SACRAMENTO — A leading Republican Assemblyman has called on a Washington-based anti-abortion group to help defeat two of his fellow Republican lawmakers from San Diego because they support the right of women to have abortions, according to a confidential memorandum.
In the strongly worded memo to the Family Research Council, Assemblyman William P. Baker of Danville urged the group's president to direct campaign contributions to anti-abortion candidates opposing Assemblywomen Sunny Mojonnier of Encinitas and Tricia Hunter of Bonita.
Baker, who is vice chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and a member of Republican leader Ross Johnson's inner circle, also anointed anti-abortion candidates in three Los Angeles County races in which there are no incumbents and endorsed a fellow Republican incumbent who is facing a tough primary challenge.
But it was the attack on Mojonnier and Hunter that was most unusual, because party leaders rarely seek to defeat their own rank-and-file members in primary races. Baker acknowledged as much in a postscript to the missive, in which he wrote:
"Please destroy this letter after reviewing it. It is unpolitic to discuss the reelection campaign of Republican incumbents."
The letter's disclosure marks the second time in a month that the outspoken Baker has been in the middle of a controversy over his strident anti-abortion politics. He recently had to apologize to a group of high school students from his district after he introduced them on the Assembly floor as "survivors of abortion."
The April 30 letter, addressed to Family Research Council President Gary Bauer, was mailed anonymously to The Times Sacramento Bureau. Baker could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Bauer, contacted at the group's Washington headquarters, said he met with Baker in late April. Bauer said he told Baker that his group does not get involved in partisan political campaigns.
"We certainly have an interest in elections all over the country," said Bauer, who was an aide to former President Ronald Reagan. "But we are a tax-exempt organization. We can't endorse candidates or make expenditures on behalf of a candidate in an election."
Bauer described his organization as a "think tank" and lobbying group involved in such issues as child care and pornography as well as abortion. He said the council was considering forming a political action committee but had not yet done so.
In the memo, Baker told Bauer that the group could get instant recognition and "reshape the political landscape" in California if it would spend money on the six Assembly primaries that he targeted.
"You will elect six pro-lifers where there might have been six abortionists," Baker wrote. "You will increase dramatically your capacity to leverage Pete Wilson on family values issues; and you will command the attention of the media nearly instantaneously."
The reference to Wilson was apparently based on the assumption that the Republican U.S. Senator, who supports abortion rights, will be elected governor in November.
Baker called Mojonnier "one of the most liberal" Republicans in the Assembly and said she is in a tough reelection fight because of her "lackluster legislative service" and "allegations of financial improprieties." Mojonnier agreed in February to pay a $13,200 fine for double-billing her campaign fund and the state treasury for legislative trips, as well as using political donations to pay for fashion and beauty treatments for her staff.
But Baker, who suggested in his letter that anti-abortion campaign money should be directed to Poway school board member Stan Rodkin, said Mojonnier would probably survive because "her close relationship to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown will translate into a considerable fund-raising advantage."
Reached at his Poway home, Rodkin said he had been unaware of Baker's support but was "delighted to hear that strong an endorsement from him."
Mojonnier could not be reached Thursday, but a campaign aide said Baker had spoken to Mojonnier, apologized and volunteered to campaign for the assemblywoman.
In his letter, Baker also described Assemblywoman Hunter as a "pro-abortion feminist" and pointed out that she won a tumultuous special election race last year with the help of the California Nurses Assn. and gay rights organizations. He said Connie Youngkin, who has "proven her commitment to the rights of the unborn by serving time in jail" would make a "credible legislator" but probably couldn't win.
Hunter said Thursday she was "surprised" by Baker's letter and warned that this clandestine appeal to defeat Republican incumbents was counterproductive to the party's goal of adding more members to the Legislature and getting U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson elected governor.
"This is not the time to be playing political games and dividing up the party," she said. "This is the time we should be coming together."
Youngkin, a member of Operation Rescue who last year served 40 days in jail for trespassing outside an abortion clinic, said Thursday she is not surprised that an Assembly Republican such as Baker would want to see Hunter defeated. But she strongly differed with Baker's assessment of her chances in the primary race.
"Baker is very inaccurate in saying that I don't have a chance," said Youngkin.
Times staff writer Mark Gladstone contributed to this article.