Two GOP candidates disclosed Friday they will suspend their campaigns against fellow Republican James Rogan who was elected only 10 days ago to fill the state Assembly seat held by Pat Nolan until he resigned in February.
One of the two, Los Angeles Police Officer Peter Repovich, who raised $350,000 to run, not only suspended his campaign but also endorsed Rogan and retracted several of the criticisms he had made about his rival.
"I do not wish to be a spoiler or hurt our cause," Repovich said at a news conference with Rogan on Friday afternoon.
Rogan was elected in a May 3 special election to serve out the seven months remaining in Nolan's term. Nolan resigned Feb. 18 after pleading guilty to one count of racketeering and is currently serving a jail term.
Also bowing out of the June 7 primary election is Republican Julia Wu, a member of the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees. A dejected Wu, however, said she was not yet ready to take the next step and endorse Rogan.
"This is the first time I've had a setback and I'm very disappointed," Wu said.
Both Wu and Repovich were contacted in recent days by GOP state Assembly leader Jim Brulte of San Bernardino and urged to drop out of the race to ensure party unity.
"I didn't persuade them to do anything," Brulte said Friday. "Both Julia Wu and Peter Repovich are dedicated Republicans."
The decisions by Repovich and Wu leave Rogan, a former Glendale Municipal Court judge, facing a suddenly dramatically weakened field of challengers in the June 7 GOP primary for the 43rd Assembly District seat. Repovich was the best-financed of Rogan's rivals and Wu the best-known.
Now instead of five challengers, Rogan will effectively face only three, David Wallis, Joseph Pietroforte and Louis Morelli.
Rogan was sworn in Monday to serve out the rest of Nolan's term, which expires Dec. 5.
Although Repovich and Wu are taking themselves out of that contest, their names will remain on the ballot. County election officials said the ballots have been printed and cannot be changed.
At Friday's news conference, Repovich, a Hollywood-based community relations officer with the LAPD, said he would do whatever he could to promote Rogan's candidacy.
During Friday's briefing, Repovich had to backpedal on his previous charges that Rogan's Republican credentials were dubious because he had only converted to the GOP in 1988 after being a Democratic Party activist for many years and that Rogan's conservative Christian values would jeopardize the ability of Republicans to hold on to the 43rd District seat against a moderate Democrat.
"I think Jim Rogan is the best man to beat the Democrats in November," said Repovich, who characterized his prior criticisms as typical statements made in the "heat of the battle."
Rogan said he was extremely pleased with Repovich's decision and welcomed his support. He had no comment on Wu's decision. "I haven't spoken with her about it," he said.
Meanwhile, the sudden show of GOP unity looked to be a setback of sorts to the chances of a Democrat winning the 43rd District seat in November. Consultants for former assistant U. S. Atty. Adam Schiff, who is the likely Democratic nominee, had previously said it was hoped that a divisive GOP primary would soften up the Republican candidate in November. Now that divisiveness appears to have evaporated.
Indeed, Schiff on Friday was putting another interpretation on the latest events. "I'm just glad I won't have to face the possibility of running against Repovich in November," Schiff said. "Rogan will make a much better opponent for me than Repovich, who was a moderate, pro-choice Republican."
Schiff claims that Repovich's moderate positions would have cut into his own base, while Rogan, who has some strongly held conservative views, will give him a chance to exclusively woo the middle-of-the-road voter. Rogan, for example, opposes abortion and gun controls.
Schiff on Friday also began turning up the heat by attacking Rogan's acceptance of the recently enacted 37% pay hike for legislators. "That was a very inauspicious start," the Democratic candidate said. "The timing is especially bad when we don't have a balanced budget and our schools are underfunded." Schiff said he would not have accepted the raise.
The Democrat also charged that Rogan's acceptance of the increase signaled a flip-flop of sorts. During the special election campaign, Rogan had noted that going from a judge to the Assembly would entail a financial sacrifice because--at the time--the salary for a Municipal Court judge was $95,000, while the pay for an Assembly member averaged about $75,000, including a $52,000 fixed salary and a $101-a-day stipend for each day the Legislature is in session.
But with the 37% pay hike, granted by an independent panel a week ago, the pay for lawmakers will hit about $100,000. "It's very ironic that after Rogan made such a great fanfare about the financial sacrifice he'd be making in going to Sacramento when, in fact, he's gotten a pay increase," Schiff said.
Rogan scoffed at the notion of refusing to accept the pay. "I suspect that the people of the 43rd District would prefer that I spent the money to feed myself and my family rather than turning it over to Assembly Speaker Willie Brown," Rogan said.
The assemblyman said it is his understanding that the pay hike funds, if they are not accepted by the members, will not be returned to the state's General Fund, but to a fund overseen by the Assembly Rules Committee, which Brown controls.