Toward the end of the 1988 session of the Legislature, a bipartisan group of senators and Assembly members set up a meeting to discuss a proposed increase in the state gasoline tax. It was not expected to be the friendliest of gatherings, and the participants needed someone to chair the meeting who could keep the guns off the table.
The choice: state Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), known around the Statehouse for--in no particular order--his joviality, his knowledge of the legislative system, his legendary fund-raising abilities and his seemingly ever-expanding girth.
"Campbell, by his personality, can keep those kinds of bipartisan meetings from getting nasty," said Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach).
That reputation has helped make Campbell a solid favorite to win a fourth term in the 31st District and turn back the challenge of Democrat Janice Graham of Laguna Hills.
In fact, he is such an overwhelming favorite that he shows no hesitation about discussing other political challenges he sees in his future, looking beyond Tuesday's election.
The 31st District takes in parts of Los Angeles and Orange counties and includes Diamond Bar, Hacienda Heights, Industry, Rowland Heights, Walnut, West Covina, a portion of Covina, the southeast side of Whittier and from Brea south to Mission Viejo in Orange County.
So far this year, Campbell, 53, has raised campaign contributions of more than $400,000, much of which he has used to pay off debts from his unsuccessful 1986 bid to become state controller. When that debt is retired, Campbell said in a recent interview, he will consider another try at statewide office. He has his eye on 1990--and on the office of governor, lieutenant governor or treasurer.
But while Campbell is looking toward higher office, Graham says he is vulnerable now.
"If you were an employer, would you hire someone who was absent 31% of the time, who did not show up for 54% of the company meetings?" said Graham, referring, respectively, to Campbell's attendance for floor votes and committee votes in 1988. "In 1986," she added, "he didn't vote on one environmental bill."
Replied Campbell: "Anybody who's been in a leadership position--their voting record may not be as high as someone who's able to be on the floor every day or every committee and not working on anything else."
Graham, 51, a New York native who moved to California less than 3 years ago, characterized Campbell as a senator "who's been there far too long."
She agrees with women's rights advocates who have chastised Campbell for the way he has handled an annual women's conference that he sponsors. In 1987 alone, the conference paid about $165,000 to Campbell's wife, Margene, and an aide, Karen L. Smith, whose company helps organize it. Graham also is unhappy about the Small Business Administration's co-sponsorship of the conference and the subsidies it has provided in recent years.
Critical of Graham
"I think what he did was a blatant misuse of his position," Graham said. She also criticized "the misuse of SBA funds that are not for the purpose of a conference where his wife and an aide make a profit. Those funds are for small businesses, not Sen. Campbell. I think he's way out of bounds on that."
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has been reviewing the conference for possible illegalities. An FPPC spokeswoman said the review is pending and declined to answer any other questions.
An Small Business Administration spokesman said the agency's possible involvement in future women's conferences hinges on a request from Campbell. So far, the spokesman said, Campbell has not asked for SBA involvement next year. Campbell said the SBA in fact may not be asked for such a direct role in next year's conference.
The conference, which has attracted as many as 14,000 women, offers an array of career tips and self-awareness seminars. In addition, exhibitors provide information on such things as hair-styling and cosmetics. Speakers have included Oprah Winfrey and Jihan Sadat, widow of the former Egyptian president.
In a move that may help to deflect the controversy, Smith is leaving Campbell's office at the end of the year, the senator said, to pursue organizing such conferences full time.
In addition to the women's conference, Campbell has been touched by other controversies. Several years ago, he sponsored legislation for--and described himself as a "friend" of--former Anaheim fireworks magnate Patrick Moriarty, who pleaded guilty in 1985 to mail fraud after being accused of attempting to corrupt public officials. Campbell was not linked to those allegations. He also has received numerous financial contributions from the City of Industry, for which he has pushed a number of bills. The city's founder, James Stafford, was sentenced in 1985 on various charges relating to kickbacks from contractors. Again, Campbell was not personally linked to the allegations.
'Born Under Right Sign'