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Hill Described as Issue in State Senate Race : Politics: At least four hopefuls in the 31st District race agree that the Whittier assemblyman's ties to an FBI probe of influence peddling have made ethics a campaign matter.

December 28, 1989|TONY MARCANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One thing became clear as Tuesday ended the filing period for the special election to replace state Sen. William Campbell: Four candidates in the race have a common target.

He is the fifth candidate--Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier).

Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) abruptly left office earlier this month after 20 years of elective office to become president of the California Manufacturers Assn.

Gov. George Deukmejian set a special Feb. 6 primary to replace him.

As expected, Hill, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), and Brea City Councilman Ron Isles will compete in the Republican primary. Democrat Janice Lynn Graham, who lost an election to Campbell, and El Toro attorney Thomas M. Whaling are the Democratic candidates.

Other candidates who met Tuesday's filing deadline are Diamond Bar City Councilman Gary G. Miller, a Republican; West Covina Councilman Bradley J. McFadden, a Democrat, and Rowland Heights resident Robert W. Lewis, American Independent Party.

The sprawling 31st Senate District straddles Los Angeles and Orange counties, stretching north to Whittier and south to Laguna Beach. Registered Republicans in the district outnumber Democrats 54% to 36%, and Ferguson and Hill are considered front-runners in the race.

Hill, 35, is one of five elected state officials being investigated by the FBI in connection with influence peddling at the state Capitol. Hill's office was searched in the investigation, but no charges have been filed against him.

Ferguson, 66, has blasted the governor and other Republican leaders in Sacramento for what he said was a Machiavellian plot to eliminate him from the race to leave the way clear for Hill.

On Tuesday, Ferguson said: "I've already promised Hill I would not do anything to hurt his reputation." But the three-term assemblyman added, "I think the public knows that issue (the FBI investigation) already. It's a done deal. He's already shot himself in the foot, and it's not necessary for me to stomp on his foot."

Ferguson also reiterated his allegation that political interests may have been behind the decision to give the candidates just over a month to campaign. This expanded on his earlier charge that Hill supporters pushed Deukmejian to call a special election quickly so that Ferguson, who recently moved from Corona del Mar to Laguna Niguel, would not meet the residency requirement.

However, Ferguson said he did not believe that there was complicity on the part of the governor and declined to say whether he thought Hill was directly behind the move.

But Whaling, Isles and Graham all said Hill or his backers specifically asked the governor to call a quick election for Hill's benefit.

"If they didn't go out and push him, people would wonder whether they really supported him," said Graham, a retired businesswoman and teacher from Laguna Hills.

Isles, 51, who has also indicated that ethics could be a campaign issue, said Tuesday that Hill exerted pressure on influential backers in Sacramento--including the governor--to move up the special election and thus cut campaign time that could be used to focus on the corruption probe.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of loyalty in Sacramento among various legislators," Isles said. "I think Frank Hill has been an easy vote for most of those people, and I think he's calling in his chips."

Whaling vowed not to mention specific shortcomings among the candidates during the campaign but added that "there's a real problem with Hill taking money in honorariums."

"I intend to focus on the positive, but out of that comes a generalization about corruption," he said.

Hill could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Bob Gore, a Deukmejian spokesman, dismissed the allegations about the timing of the primary as "absolutely untrue."

"The governor set the election without regard to any specific candidate," Gore said. "To my knowledge, none of the major Republican candidates even spoke to the governor."

Campbell, 54, shocked colleagues in late October when he announced that he would leave elective office, then abruptly speeded up his departure in the middle of this month. He had recently drawn heavy criticism for leading a group of fellow state legislators on a junket to New York to meet with bond houses. The trip, which Campbell organized as chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, included trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Radio City Music Hall and a Broadway show, all at taxpayers' expense.

Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp is closing a lengthy investigation into $165,000 in consulting fees paid to Campbell's wife and a former aide for a 1987 conference on women sponsored by Campbell's office.

Tuesday, the candidates interviewed predicted that the potentially volatile race also will focus on campaign spending.

Ferguson, who said he plans to spend about $350,000 on the campaign, said he expects Hill to spend about $600,000. Isles said he is willing to spend $500,000 of his own money.

"It's the only way I can get in the ballgame," Isles said. "I don't have the insurance industry and the gambling interests and Pacific Telephone chipping in money to my campaign." He said he cited those industries because they have appeared on campaign contribution disclosures filed by Hill.

Graham, who said she plans to spend about $100,000 on the campaign, and Whaling, who said he signed an affidavit Tuesday vowing not to spend more than $1,000, both called the campaign war chests of Hill, Isles and Ferguson "obscene."

"They should be embarrassed to say they're going to spend that kind of money on a Senate race," Graham said. "Where do they get their money from? Who do they pander to?"

Whaling said he planned to rely on press coverage to get his message across.

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