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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : STATE SENATE / 21th DISTRICT : Numbers Still Against a Democratic Upset


The 21st state Senate District has changed some since it was redrawn in February, but probably not enough to elect a Democrat.

Incumbent Republican Newton Russell, 65, has enjoyed an extremely safe district--where members of his party far outnumber Democrats--since he was elected in 1974. He has consistently enjoyed the support of 70% of the voters. From 1964 to 1974, he represented most of the same area in the state Assembly.

Challenger Rachel J. Dewey, 36, a rocket scientist at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, hopes to unseat the incumbent in a year marked by voter discontent.

But the numbers, while closer than in past elections, are still against her. Republicans in the 21st District outnumber Democrats 44.2% to 42.8%, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters. In 1988, Republicans outnumbered Democrats 55% to 35%.

Even though the numbers are close, Dewey faces an uphill fight. Russell is a popular incumbent, and Republican voters are considered more loyal to their party than Democrats and more likely to vote.

Dewey, who has never held public office, hopes to capitalize on discontent over the economy--the district has been hit hard by layoffs in the aerospace industry--and also draw the votes of some pro-choice Republicans. Dewey hopes she can ride what she sees as a Bill Clinton victory over George Bush in the presidential campaign to a victory of her own.

The district includes parts of the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys. It includes the communities of Altadena, Burbank, Glendale, La Canada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Lake View Terrace, Montrose, Pasadena, San Marino, South Pasadena, Sunland, Temple City and Tujunga and portions of Agua Dulce, Canyon County, Newhall, Saugus and Sylmar.

The two major candidates differ strongly on a variety of issues, such as abortion, health care, education and the death penalty.

Russell opposes abortion and a national health care system, while he supported cuts in education made in this year's state budget and backs the death penalty.

Dewey supports abortion rights and a national health care system modeled after Canada's plan, opposes all cuts in education funding, and is against capital punishment.

A low-profile conservative known as a consensus builder, Russell has served as minority whip in the Senate since 1986.

On occasion, he has broken ranks with conservatives. In February, 1990, he reversed his longstanding opposition to all forms of gun control and voted in favor of a bill to require purchasers of sporting rifles and shotguns to wait 15 days before taking possession of their firearms.

At the time, he said he was prompted to rethink his position on at least this one measure because of "what seemed to be an increasingly violent society" in which "people in a fit of rage buy a gun and use it on someone."

In general, Russell takes conservative stands on economic issues relating to taxes and business regulation.

On social issues, he has supported legislation requiring that schools teach that abstinence is the only completely safe protection against unwanted pregnancy and AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. He has backed legislation blocking access to "dial-a-porn" telephone numbers.

Priorities for his next term are reducing government regulation and working to attract new businesses to the state.

Russell is generally suspicious of government power.

"Government seldom does anything efficiently," he said, outlining his opposition to national health insurance.

Russell, who was born in Los Angeles and received a business degree from USC, has tasted defeat at the polls only twice. In 1962, he failed in his first bid for the Assembly, to which he was elected in 1964. And in 1974, he lost his Assembly seat to Mike Antonovich, now a Los Angeles County supervisor, after district reapportionment. He lost each race by only a few dozen votes.

After his loss to Antonovich, Russell won a special election to the state Senate that same year and has held that seat ever since.

While incumbency and familiarity may be Russell's greatest advantages, rival Dewey says those same qualities may be his liabilities. She call her opponent "a Sacramento insider" and casts herself as an agent for change and creative new thinking in government.

Dewey has a bachelor's degree from Harvard and doctorate from Princeton. She has made a strong effort to recruit pro-choice Republicans.

"I will fight for reproductive freedom for all women, regardless of age or economic status," Dewey said. "My opponent, on the other hand, is 100% anti-choice. He shares the views of the ultra-right radicals who have seized the Republican Party and would deny women rights over their own bodies."

Dewey has also said state leaders need to take the lead in helping the private sector develop new industries for the state.

"The engineers, scientists, machinists and assembly workers who won the Cold War deserve better than Bush-Quayle do-nothing economics," Dewey said.

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