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Bergeson Turns Her Attention Back to Board of Supervisors : Politics: After Assembly's rejection of her nomination for schools chief, she again considers a run for 5th District seat.

April 24, 1993|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — With her hopes of becoming state schools chief dashed, state Sen. Marian Bergeson has decided to go back to the future--in a political sense.

Bergeson said Friday that she is once again considering a run for the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 1994, thereby securing the turf she had staked out before Gov. Pete Wilson tapped her in early March to be his nominee for state superintendent of public instruction.

"I'm seriously considering it," the Newport Beach Republican said. "The idea of being state superintendent came out of the blue. This puts me back on track with what I had planned to do all along."

The re-emergence of Bergeson as the presumptive successor to Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, who won't seek reelection when his term expires in 1994, scatters the political dominoes on a variety of fronts, most notably among prospective candidates for his 5th Supervisorial District seat and Bergeson's own state Senate seat.

"I would expect she would clear the field of any challengers in the race for Tom's seat," said Dana W. Reed, an Orange County Transportation Authority board member who had expressed interest in Riley's spot. "I hope she'll run. I'll encourage her to run. California's loss will be Orange County's gain."

Wilson's selection of Bergeson to be state superintendent of schools March 2 threw the race for Riley's seat wide open. Among those who have been mentioned in political circles as potential candidates in Bergeson's absence are Sheriff Brad Gates, San Juan Capistrano Councilman Gary L. Hausdorfer, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach), Reed and his ex-wife, Christine Diemer, who is executive director of the Building Industry Assn.

But if Bergeson chooses to run, any serious competition might be scared off by her ability to raise a big campaign bankroll and her solid status in the supervisorial district.

Several state lawmakers, meanwhile, had been eyeing Bergeson's Senate seat, which would have been up for grabs in a special election had she become state superintendent. But her defeat Thursday at the hands of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and other Democrats kills off that possibility--for now.

If Bergeson does vacate her seat in Sacramento before her term ends in 1996, Ferguson and Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress) are expected to give the Senate spot serious consideration.

Ferguson even raised the prospect that Bergeson might be persuaded to make a run for the nonpartisan state schools chief post in 1994.

"Unless another Republican nominee manages to clear the Legislature, there's probably nobody in the state who has higher name identification or a larger sympathy vote, especially after what happened to her," Ferguson said. "The manner in which she was disposed of this week gives the public the clearest possible understanding of the problems in this state."

Bergeson, however, appears focused on seeking the supervisor's seat. As chairwoman of the Senate Local Government Committee, Bergeson has worked closely in recent years with county and city officials from around the state, becoming deeply enmeshed in the issues of local governance.

"There are some great opportunities for leadership at the local level," she said Friday. "I think much of the authority in governing will rest more and more with local entities such as counties. The state is no longer in a position to micro-manage 31 million people."

While it might be perceived as a step down the political ladder, the job of county supervisor comes with roughly the same pay, generous health benefits and other perks as that of a state senator. In addition, Bergeson has been eager to shrug off her weekly commute to Sacramento, reside full time in her Newport Beach home and have more opportunities to visit with her grandchildren.

In the end, Bergeson's bid to become schools chief ended up as little more than a two-month detour from her normal legislative life in Sacramento.

"I'm glad it's over, frankly," Bergeson said. "Part of it was enjoyable. I liked getting out and talking to people. I didn't like the politics. I found it very offensive. It was a political battle between the Speaker and the governor."

Aside from representing a personal defeat, Bergeson's drubbing adds to the growing list of Orange County candidates who have sought statewide office unsuccessfully. Most notable are John Seymour's loss last November in the U.S. Senate race and Bergeson's defeat in the 1990 lieutenant governor's race.

Thomas A. Fuentes, Orange County Republican chairman, said the county's candidates suffer from the region's status as a "media ghetto," getting little of the statewide coverage needed to mount a big campaign. Nearly all the television stations are in Los Angeles, San Diego and other big cities, while large regional newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times rarely carry political news from Orange County in their full-run editions, he complained.

"Whoever it is who comes out of Orange County is little known to the people of California," Fuentes said. "That makes it very difficult for our community leaders to attain statewide office."

Bergeson, meanwhile, suggested that Orange County's image as a bastion of right-wing Republicanism may be a chief culprit.

"It's not really valid. We're a progressive, dynamic area," she said. "I think if we have confident, articulate politicians who can get a message that's acceptable to the public, they'll be very successful."

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