SACRAMENTO — Veteran Sen. H. L. Richardson (R-Glendora), who last week announced that he would not seek reelection in 1988, has endorsed Assemblyman Bill Leonard (R-Redlands) as his successor and assailed another potential candidate, Assemblyman William H. Lancaster (R-Covina).
Richardson called Leonard "the most qualified candidate" for the 25th Senate District seat. "He'd be better than Bill Lancaster," Richardson said. "He's a better man. More capable."
In an interview Wednesday, Richardson complained that Lancaster "has not done a good job in the Assembly. . . . He hasn't made his presence felt" in his 15 years in the Legislature.
Richardson, a blunt champion of conservative causes, said Lancaster "is a good vote" on Republican bills, "but he's not out there carrying the mail for anything, especially if it smacks of controversy. I personally like him, but so what? I like my mother-in-law."
With Democrats, who control the Assembly, Richardson maintained that "the only way you get their attention is by smacking them in the nose" on issues. But, he said, any legislation Lancaster has proposed "hasn't been indelible. He's a nice guy for carrying a bill for a local sewage company."
Even though Richardson's criticism of another GOP legislator is unusual, Lancaster merely shrugged off the potshots. In response, he said: "I don't agree with (Richardson) at all."
Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) defended Lancaster as "highly qualified" to succeed Richardson. "I don't know why the senator made those remarks. As an assemblyman, (Lancaster) has done a good job."
A large field of candidates could emerge because the solidly Republican district has been held by Richardson for more than 20 years. The district includes Azusa, Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Claremont in Los Angeles County, as well as Inyo County and much of the high desert in San Bernardino County. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 50% to 39%.
Richardson touched off the scramble for his seat earlier this month when he announced that he is quitting the Legislature. While saying he will not run for reelection, Richardson, 60, said he's not "retiring from working in the political vineyards--squeezing left-wing grapes is still too much fun." Before his last reelection in 1984, Richardson announced his retirement and then changed his mind. However, Leonard said he takes Richardson at his word that he will not run again.
Leonard, 39, was elected to San Bernardino's 61st Assembly District in 1978. Regarded as more pragmatic than Richardson, Leonard said he jumped into the Senate campaign long in advance of the filing date next year to minimize the chances of other candidates mounting major campaigns. Leonard said he acted "to show early on to potential opponents that I'm not only in the race but that I have an organization . . . and am ready and raring to go."
As a member of the 40-member Senate, Leonard said, he would have more influence than in the 80-member Assembly. "Interest groups seem to pay more attention to senators, and I like to be where the action is."
Leonard did not associate himself with Richardson's criticism of Lancaster. Leonard said he would seek Lancaster's endorsement because he is "well-known and respected" in the one-third of the district that lies in the San Gabriel Valley.
Lancaster, 56, was elected to the Assembly in a special election in 1972 and, like Leonard, is regarded as a pragmatic conservative willing to compromise with Democrats. Much of Lancaster's 62nd Assembly District is in the 25th Senate District.
Lancaster said he is considering whether to enter the Senate contest. "I'm very happy serving in the state Assembly, and I've developed an expertise on insurance and local government" issues, Lancaster said. "But by the same token, I have to look at (running for the Senate)."
Between now and early next year, Lancaster said, he will talk with his family and supporters. "Frankly, I have not made a judgment on whether to run or not run," he said. "I'm not rushing to judgment."
Meantime, Democratic campaign consultants said they do not plan to concede the seat to the GOP and will search for a candidate.