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GOP Front-Runners Trade Jabs in Heated Race for State Senate : Politics: Tensions rise as Richard L. Mountjoy, Gary G. Miller and Paul Horcher lead a pack of 29th District candidates in the Sept. 13 election.

August 18, 1994|RICK HOLGUIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With three area Republican officeholders viewed as the front-runners, tensions are rising and the mud is starting to fly in a special election campaign for the state Senate's 29th District seat.

One of the candidates, Assemblyman Richard L. Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), recently called GOP challenger Gary G. Miller a liar. Miller, a Diamond Bar councilman, responded that Mountjoy should quit his crying.

The third prominent GOP candidate, Assemblyman Paul Horcher of Diamond Bar, is portraying Mountjoy as a political turncoat who helped elect Democrat Willie Brown of San Francisco as speaker of the Assembly more than a decade ago. And Horcher has declared that Miller is unfit for public office.

Mountjoy, Miller and Horcher are among seven candidates vying in the Sept. 13 election to fill the remaining two years of the term of the district's former senator, Republican Frank Hill, who resigned in early July after a federal jury found him guilty of extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.

A fourth Republican, Edward D. Ortell, also is running, but so far has raised little money. The sole Democratic candidate is Sandra K. Hester, who lost to Hill in 1992. Additionally, two minor party candidates, Libertarian Matthew J. Piazza and Walter R. Sheasby III of the Green Party, are on the ballot.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in September's election, the top finishers from each party will square off in a runoff Nov. 8. Given the strengths of Mountjoy, Miller and Horcher, most observers predict a runoff will be needed.

The 29th Senate District includes parts of Arcadia, Bradbury, Claremont, Covina, Diamond Bar, Duarte, Glendora, Hacienda Heights, Industry, La Canada Flintridge, La Habra Heights, La Mirada, La Puente, La Verne, Monrovia, Pomona, Rowland Heights, San Dimas, Sierra Madre, Temple City, Walnut, West Covina and Whittier.

A Republican is expected to win the seat because the district's voter registration is 46% Republican and 42% Democrat. But a bloodletting among the GOP front-runners could leave a weakened survivor and create an opportunity for Hester.

"Ordinarily, that's a district the Democrats would forget about," said Joe Cerrell, a veteran political consultant. "But if these guys all kill each other, (some Republicans) will vote Hester" in the runoff.

Despite that prospect, Mountjoy, Horcher and Miller have not hesitated from trading rhetorical punches.

In campaign literature, Horcher has attacked Mountjoy as a member of the old-boy network; he blames him for casting the deciding vote that made Brown the Assembly's most powerful member in 1980 in the culmination of a fight among Democrats for the speakership.

Mountjoy dismisses Horcher's attack, saying he voted for Brown, as did other Republicans, because he was preferable to his challenger, Howard Berman, who is now in Congress. Mountjoy added that he stands by his conservative credentials, which include being a force behind Proposition 187, a measure which would cut medical and other benefits for illegal immigrants if approved by voters in November.

Horcher sent out another mailer in which he called Miller a phony for presenting himself as an ethical candidate when he had to pay a $6,000 fine to the State Fair Political Practices Commission. Miller, who lost a bid for state Senate in 1990, failed to promptly report $260,000 in personal loans to his campaign, an FPPC spokeswoman said.

Miller said he did not promptly report the campaign loans in 1990 because he misunderstood campaign reporting laws.

Mountjoy, meanwhile, has attacked Miller, accusing him of hiring a firm to phone constituents and tell them, under the guise of a survey, that the assemblyman supported a 37% pay raise for legislators. Mountjoy said he opposes the raise, which takes effect Jan. 1, and will donate the extra money to charity.

"The guy's just a liar," Mountjoy said of Miller.

Miller denied that his campaign was responsible for such calls to constituents. "It seems I have Dick Mountjoy crying about everything right now," Miller said.

Miller is making an issue of the pay raise, however, saying the lawmakers do not deserve it and that he will not accept it if elected. His campaign literature attacking the pay raise does not mention Mountjoy or Horcher, but Miller said he blames them for not moving quickly on legislation to keep it from taking effect.

Horcher, who once declined to address the issue, now says he opposes the raise and will donate a portion of the money he receives to the financially strapped Los Angeles County Library system.

Mountjoy and Horcher have an advantage in terms of name recognition among voters. Mountjoy's 59th Assembly District, which he has represented since 1978, covers the northern half of the 29th Senate District. Horcher's 60th Assembly District covers the other half.

But Miller also has a solid base to run for higher office, having served on the Diamond Bar City Council since 1989. And as of July 30, Miller had the largest war chest with $176,000, all but $1,000 of which came in a loan from his wife, according to his campaign disclosure statement. He and his wife, Cathleen, own a real estate company.

Horcher was next with $21,224, while Mountjoy reported raising $15,354. Hester reported raising about $1,000.

Hester, a former aide to Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Monterey Park), is hoping that voters who decline to state a party affiliation--about 10% of those in the district--will support her.

"A lot of (voters) are looking for a change," Hester said. "I offer them that."

Also on the ballot are Libertarian Matthew J. Piazza and Green Party candidate Walter R. Sheasby III.

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