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DECISION '94 : Votes of Confidence : Despite Backlash Against Officeholders, Incumbents Breeze to Wins

November 10, 1994|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What wave of anti-incumbency?

It didn't happen in legislative races in the Long Beach/Southeast region on Tuesday, where all of the congressional incumbents won and only one state legislative incumbent--Assemblyman Bob Epple (D-Cerritos)--failed to regain his seat.

One other Assembly seat appeared too close to call, with Assemblywoman Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach) holding a lead of a few dozen votes over Republican Steven Kuykendall out of more than 100,000 votes cast.

But other officeholders in the region, including the handful whom analysts regarded as facing more than nominal opposition, breezed back into office.

Rep. Steve Horn (R-Long Beach) rode the Republican wave to an easy victory over Democratic challenger Peter Mathews despite a preponderance of Democratic voters in the 38th Congressional District.

The challenger, a Cypress College associate professor of American government running in a district where 52% of the voters are registered as Democrats, got caught in the GOP undertow, said campaign manager Noah Mamet.

"With Newt Gingrich as our next Speaker (of the House of Representatives), you're not going to do too well if you're a Democrat," Mamet said at a dispirited gathering at a Long Beach restaurant.

From the beginning, Mathews faced an uphill battle against Horn, a prominent public figure in the district since 1970 when he was appointed president of Cal State Long Beach, a post he held for 17 1/2 years.

"The big question I always heard was, 'Who is Peter Mathews?' " said Long Beach City Councilman Jerry Shultz, a Horn supporter. "What's his track record? What has he done for Long Beach or Southern California?"

Horn supporters say the margin of victory was widened by a series of Mathews "hit pieces," negative mailers sent out late in the campaign. One, displaying a picture of the onion-domed St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, asserted that Horn "sent millions to help Russian workers" but failed to vote for programs to assist American workers.

"It was the most negative campaign I've ever seen in California politics--and I've seen a lot of them," Horn said Wednesday. "I think it (Horn's victory) is a referendum in the sense that people want positive campaigns."

Mathews, who announced late Tuesday that he's in the running again for the 1996 election, defended the mailer. Horn "voted against the President's economic stimulus package," Mathews said, "but he voted for foreign aid. We understand why he does things like that. He's a Republican."

In other Southeast-area congressional races, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente), Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) were reelected.

Tucker, who was indicted in August on bribery charges, faced no Republican opponent, but he got a spirited challenge from Libertarian Guy Wilson, a merchant seaman. Wilson, who garnered just 45 votes in the June primary, drew almost a quarter of the popular vote on Tuesday.

"I will run again, and I'm going to be a pit bull next time," said Wilson, who had not planned to campaign aggressively until Tucker was indicted. Third-term Assemblyman Epple said his loss to Cerritos real estate broker Phil Hawkins was part of the Republican wave. "It's always been tough to win in this district," he said. "Clearly, it's a conservative district." The 56th Assembly District is 51% Democratic, but many are the conservative "Reagan Democrats" who have frequently voted across party lines.

"They're not loyal Democrats," Epple said.

But Hawkins said that voters responded positively to his status as a political newcomer. "This is my district, I've lived here since 1954," Hawkins said. "I'm like these people. It's not like I'm a politician. I'm one of them--and I want to stay that way."

The outcome of the Karnette-Kuykendall race, which will be determined by absentee ballots, has implications far outside the district. Because of Republican gains in the Assembly, a Kuykendall victory could put the Republicans over the top, ousting Democrat Willie Brown as the Assembly Speaker. Counting of the remaining ballots is expected to begin today and could take several days.

The race shaped up as a classic contest between a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican. Karnette opposed Proposition 187, while Kuykendall supported the measure.

The initiative to restrict services to illegal immigrants "won't do what the public wants it to do," Karnette, 63, asserted.

Kuykendall, 47, the mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes, called the measure a good way to "send a message" to the federal government regarding illegal immigration. At his election night celebration at a Long Beach restaurant, his supporters cheered each new television report about pro-187 support--to the obvious annoyance of some waiters and busboys working there. Later, someone scrawled a message on the men's room mirror: "USA Without Immgranst is Nothig."

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