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DECISION '94: Spotlight on Local Elections : Bowen Vows Not to Get Too Confident in Assembly Race


Assemblywoman Debra Bowen is running her first reelection campaign with the traditional perks of an incumbent--name recognition, political allies and a campaign war chest far larger than her opponent's.

But despite that edge, Bowen, a Democrat, says she's not overconfident.

"I always run like I'm behind," she said. "It's part of my nature. I never assume anything."

Unlike much of the Westside, Bowen's 53rd District--which stretches from Venice to Marina del Rey, Westchester and the South Bay--is not necessarily friendly to Democrats. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a narrow 43% to 41%.

Bowen's Republican opponent, commercial insurance agent Julian Sirull, said one of his main qualifications is that he's not an incumbent politician. He hopes to benefit from Gov. Pete Wilson's reelection campaign and from the trend favoring Republicans nationally.

But Sirull acknowledges that he is not getting as much financial support from the Republican Party as he would like. As of Sept. 30, his campaign had $15,946 in the bank, far below Bowen's $79,546. He had spent $4,988, compared with $53,960 by Bowen.

For Sirull, a lack of financial support from the party could mean the difference between a close race and an easy reelection for Bowen, said GOP political strategist Allan Hoffenblum. "If the party puts money in there, it would be competitive," he said. "If they don't, they're punting."

Bowen touts her endorsements from the mayors of Torrance and Lomita, the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and other organizations. She's also banking on personal relationships with voters established in town hall meetings and on her Assembly record.

She wrote a bill that provides computer access to state legislative information, such as legislators' voting records, the text of bills and their status. Anyone with access to the Internet computer network can get the information for free. Bowen extols the program as a way to bring people closer together. "For most people, Sacramento might as well be Mars," she said.

But Sirull questions its value.

"How many people really take advantage of that?" he said. "How many people really care about that? How does that help someone who's been laid off from TRW or Hughes? How does that help them get a job?"

Bowen's other legislative achievements include new laws to help businesses get variances from air-quality districts, to force state agencies to coordinate the oversight of toxic cleanups and to require the state to publicize condom reliability testing data.

In her first political campaign in 1992, she won a bitter race for the Assembly, winning 55% of the vote to Republican Brad Parton's 41%. Bowen, 38, said being in the Assembly leaves her no time for her former law practice, which specialized in small-business start-ups, tax law and environmental law.

Sirull, 36, said he would help businesses by seeking a cut in the corporate income tax and changing the workers' compensation system, which he said is now stacked against employers.

The corporate tax rate, which is higher here than in neighboring states, and the workers' compensation system are encouraging businesses to leave California, he said. He insists that any revenue lost from lowering corporate taxes would be offset by increased collections as a result of the generally improved business climate.

Also in the race are Libertarian candidate William Gaillard, a public works employee, and Peace and Freedom candidate J. Kevin Bishop, a cable installer.

Assembly District 53

Where: Venice, Mar Vista, Westchester, South Bay beach cities, Torrance.

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