We don't know how Evelyn R. Hart will fare in her battle for the Republican nomination in the 70th Assembly District, but for at least two reasons, we are glad she is in the race.
One is that she wanted to offer her candidacy to her fellow Republicans and deserves that right. The other is that she stood up for those rights against some GOP leaders who put political expediency above good government and tried to pressure and scare her into not running.
Hart, a Newport Beach council member for the last 10 years, was even told by one consultant that if she challenged the incumbent, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson, some well-funded, "very powerful people" are ready to start a recall campaign against her. Orange County Republican Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes tried to talk her out of running. So did other GOP leaders.
The opposition raised by the Republican hierarchy against Hart's primary plans has little to do with her qualifications. But it has everything to do with her causing a primary contest that will draw off campaign funds that the GOP planned to use on its Project 90, a program designed to win five more Assembly seats and gain a majority that could control redistricting that will be based on the 1990 census.
This is not the first time Republican leaders have tried to discourage primary races. In 1982, David Sills had the nerve to file against GOP incumbent Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle in the 69th District and was told that a Republican should never challenge an incumbent Republican. Sills also reported that his supporters were subjected to "heavy-handed pressure and thinly veiled threats." And two years ago Nathan Rosenberg, who headed the Young Republicans, angered party leaders when he ignored their demands and filed against incumbent Congressman Robert E. Badham in the 40th District.
The local GOP's consistent opposition sends a clear message that contrary to the purpose of a primary in a republican form of government, which is to have voters pick their party's candidate, the party's political game plan takes precedence. And incumbency will be protected by the party as a matter of policy.
That approach compromises the entire election system and concerns all residents, not just Republicans. In a district such as the 70th, and many others throughout the county that have so heavy a GOP registration that nomination is tantamount to election, Republicans should want to elect their best representative to office.
But if GOP leaders decide whose name will appear on the primary ballot and limit that listing to their one hand-picked candidate by running off everyone else, they are taking the free choice away from the voters. That creates an invisible, back-room government. No political party ought to be allowed to steal elections that way.
If Evelyn Hart thinks she would be a better representative than Ferguson, she has the right to try. For doing that she was accused by one GOP leader of "aiding and abetting the Democrats." That is nonsense. If she truly is a better candidate, she would be aiding and abetting all residents, including Republicans. Because Hart has the courage of her convictions, at least Republican voters--and not a few party hacks--will make that decision.