SACRAMENTO — South Bay Democratic Sen. Ralph C. Dills said Thursday that he plans to join Assemblyman Curtis Tucker Jr. in a newly drawn state Senate district race that promises to become a flash point among rival Democratic Party factions.
Meantime, Sen. Bill Greene (D--Los Angeles), who represents part of the new district but is retiring because of poor health, has scheduled a news conference today in which he is expected to endorse Democrat Paul Richards, a Lynwood city councilman, in the race.
The scramble for the 25th District seat shows how reapportionment--the once-a-decade redrawing of political boundaries--and term limits imposed by voters last year are combining to turn 1992 into one of the most explosive political years in recent history.
Legislators are being forced from once-safe seats as their districts change shape or disappear, or as the restrictions imposed by term limits close in.
With Greene out of the picture, the 25th Senate District is turning into a battleground within the Democratic Party and the black political community.
Dills--facing the loss of his district through reapportionment--has been in search of a new political home for much of the past year. At 81, he has a 50-year political career at stake.
For Tucker, the issue is term limits. Under the new restrictions, he could have only two more two-year terms in the Assembly. If he wins the Senate seat, he could serve two four-year terms.
The June Democratic primary race is also expected to attract 59-year-old Assemblywoman Teresa P. Hughes (D-Los Angeles), whose district has been carved up. She could not be reached for comment, but Tucker said he believes Hughes has gained the support of the influential West Los Angeles political organization of Democratic Reps. Howard L. Berman and Henry A. Waxman, as well as Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
Richards is counting on an endorsement from Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton), while Dills, of Gardena, has strong ties to organized labor, and Tucker, of Inglewood, has a high name recognition in that city, which his father represented as a longtime state lawmaker.
The new 25th District would include Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lennox and part of Torrance in the South Bay, as well as parts of Compton, Lynwood, Paramount and Willowbrook. It is a heavily Democratic and ethnically diverse area, with African-Americans making up 36% of the population and Latinos, 41%. But the voter registration in the district is weighted in favor of blacks. Among those mentioned as candidates, Hughes, Tucker and Richards are black, and Dills is white.
The district was drawn by a panel of retired judges appointed by the state Supreme Court, after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to come up with a plan to redraw legislative and congressional lines. Under the plan, each new Senate district must contain 744,000 people.
Because of declining population, Dills knew his district would collapse. At one point, he thought about running for Congress. Then, when the court plan moved his current 30th District into Norwalk, Dills said he would represent it until his current term expires in 1994.
But on Thursday, Dills, who left the Legislature in the 1940s and returned in the mid-1960s, said his search has ended: He intends to campaign this year in the reconfigured 25th District, as long as the high court later this month upholds the boundaries recommended by the retired judges.
"If they (the court) make no major changes, I'm a candidate," Dills said, adding that he currently represents part of the proposed new district.
Dills said his sudden announcement was a preemptive strike, triggered by the scheduling of today's news conference by Sen. Greene. Greene could not be reached for comment.
Without an incumbent in the seat, Richards, 35, said, "This is an opportunity for someone who is really familiar with these areas . . . to get involved to represent the people of this new district, and I'm going for that opportunity."
The Compton High School graduate said he "won't be able to raise the money that any state legislator might raise."
Greene has scheduled a farewell $500-a-person fund-raiser in Sacramento next week. Greene said earlier this week that he would use some of the money to support candidates, but Richards said the proceeds from the fund-raiser were not for his campaign.
Dills speculated that Dymally is behind the Richards' candidacy, partly because Greene has longtime ties to the congressman. Richards dismissed that suggestion, but he said he expects his campaign to gain Dymally's support.
Tucker, 37, boasted that he represents about one-third of the new district, while Richards only represents about 5% and Hughes none of it. He acknowledged that Dills represents part of the new district and is known in the area.
In the campaign, Tucker is casting himself as the outsider, battling long-entrenched interests represented by the other candidates.
"We're gearing up for a battle in the black community. It's the old Establishment versus the outsider, and I'm stuck in the outsider role," Tucker said.