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Roberti Recall Backers Readying Mail Barrage : Politics: Leaders want to change the perception that the campaign is the work of gun control foes.

March 30, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With last-minute help from the Republican Party and a tax protest group, foes of state Sen. David A. Roberti are about to end their virtual silence by sending out tens of thousands of pieces of political mail urging voters to recall Roberti in the April 12 election.

Russ Howard, a leader of the recall, welcomed the participation of the state GOP party and People's Advocate, a taxpayer watchdog group founded by Paul Gann, saying it gives a much-needed boost to the cash-poor recall campaign and should help correct the view that it's exclusively the work of gun control opponents.

Roberti has been single-minded in painting his recall foes as gun fanatics seeking revenge against him because he authored a 1989 state law banning the sale of military-style semiautomatic rifles.

"We've always said this was never strictly a gun issue and this proves it," Howard said.

Ted Costa, executive director of People's Advocate, said his group is not involved in the recall because of a gun issue but because of what he says are Roberti's big-spending ways and his opposition to term limits. "This is not about guns," he said.

Meanwhile, Roberti press secretary Staci Walters noted that local Republicans such as Los Angeles City Councilman Hal Bernson and ex-Congresswoman Bobbi Fiedler are opposing the recall as a waste of money because term limits will require Roberti to resign from the Senate in December anyway.

Despite the involvement of the GOP and Costa's group, "you can't hide the fact that the recall is all about assault weapons," Walters said.

Whether late intervention by the GOP and Costa's group will have a decisive effect on an election that is only 13 days away remains to be seen.

So far, the political mail war has been dominated by Roberti, who has already sent out a half-dozen pieces, including an absentee ballot application.

With a campaign budget that is expected to top $750,000 by election day, Roberti to date has overwhelmed his foes at the mailbox with colorful, eye-grabbing pieces that are the trademark of his campaign consultant, Clinton Reilly.

One piece shows a series of scenes from the 1981 assassination attempt against President Reagan and ends with a statement from Sarah Brady telling voters to support Roberti if they are concerned about gun-related violence.

Brady is the wife of James Brady, Reagan's press secretary who was seriously injured in the 1981 attack, and a leader of Handgun Control Inc., the organization that sponsored the nation's new gun control law.

Roberti opponents hope their late mailers will overcome the senator's momentum. A Los Angeles Times poll, conducted last week, showed the senator had a wide advantage in his fight to foil the recall drive with 62% of likely voters favoring Roberti's retention.

A 60,000-piece mailer from the state Republican Party urges Roberti's removal. "This is a golden opportunity for Republicans . . . to rid California of one of the most liberal, big taxing and big spending Democrats in the Senate," says the piece signed by GOP state party treasurer Michael Schroeder, an Orange County attorney.

The pieces, costing $12,500, also include a pitch asking Republicans to contribute money to their party. At its recent state convention, the GOP endorsed the bid to oust Roberti even though Gov. Pete Wilson did not.

John Peschong, GOP press secretary, said other party initiatives to help the recall effort also are being considered. He refused to elaborate.

The People's Advocate mailer is a four-page tabloid that is being mailed to 9,000 of the group's members and about 25,000 other voters in Roberti's district who have been identified as sympathetic to the anti-big-government, populist reform ideas espoused by the group. Costa's group has been a member of the anti-Roberti coalition virtually since its inception, and previously picked up the bill for printing the recall petitions.

Meanwhile, Californians Against Corruption, a Signal Hill-based group, is poised to unleash its own mail offensive against Roberti via a unique, if somewhat primitive and controversial, chain mail system.

The mailer will be produced, folded, stuffed into envelopes and hand-stamped by volunteers at "stuffing parties" held in places as near as Van Nuys and as far away as Alaska, San Francisco and New York City, said Howard, a top officer with Californians Against Corruption.

Volunteers get a mailing kit and are responsible for copying the piece of mail contained therein and sending it to a list of voters identified by Californians Against Corruption.

Howard estimated that half of his group's volunteers in this effort have gun rights as their No. 1 issue. "The rest are concerned about victims' rights, taxes and corruption in Sacramento," he said.

Howard said his group expects to reach 85,000 households with high-propensity voters in the next few days.

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