Several prominent Southeast-area Republicans have declared support for Dale Hardeman's challenge to Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk), which puts them at odds with the Assembly's GOP leadership.
Saying that they are disappointed in Grisham and doubtful that he can retain his 63rd District seat, a majority of the members of the district's Republican Central Committee last week indicated that Hardeman, a former Grisham aide, is their choice in the June primary.
"I am supporting Dale," declared Mary Villegas of Cerritos, one of seven people on the party committee that recruits and grooms candidates. "I believe he's much more tuned in to the people and the needs of the district." She called Grisham "almost an absentee legislator" who "doesn't talk to anybody any more. He doesn't know what we want, what we feel."
Hardeman supporters say Grisham's loss to Democrat Cecil Green in a special Senate election last year left him politically wounded, lending strength to Democratic attempts to capture his Assembly seat.
The 63rd District race is one of a handful around the state that could help shift the legislative balance of power, and it is attracting an increasingly crowded field of Democratic contenders. The district covers Artesia, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Norwalk, Santa Fe Springs and a small part of East Long Beach.
Grisham predicted that he would defeat Hardeman and any potential Democratic opponent. He dismissed the support that Hardeman is attracting from Republicans, saying: "I represent the people of my district . . . maybe not the people in the Central Committee but I represent the guy on the street." In an interview in Sacramento, Grisham also contended that the Central Committee members are Hardeman's friends and would be expected to support Hardeman.
Hardeman, a Downey print-shop owner, took his former boss and the Sacramento establishment by surprise earlier this month when he announced that he would challenge Grisham in the party primary.
"I think Hardeman's announcement was like a bucket of cold water thrown on everyone's face. I don't think anybody was expecting it. . .," said a Republican legislative aide in Sacramento.
Central Committee member Villegas nonetheless said she knows numerous district Republicans who view Hardeman as a logical primary contestant. In their eyes, he has both name recognition and political sophistication gained during his recent stint as president of the Cerritos College Board of Trustees and in his involvement with local and state campaigns, including Grisham's unsuccessful Senate race.
"I really feel Dale has a much better chance of winning the seat against the Democrats than Wayne does at this time," asserted Vera Eckles, a Central Committee member from Artesia.
Grisham's Republican critics complain that he never should have entered the race for the Senate seat vacated by Democrat Paul B. Carpenter, who resigned from the Legislature after being elected to
the state Board of Equalization. Once Grisham was in the race, they say, he failed to campaign vigorously enough and allowed state Republican leaders to call the shots and shove aside local party workers.
They further complain that Grisham, a two-term lawmaker, is not his own man in the Assembly. "He's being told what to do," Eckles said, contending that Grisham does the bidding of Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale. "Wayne has sort of disillusioned a lot of people in the area," Eckles said.
Grisham denied the charge, saying he does not take his guidance from the Central Committee and "I have very little to do with the political leadership in Sacramento," including Nolan. Grisham, however, acknowledged that he is a close friend of Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who is one of Nolan's top lieutenants.
Grisham, a former congressman, has never exactly been the sweetheart of the party's local power brokers. He got off to a bad start in the 1984 district primary, when he took on--and defeated--Dorothy Richard, the committee's candidate.
"He kind of came in unexpectedly," said Keith McCarthy of Downey, another committee member who says he will support Hardeman. "Since then, there has been some feeling toward the Republican Assembly Caucus, that things were being foisted on us."
Barbara J. Hayden, president of the Cerritos College board, a former Central Committee member and a Hardeman supporter, agreed. "It is just the idea that Sacramento legislators have tried to handpick our candidates for us, and we really would prefer to do that ourselves."
She added that she expects Hardeman to attract substantial party support. "It appears to me that there are a number of Republicans who will be supporting his candidacy rather than Mr. Grisham's."