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Sacramento Diary

First of Two Parts . Next Sunday: Zeltner and Friedman turn their attention to their first bills.

June 28, 1987|DAVID FERRELL and MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writers

Freshmen legislators Terry Friedman and Paul Zeltner took vastly different roads to the state Assembly. Now they find themselves in a similar struggle to learn the complex inner workings of the Capitol.

The road to office was a cakewalk for one, an uphill fight for the other.

Democrat Terry B. Friedman and Republican Paul E. Zeltner joined a select club Nov. 4, when--in vastly different races--voters sent them to represent Los Angeles County in the California Assembly.

Friedman, 37, a former legal-aid attorney, was the candidate of choice among powerful Democrats, U. S. Reps. Howard Berman and Henry Waxman in particular. He crushed Republican opposition in the silk-stocking 43rd District, which straddles West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Friedman's campaign was so easy that, for part of the summer, he closed his headquarters to visit Yosemite, Canada and the Eastern United States.

In contrast, Zeltner, 61, a Lakewood city councilman and former sheriff's captain, waged an underdog campaign in southeast Los Angeles County's 54th District, where he took on the son of powerful Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) in a race that became a high-profile battle. Zeltner mobilized scores of volunteers and plunged $60,000 in debt to win a seat all but written off by his own party.

Their election was merely the first step into an unfamiliar world of red tape, lobbyists and political power plays. The two new assemblymen agreed to help The Times record diaries of the difficult first months in office as they struggled to learn the system.

Zeltner, looking ahead to the challenge, said his top priority will be to learn the mechanics of what makes the Legislature tick. "It's the same process as local government," he asserted, "only you have a few more colleagues to deal with, maybe a few more arms to twist and a heck of a greater volume of work."

Friedman spoke of complexities--the vast interplay of personalities, committees, bills, the governor's office, constituents and the news media. "(Nothing) occurs in a vacuum," Friedman said. "It's an overwhelming process."

Week of DEC. 1 At noon on Monday, the sky is partly cloudy and the temperature is a brisk 56 degrees outside the 117-year-old Capitol. The 80 members of the Assembly, including 11 new faces, gather for the oath of office in the Assembly chamber, an ornate room dominated by huge chandeliers and tall, gilded columns that rise to a second-floor balcony.

Beside the silver-haired Zeltner sits his wife of 41 years, Patricia, whom he calls his "No. 1 supporter" in last fall's rough-and-tumble campaign.

Friedman is with his wife, Elise Karl, a kindergarten teacher who describes herself as being apolitical before marrying Friedman seven years ago. Their parents and several relatives watch from the rear of the chamber.

Gazing toward a giant oil painting of Lincoln, legislators pledge to defend the constitutions of the United States and California against "all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Cameras flash. So do smiles.

Friedman celebrates afterward with a bagels-and-champagne reception in his new Capitol office. Dozens of well-wishers shake his hand. He admits his voice nearly faltered during the ceremony.

"Standing . . . with my wife at my side and listening to the words that I was swearing to . . . I was a little bit choked up," Friedman recalls later. "It took a lot of effort to get the first few words out."

By the end of the week, the new legislators--like new students--have had an intense orientation. Among other things, they are advised how to complete their state-required economic disclosure statements, how to keep their offices running smoothly and how to handle the media. On Thursday, they are herded into a legislative hearing room to meet the capital press corps.

Zeltner seems at ease but cracks: "I'm still trying to find my way around."

Week of DEC. 8 Legislators busy themselves in their district offices, organizing files and answering letters.

Friedman has hired a full-time staff nearly identical to Zeltner's, with two aides to serve him in Sacramento and three others for his district office in Tarzana. Like most newcomers, the two legislators temporarily occupy their predecessors' quarters. For Zeltner, who took over for retiring Democrat Frank Vicencia, that means a district office at Bellflower City Hall and a spacious, six-room suite at the Capitol.

Friedman has replaced Democrat Gray Davis, the newly elected state controller. He has Davis' four-room Capitol suite and a high-rise district office overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains.

The two freshmen, products of different generations, bring vastly different priorities to the Capitol. Zeltner is regarded as a no-nonsense kind of guy. The former Navy seaman, a devout Catholic, fulfilled a childhood ambition when he became a sheriff's deputy after World War II.

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