Assemblyman Gil Ferguson's opponents in his campaign to hold onto the 70th District seat needled him Friday about his role in Sacramento's political leadership battles, criticizing him at one point for being too partisan, then for not being partisan enough.
Ferguson, who so far in the campaign has restrained a volatile temper, responded by unleashing personal attacks against a Republican challenger and the Democrat who will face the GOP primary winner in the fall.
The exchanges came as Ferguson, a Newport Beach Republican, was taping a campaign forum with Newport Beach City Councilwoman Evelyn R. Hart and Laguna Beach environmentalist Michael Mang, his Republican opponents in the June 7 primary. Also present was San Juan Capistrano schoolteacher Michael Gallups, the lone Democrat on the ballot in the heavily Republican district.
The three challengers all accused Ferguson of spending too much time fighting with Democrats and not enough time representing his district, which stretches from Newport Beach to Capistrano Beach and inland to the Riverside County line.
"We need a bipartisan effort up in Sacramento," Gallups said. "We have a two-party system and it's worked very well for 200 years in this country. To send someone up with blinkers on (who) says, 'There's just one way to go, there's just one party and I'm going to push through,' we're not going to get anything. We're not going to get any benefits here in Orange County."
'Someone to Represent Us'
Said Hart: "We want someone who will represent us, someone who will be listening to us and someone who will represent us."
Ferguson explained that he plays by the rules that he encountered when he was elected to Assembly in 1984.
"You don't choose the field you play on," said Ferguson, who is one of the leaders in the current GOP fight to gain control of the Democrat-dominated Assembly. "The field you play on is there. That is the battle that's going on."
But Hart then challenged Ferguson to explain why he and the 35 other Republicans had not joined with five rebel Democrats to oust Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco. This exchange followed:
Ferguson: "If you knew anything about politics, you'd know how silly that is."
Hart: "I do know about politics. I've been at it much longer than you have."
Ferguson: "You know about small-town politics. This is partisan politics, where tough guys are dealing with big issues."
Then Gallups, the Democrat, chimed in. He said Ferguson was too quick to dismiss his opponents as ignorant.
"I think this is very typical . . . of what happens every time someone challenges the word of Gil Ferguson," Gallups said. "It's always, 'We don't have the facts.' . . . I think people do come to this campaign with facts."
At that point, Ferguson turned his wrath toward Gallups.
"Here's one fact: you're a union leader," Ferguson said. "Why don't you say you're a union leader instead of saying 'I'm a teachers' association president'?"
Gallups explained that he is president of the Saddleback Valley chapter of the California Teachers Assn.
"You're a union leader," Ferguson said again.
Replied Gallups: "And a proud one as well."
Ferguson said after the forum, which will be aired at 7:30 p.m. June 3 on KOCE Channel 50, that he focused on Gallups' union affiliation so that the public would know why Gallups is charging that Ferguson does not support education.
"I think he owes it to the public to tell people he's a union leader, then they'd understand why he is criticizing me," Ferguson said.