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ELECTIONS / ASSEMBLY : 56th District Pits Novice vs. Party-Line Incumbent : Hawkins: His main goals are to improve government's role with businesses, create more jobs and reform the workers' compensation system.


SOUTHEAST AREA — If real estate had not taken a nose-dive a few years ago, Phillip D. Hawkins might not be walking the streets of the new 56th Assembly District looking for votes.

"My business has been suffering for four or five years and it's mainly because of what's going on in Sacramento," said Hawkins, 49, a conservative Republican who owns a Bellflower real estate and contracting company. The political novice said he jumped into the race because "it was time for someone to get involved" in changing the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

He blames over-regulation of business and workers' compensation costs for the economic downturn, contending that state lawmakers are doing nothing to address those problems as businesses move out of state, close down or lay off workers.

In his first bid for elective office, Hawkins is stressing his local roots--he is a 37-year resident of the Bellflower and Cerritos area. He also emphasizes that he is a political newcomer who won the Republican nomination for Assembly by defeating former Cerritos City Councilman Daniel K. Wong in the April primary. Hawkins received endorsements from several party officials.

At the same time, Hawkins plays up the incumbency of his opponent, Assemblyman Bob Epple (D-Norwalk), and the fact that Epple moved from Norwalk to Cerritos to run in the 56th District after the boundaries of his old district were shifted. Also running is businessman Richard Gard, a Libertarian.

Hawkins calls Epple a carpetbagger who has done the bidding of Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, voted to boost his own retirement while supporting tax increases and sponsored legislation benefiting important campaign contributors.

For his part, Epple emphasizes that 50% of his old district falls within the new 56th and says he is no stranger to the area. He attends church in Bellflower, is a member of a Cerritos service club and was a Bellflower attorney before being elected to the Assembly in 1978.

Epple is running for reelection on his record of service to the district and calls Hawkins' charges exaggerated and misinformed.

Hawkins and Republican strategists are confident of a win next week, even though Epple is spending more money and sending significantly more direct mail to voters. Voter registration, too, is lopsided: 49% Democrats, 40% Republicans.

But the Democrats in the area tend to be conservative, and crossover votes have elected Republicans in the past. Hawkins contends that anti-incumbency is strong in the neighborhoods he has visited.

"I knock on doors every single day," he said. "A lot of comments are: 'Are you the incumbent?' I say I'm not, and they want to talk to you. I think Epple is weak in the area. That's why I have an excellent chance."

The affable and youthful Hawkins believes in less government and advocates creating more jobs and reversing economic decline, but he gives few specifics.

The topic that he details is reforming workers' compensation. Hawkins argues that workers' compensation costs "are driving jobs right out of the area." He said he has had no personal problems with workers' compensation but knows of many companies that do, including a small manufacturer in Artesia that had to lay off two workers because of workers' comp costs. He declined to name the company.

He accuses Epple of ducking votes on the issue during a special legislative session in Sacramento. "He is not for reform or change," said Hawkins. "He has voted against every meaningful workers' compensation bill brought to the floor. He and Willie Brown are supported by the trial lawyers. They benefit from the status quo."

Epple says Hawkins is mistaken about the session, that he voted on three reform bills but the Democratic Caucus decided not to take a vote on other proposals because the governor already had announced his intent to veto them.

Despite his quarrel with Epple over workers' compensation reform, Hawkins said his No. 1 concern in the race is jobs:

"The criminal is not going to create crime. He'll have a job. Your mental attitude is so much different when you have a job than when you don't. You are part of the community. We'll have less crime if we have more jobs, we'll have more money for schools. People would be paying taxes into the system and have more income. California just needs more income, and it gets that through jobs and a tax base."

Friends and supporters describe Hawkins as devoted to his family--his wife, Janice, and children Phillip Jr. and Sheila, both of whom are in college. Hawkins attends the New Life Community Church in Artesia, belongs to the Bellflower Chamber of Commerce, is a director of the Rancho Los Cerritos Board of Realtors and a member of Citizens for Law and Order, an anti-crime group in Bellflower.

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