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Choice Between Right Wing and LaRouche Wing Piques Some Voters

May 10, 1990|JOSEPH N. BELL

I get a lot of mail from Orange County citizens--the majority of them Republicans--deeply distressed that election after election they feel themselves disenfranchised because they are not offered local candidates they can vote for in good conscience. These are people who find themselves philosophically out of sync with the archconservative Republicans who mostly represent Orange County in Sacramento and Washington but don't feel the Democrats are offering enough viable alternatives.

Why, they ask, don't the Democrats give us more electable candidates? And how can the Democrats screw up so badly that we sometimes find ourselves with a choice between a Republican with totally unacceptable social views and a follower of convicted felon Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.?

That scenario happened four years ago, when former Superior Court Judge Bruce Sumner ran a successful write-in campaign to prevent a LaRouche candidate from representing the Democratic party against Republican incumbent Robert Badham.

It happened two years ago in GOP incumbent William E. Dannemeyer's 39th Congressional District, where the voters in the Democratic primary were offered a choice between two candidates who both supported an AIDS referendum measure that was rejected resoundingly in Orange County as well as throughout the state. It is for all practical purposes happening in Robert K. Dornan's 38th Congressional District this year. And it came within an hour of happening in the 70th Assembly District now represented by Republican incumbent Gil Ferguson.

The Democratic circus in Dornan's 38th district got most of the attention because of Ron Kovic's well-chronicled last-minute defection. His hurried replacement, abortion rights activist Barbara Jackson, decided after filing that she was doing a disservice to her employer, Planned Parenthood, by running and tried to withdraw--too late. So now we have an official Democratic candidate who says she won't campaign and "might" accept the Democratic nomination if she wins it anyway. And standing in the wings, ready to represent the Democrats once again is--you guessed it--LaRouche follower Art Hoffman.

The Kovic retreat tended to obscure what was taking place in the 70th Assembly District, which is probably more typical of Democratic problems in Orange County these days. The man who laid his body in the breach there is a highly successful Newport Beach businessman and longtime Democratic activist--and former county chairman--named Howard Adler. So I dropped by his office to find out how all this happened--and why. Along with answers, I also got a short course in Orange County politics.

According to Adler, he hadn't the slightest intention of running for public office in 1990. But on filing deadline day--aware of the perils of rounding up Democratic candidates in Orange County--he phoned current party chairman Michael Balmages to find out if a search for a candidate to run against Ferguson had been successful. Balmages assured him that it had.

But later that day, only an hour before the filing deadline, Adler says Balmages tracked him down in Richard O'Neill's Santa Ana office. Instant crisis. It turned out the Democratic candidate in the 70th Assembly District didn't qualify because he hadn't been a registered Democrat long enough. Would Adler help?

"So," Adler told me, "since I'm the ultimate party man and also a little bit crazy, I filed. I have no illusions about beating Ferguson in that district, but there are other reasons we should run the best candidates we can find--even in districts we know we can't win."

He suggested three paramount reasons:

* "If we have any real conviction in the two-party system, we have to give people a decent Democrat to vote for."

* "Any activity we generate on behalf of our local candidates helps the top of the ticket. Democratic candidates in Orange County should be running with the understanding that their performance can have a considerable impact on state and national candidates."

* "The Lyndon LaRouche dilemma. They'll fill every void they see, and if they are allowed to do that, it gives them credibility with the public and seats on the Central Committee. The Republicans, incidentally, have the same problem in heavily Democratic districts."

Given these three reasons, why is it so difficult for the Democrats to field viable candidates in so many Orange County contests?

"Because," says Adler, "the numbers make it clear that in most areas of Orange County, the Democratic candidate doesn't have a chance. That hasn't always been true, and I think it will change, but it is true right now."

Why is it true when polls consistently show that current Republican incumbents in Orange County have social views very different from the majority of citizens here--especially on such matters as abortion and the environment? Why can't the Democrats exploit this disparity?

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