In a year when voter frustration threatens to turn politics topsy-turvy, the two Garden Grove state Assembly candidates battling in one of California's most hotly contested legislative races debated Thursday about the good and bad of being an incumbent.
Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), facing his first attempt at reelection to the 72nd District seat, described himself in a videotaped debate as the vanguard for Orange County who is fighting for tougher crime laws in Sacramento and helping citizens solve their problems back home.
"My office has been devoted primarily to constituent service, and there are hundreds of examples of people who we have been able to serve over the last two years," Pringle said.
But Democratic challenger Tom Umberg said voters are not satisfied with the representation they've had in Sacramento and that's why he decided to run for the office.
"If we don't like the bums, we should throw them out immediately," he said.
Later in the evening, the candidates squared off again in a second debate that underscored a significant difference in their approaches to government on a variety of issues.
In caring for senior citizens, the disabled and the indigent, Umberg said, it is the state's job to require that affordable housing be built and that rents be controlled in mobile home parks. But Pringle said "government is not the solution to a lot of problems" and opposed rent control and state-mandated housing requirements.
"The state has a responsibility to its seniors and disabled," Umberg told an audience of about 150 people at the Rancho Santiago College auditorium in Santa Ana.
Pringle responded: "When you talk mandates, that is a problem."
The two also disagreed on gun legislation, with Umberg supporting a ban on assault rifles and a 15-day waiting period before purchasers can obtain a weapon. Pringle opposed both proposals.
"You've seen how we differ on things," Umberg said in his closing statement. "There's a clear choice here."
Political scandals such as the recent influence-peddling investigation in Sacramento that led to the conviction of two legislators, as well as wrangling over the federal budget in Washington, have fueled frustration among voters that has troubled incumbents running for reelection.
In their videotaped debate earlier in the day, Umberg tried to bring that feeling to his campaign by calling the Orange County delegation "notorious" and referring to two recent controversies, one involving Pringle's election in 1988 and the decision by Republican Party officials to place uniformed guards at polling places in his district. The incident is still under criminal investigation.
"Just like a number of other people, I am not satisfied with the representation we have been receiving," said Umberg, a former assistant U.S. attorney. "Our Assembly delegation is notorious. We have a member of our Assembly delegation who was indicted for forgery and, indeed, my opponent has been under criminal investigation for the past two years."
Pringle defended his performance in office, but he also sided with the anti-incumbents on one of their most important issues, Proposition 140, a November ballot measure that would limit state Assembly members to three terms.
"You realize that (could) put you out of a job," said Jim Cooper, moderator of the debate on KOCE Channel 50 in Huntington Beach.
"Yes, and that's fine," Pringle said. "I support a citizen Legislature."
The two propositions on the November ballot that limit terms are among the issues that divide Pringle and Umberg. Pringle supports the most restrictive of the two proposals, while Umberg opposes both, saying they would leave an inexperienced Legislature vulnerable to special interests.
The 72nd District includes Stanton and parts of Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Westminster and Anaheim.
The KOCE debate, scheduled to be broadcast Wednesday night, also included candidates from two other Orange County races: Sen. Edward R. Royce (R-Anaheim) and his Democratic opponent, Evelyn Colon Becktell, as well as Democrat Kevin Gardner, who is challenging Assembly Minority Leader Ross Johnson (R-La Habra). Johnson did not attend the debate.
Becktell complained that Royce and the Legislature are guilty of not resolving the problems facing Orange County residents.
"The issues facing us today are the same as eight years ago when Sen. Royce first ran," she said. "Most of all, crime is worse than it was eight years ago."
Royce responded that the "liberal Democratic leadership" in Sacramento is to blame for not resolving the problems. "This state is needlessly dangerous, and I believe the reason is the liberal leadership," he said.