State election officials have cleared the way for Assemblyman Gil Ferguson to run for a coveted state Senate seat in a special election that was set for Feb. 6.
Striking a compromise between warring Republican candidates, Gov. George Deukmejian on Tuesday set the Feb. 6 date for the primary election and April 10 for the general election to replace state Sen. William Campbell, who resigned Friday.
Ferguson was assured a spot in the Feb. 6 primary on Tuesday when election officials ruled that he had narrowly met a 30-day residency requirement when he moved to Laguna Beach last month to be eligible to run.
The announcement sets the stage for a brief and intense seven-week Republican primary battle among Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier) and Brea Councilman Ron Isles in a sprawling, strongly Republican district that runs from Laguna Beach north into southern Los Angeles County, including Whittier, La Mirada and La Habra Heights.
The short period could favor Assembly members Hill and Ferguson because they are known to the greatest number of voters. But Isles said he is prepared to spend $500,000 of his own money on the campaign, which could give him a financial advantage in a short race.
Isles launched his first attack Tuesday, charging that Hill "is moonlighting for special interests." He issued a statement saying Hill collected $52,412 last year in gifts and honorariums--more than Hill's $44,000 legislative salary.
"Where I come from, it looks like Frank Hill has a second job; he is moonlighting for the special interests," Isles said.
Ferguson said Tuesday that he is happy he will be able to run for the seat, but he still charged that the quick election put him at a disadvantage and that it was evidence that Hill's Sacramento colleagues are meddling in the process.
"This means the voters will only have about 30 days to learn about the candidates," Ferguson said in a statement. "I am the best qualified candidate and am determined to win this race. No amount of back-room maneuvering or setting of election dates can stop our huge volunteer army."
Hill did not return repeated telephone calls to his office Monday or Tuesday. But Sal Russo, campaign manager for Hill, said his candidate's name is the most prominent in the field and, therefore, he should be helped. "Think of it practically," he said. "Would Hill have been for an early election if he didn't think it would help?"
The 31st State Senate District seat officially became vacant Friday when Campbell, a 20-year legislative veteran, resigned to become president of the California Manufacturers Assn. In addition to the Republicans, at least one Democrat, El Toro attorney Thomas M. Whaling, has also announced his candidacy.
Deukmejian announced the election dates Tuesday evening after returning from the scene of a fatal train crash in Stockton. Tom Beerman, a spokesman for the governor, said Deukemejian wanted to schedule the general election on April 10 because it coincides with several local elections in the district and would therefore save money for the county governments.
Deukmejian and state Republican leaders were also concerned about clearing up the questions surrounding Campbell's seat and the two Assembly seats before the election in June.
If the special election were held later, it could force Ferguson and Hill to file for both reelection to the Assembly and election to the Senate seat. If that happened, Republican leaders feared that a Democrat might be elected in the confusion.
The residency requirement for Ferguson came into play when he was forced to move into the 31st State Senate District in order to run.