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GOP Seen as Tough to Beat in New Assembly Districts


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Unless Democrats stage dramatic upsets in the San Gabriel Valley's two new Assembly districts, voters this fall will send to Sacramento two freshman Republicans who share a knack for raising money but differ on their political approach.

One, Pasadena insurance broker Bill Hoge, is a tax-reduction crusader with deep beliefs in conservative principles and a lifetime of Republican service. The other, Chino Mayor Fred Aguiar, is a pragmatist who didn't get involved in partisan politics until he switched his registration from Democrat to Republican three years ago.

Both are running in new Assembly districts where party registration is almost evenly split. The GOP holds an advantage of about 1% in Hoge's 44th District, which includes Pasadena, South Pasadena, Altadena, San Marino, Temple City and La Canada Flintridge. And the difference is even smaller in Aguiar's 61st District, which takes in part of Pomona, Chino, Ontario, Chino Hills and Montclair.

But Alan Heslop, an expert on political demographics at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, said that everything he knows about those districts and their registration tells him that Hoge and Aguiar will win handily Nov. 3. That's because Republicans are more likely to turn out and vote with their party than are Democrats.

Assemblyman Jim Brulte (R-Ontario) said it would take "extraordinary circumstances" for a Democrat to win either district. But, he said, because these are new districts without incumbents, the Republican candidates will have to wage all-out campaigns to ensure victory.

And the Democratic nominees, pledging all-out campaigns of their own, say they believe victories are within their reach.

Jonathan Fuhrman, the Democratic nominee against Hoge, said, "We've got a potential upset here." The Republican registration edge is eroding, there's a Democratic tide building nationally, and Hoge alienated some members of his own party when he beat nine rivals in a tough primary, Fuhrman said.

Fuhrman's strategy is to brand Hoge as an extremist and to attract moderate Republicans by stressing his background in business and his concern about improving the business climate and cutting government waste.

Running against Aguiar is Democrat Larry Simcoe, a Los Angeles County firefighter who is painting Aguiar as an opportunist who switched parties to climb the political ladder.

Both Fuhrman and Simcoe say they hope to raise $150,000 or more for their campaigns even though they raised comparatively little for the June primary. Fuhrman raised less than $5,000 and Simcoe less than $35,000.

Hoge and Aguiar won contested primaries with the help of heavyweight political support and their own fund-raising skills. Both raised more than $200,000. Hoge was backed by the two assemblymen who currently represent most of the new district: Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) and Richard L. Mountjoy (R-Monrovia). He overcame the opposition of Gov. Pete Wilson, who strongly supported former La Canada Flintridge Mayor Barbara Pieper.

Wilson stayed out of Aguiar's primary race until a few days before the election, when he offered his support, which was spurned. Aguiar said he told the governor's office it was too late and he didn't want the help. The candidate already had the strong backing of Brulte, the area's current assemblyman, and other legislators.

44th District

Hoge's primary victory culminated a lifetime of devotion to the Republican Party that started when he was 10, watching the 1956 Republican convention on television. At 14, Hoge walked precincts to elect right-wing Republican John Rousselot to Congress.

A fourth-generation resident of Pasadena, Hoge, 46, said he grew up talking politics around the dinner table with family members, all Republicans. He said his career ambition, which he achieved, was to follow his father into the insurance business.

Hoge said his guiding principle is: "The less government intrusion into our lives, the better off we will all be."

For political inspiration, he regularly rereads the U.S. Constitution and "The Federalist Papers." "I start my day on the Fourth of July--wherever I am--by reading the Declaration of Independence," he said. "I've done it for 25 years."

Hoge has been state chairman of the California Republican Assembly, a political volunteer group, and was Southern California chairman of the campaign for term limits for state legislators. He would like to reduce the Legislature to a part-time operation.

He said that, when legislators work full time, they "have to make laws to justify their existence. What we don't need are more laws."

On his political literature and campaign statements he calls himself Bill (Tax Reduction) Hoge, and that sums up his approach.

If Wilson had cut the budget a year ago instead of raising taxes, the state wouldn't have had such a budget mess this year, Hoge said.

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