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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : ASSEMBLY / 36th DISTRICT : Rodio, Knight Are Near Ideological Twins


Will the real Republican running in the 36th Assembly District please stand up?

Lancaster City Councilman Arnie Rodio hasn't exactly revoked his Democratic Party membership in his quest to represent the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys in Sacramento. But he and Republican William J. (Pete) Knight are remarkably similar in outlook and philosophy, except on abortion: Knight opposes it and Rodio is pro-choice.

Rodio is hoping his otherwise conservative profile helps him beat the odds and win in the heavily Republican district against Knight, who until recently was mayor of Palmdale.

The newly drawn district is 54% Republican and 34% Democrat, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

"You bet your life I'm a very conservative Democrat, and that's why I'm going to beat Knight," Rodio said. "I'm the only Democrat elected to city government in the Antelope Valley, and they always bring it up when I run for office. But it hasn't stopped me before."

Some political observers say Rodio has a chance of overcoming the voter registration disadvantage, especially if the Clinton-Gore presidential ticket does well in northern Los Angeles County.

"This is not a conventional year," said Democratic political consultant Parke Skelton. "People might be willing to cross over."

But other political consultants predict Knight will sweep the district.

"I have Pete Knight listed as a slam-dunk," said Dick Rosengarten, editor and publisher of the political newsletter CALPEEK.

Neither political party has targeted the race as a possible upset--at least so far.

The state Democratic Party has not contributed any money to Rodio, nor has it funded the majority of other candidates running this season for 100 seats on the state Legislature, said Bob Mulholland, the party's political director.

"Anything could happen this year, but when you get districts with Republican registrations in the 50s, it's very hard," Mulholland said.

"The Democrats aren't pouring money into the district, so why should we?" said Dave Knatcal, a spokesman for the state Republican Party. "At this point, it doesn't look necessary."

Even with the numbers on their side, the Knight campaign isn't taking anything for granted, especially in the Santa Clarita Valley, where none of the candidates has a power base, said Jack Shuman, Knight's campaign manager. In the June primary race among eight Republican candidates, Knight came in second in the Santa Clarita Valley behind Hunt Braly, district chief of staff to state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita).

Knight said he plans to spend $150,000 in the race, about $30,000 more than he spent in the primary. In contrast, Rodio said he plans to spend about $35,000.

Both Knight and Rodio have campaigned actively, sending out mailers and appearing at dozens of club luncheons and other events, including staffing booths at Frontier Days, an annual festival in Santa Clarita.

They've also been gathering endorsements. Rodio got the seal of approval from Gil Garcetti, the man likely to be the next Los Angeles County district attorney now that incumbent Ira Reiner has dropped out of the race. The entire Lancaster City Council has endorsed Knight over Rodio, their colleague.

Choosing between the two men is "like choosing between a blue Chevy and a blue Ford," said Lancaster City Councilman Frank Roberts, who has endorsed Knight, but contributed $100 to Rodio's campaign because "either man would do a great job."

"When you compare the two, it's hard to differentiate between them."

Both men are longtime Antelope Valley politicians. Rodio, a retired plumber, was elected to the Lancaster City Council in 1986. Knight, an Air Force test pilot at Edwards Air Force base for 15 years, was elected to the Palmdale City Council in 1984. In 1988, he became the city's first mayor to be elected by voters rather than appointed by the City Council.

As a test pilot, Knight flew the famed X-15 rocket plane, setting a 4,520-m.p.h. speed record for single-engine airplanes that remains unbroken--a fact he publicizes in his campaign literature. In turn, Rodio, whose family owns a plumbing business, has criticized Knight for his relative lack of experience in the private sector.

Both say the most important issue facing the state is the sluggish economy, and both believe businesses in California are over-regulated. They advocate reforming the state workers compensation program and oppose a November ballot initiative that would raise taxes on wealthy individuals, corporations and banks, while repealing 1991 sales tax hikes.

Both oppose requiring businesses to provide health insurance to employees or contribute to a fund to provide health care for the uninsured. Neither supports a national health care system run by the federal government.

They both oppose cuts in the production of the B-2 bomber, which is assembled at a Palmdale plant.

The similarity of the two men's positions has made it difficult for Republicans to paint a dire picture in the event of a Rodio victory.

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