his personal conduct--things that hurt Wayne and me terribly," the letter says. "Honestly, at one point, Wayne and I talked about whether public service was really worth the effort." But, Millie Grisham vowed, the couple "wouldn't be scared away by people who put their ambitions ahead of the truth and common decency."

Away from the campaign, reviews on Grisham's legislative performance are mixed. Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who served on Grisham's congressional staff, defends his former boss as an independent lawmaker who "probably works his district harder than any five incumbents."

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