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Local Elections : Firestone, Lorenz Turn Assembly Race Into Brawl

October 19, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Turning up the heat in an already bitter campaign fight, Republican state Assembly candidate Brooks Firestone is now comparing his Democratic opponent, Mindy Lorenz, to a color-changing lizard in his most recent campaign mailer.

This is the latest swipe in what is quickly turning into a brawl for an open seat in the 35th Assembly District, which includes Ventura, Santa Paula and Ojai and most of Santa Barbara County. Lorenz has attacked Firestone for his wealthy upbringing.

Firestone's mailer, aimed at wooing Democratic voters, features a photo of a chameleon on the back and front cover. The lizard, which changes colors to match its surroundings, is intended to draw voters' attention to Lorenz's history of switching political parties.

The mailer asks, "Is Mindy Lorenz a Green or a Democrat? You Decide." The brochure, which features Firestone's name in tiny letters on the cover, includes a timeline inside that traces Lorenz's affiliation with the Peace and Freedom Party, the Green Party and the Democratic Party.

Lorenz dismissed the mailer, including its allegations that she supported the legalization of cocaine and heroin, as nothing more than "lies and distortions."

"I think what we're seeing here is a desperate campaign that knows it's behind," Lorenz said.

But Firestone said voters have a right to know about Lorenz's political history, especially her former membership in parties that have called for abolishing the death penalty, giving illegal immigrants full rights and forgiving the debts of Third World countries.

"What will she do if elected?" Firestone said. "I think she's going to revert back to her lifelong ultra-liberal stance as articulated in the platforms of the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party."

Lorenz, 47, said she has evolved and matured as a political candidate, and that is the reason "I left those parties."

She said she cannot be held accountable for the platforms of the Peace and Freedom Party or the Green Party anymore than Firestone can be held accountable for his differences with the anti-abortion plank of the GOP platform.

"It's a cheap shot," Lorenz said of Firestone's mailer.

Meanwhile, Lorenz's mailers and television ads are designed to point out the sharp contrast in her working-class background and Firestone's wealthy upbringing.

Lorenz has gone from being a single mother living on food stamps to earning a doctoral degree and a job as an art history professor. Firestone is the grandson of the founder of Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. and the owner of a Santa Barbara County winery.

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Lorenz's mailer, which features a photo of the candidate in front of the state Capitol, makes several references to her opponent without mentioning his name: "Mindy Lorenz Made It the Old-Fashioned Way--She Earned It," and "Success in Mindy Lorenz's life hasn't been a gift--it's been an achievement."

Firestone, 58, said Lorenz's attempts to paint him as a spoiled rich kid are absurd. He says he left the family business 22 years ago to start his own winery, and that while his millionaire father is an investor in the vineyard, "If it fails, I'm broke."

"To sit here and look at TV ads 19 times a day that say daddy gave me a winery, that's pure . . ., " said Firestone, who will not disclose how much he is worth. "That's absolutely untrue. I'm not independently wealthy. If my business fails, I have to go out and get a job. That's reality."

But Lorenz said Firestone has never had to worry about money or a job and therefore is out of touch with the average voter.

"Working families are facing tough times and Brooks Firestone doesn't have a clue about what it's like," she said. "How can he represent the people of this district?"

Democrats hold only a slight edge in voter registration over Republicans in the 35th Assembly District, so both candidates are making every effort to attract voters from opposing sides. Firestone's "chameleon" brochure, for instance, was mailed to 50,000 Democrats in the district.

Republican Party officials said Firestone represents their best chance of recapturing the Assembly seat. The GOP has coveted the legislative seat ever since Firestone narrowly lost his bid for the post 12 years ago to Democrat Jack O'Connell, a candidate this year for the state Senate.

Despite the campaign's increasingly nasty tone, both Lorenz and Firestone said they expect more of the same between now and Election Day, Nov. 8.

"I know there will be loads of manure dumped on me in the next couple of weeks," Firestone said. "If I can just keep my head above it, we'll do well."

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