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ELECTIONS 34TH SENATE DISTRICT : Scrappy Lawmaker Challenged by GOP Maverick : Republicans: Assemblyman Charles Bader, who has carved out a niche on education policy, wants a Senate seat so that he can have a chance to shine.


SACRAMENTO — During his first seven years in the state Assembly, Charles Bader says, he jogged about five miles a day, four days a week.

But during the past year, the Pomona Republican has abandoned his regimen while running in the biggest race of his political career: challenging veteran state Sen. Ruben S. Ayala (D-Chino) in Tuesday's election. Colleagues say Bader jumped into the Senate contest partly because, in the Assembly, he felt as if he was merely running in place.

Bader can point to few major legislative accomplishments, largely because many bills he sponsored, such as one to beef up penalties for drug dealers, ultimately failed to win passage.

At the heart of Bader's problem is a simple political fact of life--in a chamber that has been controlled by Democrats throughout his eight years in office, the chances for a Republican to shine are few. And he has been further handicapped by being at odds with the Assembly's GOP leadership, which generally has been more conservative than him.

Bader, 50, acknowledged feeling frustrated by the inability of Republicans "to get their names on a bill" that passes the Assembly.

So he had to settle for a behind-the-scenes role. He said he took his cue from a political axiom that goes: "You can accomplish anything you want in the Legislature as long as you don't worry about who gets credit for it."

As a consequence, Bader, whose wife is a school principal, carved out a niche for himself as a Republican voice on education policy. He also established a reputation as an open-minded GOP backbencher--someone Democrats could occasionally split off from his Republican brethren on a given issue, such as encouraging industry to cut toxic air emissions.

Said one GOP Senate aide, who asked not to be named, "He's not at all a right-wing 'caveman' type. He's a reasonable, moderate Republican."

The aide added that Bader probably would feel more at home in the less partisan, more collegial atmosphere of the upper house, even though it is also controlled by Democrats.

Among his Assembly accomplishments, Bader cites his role on several education proposals, including a successful effort by GOP lawmakers last year to redirect $14 million from urban to suburban school districts.

In 1986, Bader also noted, he participated in negotiations that led to a compromise, five-year plan to ease school overcrowding and build thousands of new classrooms throughout the state.

The key bill, sponsored by a Republican colleague, allowed school districts to levy a housing development fee of $1.50 per square foot. That measure, however, stirred confusion over which developments qualified for the fee. So Bader in 1988 pushed through a bill that spelled out the type of projects eligible for the fee. It also blocked districts from raising the amount charged to developers.

Bader said that prior to those bills, there was no state program to relieve school overcrowding--a major issue in the 34th Senate District that he is seeking to represent. The district encompasses Pomona and western San Bernardino County.

But his views on education have prompted criticism from the California Teachers Assn., which supports Ayala. Ed Foglia, the group's president, said Bader "talks a good line, but he really doesn't deliver" for the education community. Foglia said Bader consistently votes "against measures that would put more money into public education."

Bader countered that his goal "is not just to provide more money, but to cut the dropout rate and improve test scores" for students.

Symptomatic of the divergence in views between Bader and the CTA, the teachers' group last year handed the assemblyman a failing grade in its legislative report card.

He receives much higher marks from the California Chamber of Commerce, which listed the lawmaker as having followed its recommendations 90% of the time during the 1990 legislative session.

Another conservative lobbying group, the National Rifle Assn., reported that Bader sided with it on 100% of its measures.

Bader scored much lower on an environmental score card. The League of Conservation Voters, the political arm of the environmental community, said he sided with them 35% of the time on floor votes in 1990.

Bader's rating with the political arm of the state AFL-CIO--traditionally aligned with Democrats, also was low. The group said he took a pro-labor position only 18% of the time in 1989.

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