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California Elections / STATE OFFICES : GOP Victories Give Governor New Allies : With Republicans holding a majority of top posts for the first time in 24 years, Wilson will have less criticism to counter. Lungren's position also is strengthened.

November 10, 1994|PAUL JACOBS and ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

When Gov. Pete Wilson looks for help from his fellow statewide officeholders come January, he'll find friendly Republicans occupying posts long dominated by Democrats.

For the first time in 24 years, the GOP has won a majority of the top elected posts in state government.

No longer will there be a Democrat like Wilson rival Kathleen Brown in the state treasurer's office to attack him for what she called a smoke-and-mirrors budget that hid a gaping deficit. Republican Matt Fong, who defeated former state Democratic Party Chairman Phil Angelides in the race to succeed Brown, has embraced the governor's plans to cut state spending and will probably prove a loyal ally.

If Wilson continues to wrangle with the Clinton Administration and Congress over the cost of implementing motor-voter registration requirements, Republican Bill Jones, who appears to have eked out a narrow victory in the secretary of state's race, has said he'll sit down and work things out with the governor.

In contrast, the acting secretary of state, Democrat Tony Miller, was threatening to take Wilson to court if he refused to order state agencies to implement the federal law making it easier for voters to register at places such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. Miller, who was trailing Jones by the thinnest of margins with more than 500,000 absentee ballots still to be counted, said, "It's not over yet."

Also scoring a victory in the GOP column was Assemblyman Charles W. Quackenbush of Cupertino, who had Wilson's financial backing in his race for insurance commissioner against state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles).

Quackenbush and the governor share a strongly pro-business, anti-regulatory outlook. "I think that the Republican message--free markets, free enterprise, individual initiative--is really resonating with the people," said Quackenbush, who ran on a platform of easing regulation of insurers. "I think voters are rejecting central government planning for the economy, across the board."

The Republican insurance commissioner-elect was criticized during the race for taking more than $2 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry--the same interests he will have to regulate in his new post.

In a year of a strong Republican landslide, however, Quackenbush was able to breeze to victory.

A Times exit poll of 5,336 voters indicated that although Torres scored strongly among Democrats--and among blacks and Latinos who help make up the traditional Democratic base--Quackenbush enjoyed even stronger loyalty among registered Republicans and had a decided edge among independent voters.

Except for Wilson, the biggest Republican winner Tuesday was state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, who clobbered his Democratic challenger, Assemblyman Tom Umberg of Garden Grove.

Lungren, who will have to vacate the office at the end of his second term in 1996, is expected to move up the political ladder. Other attorneys general--Earl Warren, Edmund G. (Pat) Brown Sr. and George Deukmejian--successfully advanced to the state's highest office. But Lungren is aware of others who tried and failed, such as John Van de Kamp, who lost to Dianne Feinstein in the Democratic primary for governor in 1990.

"I've talked with 'Governor' Van de Kamp many times about how easy it is to go from attorney to governor," Lungren said. "If I do a good job I'll have options open to me. If I don't, I won't."

A former congressman, Lungren is also spoken of as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in 1998, but the attorney general downplays the possibility. "I've debated Barbara Boxer many times," he said. "But I didn't come to California to run back to Washington, D.C."

Even after his victory appeared secure late Tuesday, Lungren was still smarting from an Umberg ad campaign that tried to blame Lungren for the death of 12-year-old kidnaping victim Polly Klaas.

Speaking of the Umberg television ads, Lungren said: "I didn't think anyone could bring dishonor to the Assembly, but he did it."

The Times exit poll found that a small but significant number of Democratic voters included in the survey, 18%, had defected from Umberg to vote for the Republican incumbent. And 54% of the independent voters contacted said they supported Lungren, compared to only 32% for the Democrat.

Since 1970, Democrats have dominated the partisan statewide constitutional offices. Tuesday's election reversed the tide, but there were several notable exceptions.

State Controller Gray Davis won election as lieutenant governor by a comfortable margin over a relatively weak GOP opponent, state Sen. Cathie Wright of Simi Valley.

That means that Davis becomes a standard-bearer of his party's fortunes, ideally positioned to lob criticism at the governor and perhaps to run for the office in four years when Wilson is forced out by term limits.

Another Democrat, Los Angeles businesswoman Kathleen Connell, was the likely winner in her race against former Republican Assemblyman Tom McClintock in the state controller's race.

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