Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), one of the targets of the FBI investigation into state Capitol political corruption, is conducting an almost non-existent reelection campaign.
With less than a month to go until Election Day, Hill's campaign headquarters is an empty office on Whittier Boulevard, with no furniture, signs, bumper stickers and no volunteers stuffing mailers into envelopes. Telephone calls are recorded on an answering machine; recent ones from a reporter were not returned.
Hill, who will not talk to the media about the FBI sting operation, makes only a few token public appearances, and then only in front of friendly groups.
The sting--aimed at uncovering extortion and bribery at the Capitol--involved federal agents creating phony companies, sponsoring bills and paying money to lawmakers. Hill, a member of the Assembly Republican leadership team that boasted to lobbyists of its influence with Gov. George Deukmejian, received a $2,500 honorarium from an agent posing as a businessman, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
No charges have been filed in the probe and the indications are that no indictments of legislators, if any, will be returned until after the Nov. 8 election.
Hill's Democratic opponent, elementary school teacher Terry Lee Perkins, acknowledges the obvious: It would be to her political advantage if Hill were to be indicted before voters go to the polls.
But, despite the investigation and the lack of real campaigning, members of the local political scene believe that Hill will be reelected to represent the 52nd Assembly District, which has a Republican registration advantage: 47% GOP to 44% Democrat.
The 52nd district is 82% Anglo and the remainder is a mixture of Latinos, Asians and blacks. It includes parts of Whittier and West Covina, and all of Walnut, Rowland Heights, La Mirada, La Habra Heights, Hacienda Heights and Diamond Bar.
'People Trust Him'
Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) said of Hill, who ran his district office for four years when Grisham was a congressman: "Thank goodness we are all innocent until proven guilty. Frank will be reelected overwhelmingly because the people trust him and have faith in him, like I do."
As for Hill's not talking about the FBI probe, Grisham said: "We talked about that. He said, 'Gee whiz, what am I going to say? If I say no comment, how will that look? If I try to explain what happened, there's not enough room to print my explanation. I think I'm better off not talking.' And I think he's right."
A Whittier city councilman and friend, Thomas K. Sawyer, said: "I think Frank is an excellent legislator. I think he's done a very fine job for the community. All of us are concerned and hope he's not gotten himself into trouble. I don't think it (the probe) has changed anyone's opinion of him"
Earthquake Relief Bill
Sawyer said Hill led efforts to obtain a $91-million earthquake relief bill signed into law by Deukmejian a month after last year's Oct. 1 temblor that severely damaged the Whittier area.
Other community leaders praised Hill for obtaining $130,000 for drug diversion programs for two Whittier school districts.
Joe Duardo, a Whittier Union High School District board member who has clashed with Hill in the past on the issue of bilingual education, said: "I doubt it (the investigation) is going to have a strong enough effect to deny him reelection. I think he reflects the views of the majority of voters in this district."
Mila Corral, a Whittier City School District board member who has also had her differences with Hill, called him "an ivory tower recluse who tends to serve the uptown establishment quite well."
First Try for State Office
But Corral added, "The only way Whittier would have a Hispanic or Democrat (in the Assembly) would be through reapportionment," meaning the redrawing of district boundaries based on the 1990 census.
Democratic candidate Perkins, who is making her first try for state elective office, said she is not trying to exploit the FBI investigation.
"People bring it up and question me about it," she said. "They express concern that they are not really sure they want him up there (in Sacramento) if he is involved in something like that. I say I do not want him up there if he is guilty--but we can't know that until it goes to court. I think it will."
When a guest at a recent La Mirada Democratic club luncheon asked Perkins how the campaign was going, she replied, "Interestingly, but if Hill would just get indicted, things would be a lot better."
Carried Interest Rate Bill
First elected in 1982, Hill is a close ally of Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, also a target of the investigation.