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Nolan Faces His Toughest Election Race : Investigation: Capitol corruption probe has left the Glendale Republican under a cloud that may give a Democratic rival a chance to unseat the Assembly veteran.


Facing his most difficult election in 12 years, Glendale Republican Pat Nolan kicked off his campaign for a seventh term in the Assembly last week with a rousing endorsement from Gov. George Deukmejian.

Addressing 600 Nolan supporters at a $150 per person reception in Pasadena, Deukmejian praised the former Republican Assembly leader as a close personal friend and key player in his administration.

"While I'm not going to be there next year and the years after, I sure will be able to sleep better if I know that Pat's going to be reelected," Deukmejian told a cheering crowd at the Doubletree Hotel.

The staunchly conservative Nolan, 39, has easily carried the heavily Republican 41st Assembly District, which includes Glendale, Eagle Rock, a large part of Pasadena and Altadena since winning it in 1978.

However, he now faces uncertainty as a result of being named in an FBI investigation into corruption in the Legislature. Though Nolan has neither been charged nor indicted, he remains a target for prosecution, according to sources close to the investigation.

Nolan has no Republican challenger in the June 5 primary election, but could face harsh attack from a seasoned Democrat in the November final.

Vying for the Democratic nomination in June are Jeanette Mann, a trustee for the Pasadena Community College District, and Rod McKenzie, professor of Geography at USC. Peace and Freedom candidate David Velasquez is not opposed.

Mann, 53, said she plans to hit Nolan hard on ethics.

"I believe that Mr. Nolan will be indicted," she said.

So far, Mann appears to have the jump on McKenzie, 52, who characterizes himself as "just a classic academician."

But McKenzie said he hoped to appeal more widely to voters than Mann, because of her liberal posture. He said he will refrain from talking about possible prosecution of Nolan.

"My presumption is that until he has been proven guilty, the man is innocent," McKenzie said.

It is possible that Nolan's status in the investigation will not be resolved until after the November election, rendering it an inevitable question during the campaign.

Nolan remains a target of the federal political corruption investigation that surfaced in August, 1988, when his Capitol office was raided by FBI agents. The investigation, which included an elaborate sting operation, led to the indictment of Sen. Joseph B. Montoya (D-Whittier), who was convicted in February of seven counts of extortion, racketeering and money laundering.

Among the key pieces of evidence that emerged during Montoya's trial was that Nolan, then the Assembly Republican Leader, was arranging with Senate staffer John Shahabian, a government informant, to receive campaign contributions from a dummy shrimp company set up by the FBI.

Also, last November a former top Nolan aide, Karin Watson, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to extorting $12,500 for Republican lawmakers in exchange for help in passing a bill to benefit the bogus shrimp company.

Besides Nolan, four other elected officials were targeted in the same undercover sting operation that led to Montoya's indictment.

Nolan has said he did nothing wrong.

"No one has accused me of doing anything," Nolan said in an interview this week. "I say when the investigation is concluded, I think I'll be completely exonerated."

But the probe, coupled with Republican setbacks in the 1988 elections, led to Nolan losing his position of GOP Assembly leader. That position gave Nolan a statewide profile and took him all around California as a spokesman for his party. "I had to be from one end of the state to another," Nolan acknowledged.

Though winning his own district again easily in 1988, Nolan suffered a discernible erosion of his margin of victory two years earlier. In his second run at Nolan, Democrat John Vollbrecht increased his vote tally more than 50% from just under 30,000 to more than 45,000, while Nolan added only about 3,000 votes to 69,508 in a presidential election year when more voters traditionally go to the polls.

One source close to Nolan, who asked not to be identified, said that the assemblyman was buoyed by the outcome of a recent special Senate election in which Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), also a target of the FBI investigation, won the GOP nomination. The success of Hill, the source said, "confirmed Pat's belief that things aren't that bad."

Some of his colleagues say that veteran lawmaker Nolan, faced with the federal probe, is acting more like a freshman lawmaker popping up at a variety of events in his district, sometimes several in a day. Now, relieved of his statewide duties, which included fund raising for other candidates, Nolan said he "can spend that time in the district."

Indeed, since he lost his leadership post, Nolan has been involved in more issues that are popular with leaders in his district--pushing for legislation to block parole offices near homes, toughen the penalties for auto theft and equalize state funding for school districts.

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