WESTMINSTER — When Joy Neugebauer and three other candidates forced Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder into a runoff election last June, Neugebauer happily noted that a majority of voters had cast ballots against the incumbent and that capturing those votes would lead her to an upset victory in November.
But the Westminster councilwoman is not finding the going all that easy. Fund-raising, a key ingredient to unseating an incumbent, is proceeding "slowly," Neugebauer said.
And last week, Wieder scored the first coup of the fall campaign, picking up the endorsement of three conservative California Republican Assembly clubs--from the cities of Westminster, Huntington Beach and Garden Grove--that had opposed her in the spring.
The endorsement is doubly surprising because Neugebauer's firm conservatism--she is against abortion rights and has consistently opposed increased sales taxes for transportation--would seem to be more in line with the Republican group than Wieder's more moderate positions. But group members said that abortion is not an issue of overriding concern in choosing a county supervisor, and Wieder has come around on the transportation-tax issue.
Neugebauer played down the importance of the endorsement Tuesday, saying that she had the support of many club members, if not that of the three delegates who cast votes. She also has the endorsement of the three other candidates who ran against Wieder in June.
"I don't take it too seriously, or plan to lose any sleep over that one," Neugebauer said. "I gave it my best shot . . . and I think it benefited my campaign to be there (at the endorsement meeting). . . . I feel I'm going to have their votes on election day."
Wieder, a former Huntington Beach City Council member, did not personally attend the clubs' endorsement meeting last May, sending a representative instead. She was spurned in favor of a more conservative candidate, John Harper. Last week, she sought the endorsement more actively and thought it important enough to merit a faxed press release.
"The CRA (California Republican Assembly), especially the three unit clubs in my district, are the backbone of the Republican volunteer organization," Wieder said in the statement. "I am thrilled to have the unanimous support and endorsement of this vital organization."
Virgel Nickell, vice president of the statewide California Republican Assembly and president of the Westminster chapter, said the three local chapters questioned both candidates at length before choosing Wieder. But in explaining their decision, Nickell stopped short of issuing a ringing endorsement.
"Looking at both records, she (Wieder) hasn't done that much wrong. In fact, she's done some decent things," such as contributing $25,000 to Project '90, a party program to help elect Republican candidates, Nickell said. "It just didn't seem appropriate to change horses."
Nickell explained the clubs' earlier endorsement of Harper as a result of his membership in the Huntington Beach Republican Assembly club and his position as "a very strong conservative."
In addition, Nickell said, the clubs were upset over Wieder's support of Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase for transportation purposes that was defeated previously. The measure is on the ballot again this November, but Wieder, who still thinks the initiative is a good solution to the county's traffic problems, is not supporting it, saying that voters have already spoken on it.
Neugebauer took the occasion of the more recent endorsement meeting to attack Wieder on an issue that some observers say has damaged the incumbent's political career: her false claim, repeated under oath in a deposition, to have received a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University.
The falsification was revealed during the 1988 primary campaign to fill the congressional seat now occupied by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Long Beach). Wieder has since apologized for it, but Neugebauer is banking on the belief that the episode eroded Wieder's support.
"She had a struggle with the truth and she's still struggling with it," Neugebauer said.
But Neugebauer indicated that she knows when to let the issue rest. At a meeting of the county Republican Party Central Committee on Monday, Neugebauer was given about 10 minutes to make a speech. She stuck to a recitation of her own qualifications and a mild rebuke of the entire Board of Supervisors for not making decisions quickly enough.
"You know the 11th Commandment," Neugebauer said afterward, referring to the Republican Party's unwritten rule against criticism of a GOP incumbent. "At other locations, I am more blunt in my concerns about the incumbent's ability to perform to the best interests of the people in the 2nd District."
2ND SUPERVISORIAL DISTRICT
Joy L. Neugebauer
Occupation: Business owner/ councilwoman