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GOP Maverick May Hold Key to Speakership : Capitol: Paul Horcher, who has often clashed with Republican Assembly Leader Jim Brulte and others in the party, could control 41st vote needed to wrest job from Willie Brown.

November 16, 1994|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — In the wake of last week's election, a little-known Republican lawmaker, who repeatedly has clashed with his GOP colleagues, could very well hold the balance of power in the state Assembly.

With thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted from the Nov. 8 election, Republicans will likely either hold a razor-thin edge in the Assembly or will be deadlocked 40-40 with Democrats when the newly elected members convene next month in Sacramento.

But maverick Republican Paul Horcher of Diamond Bar, an outcast in his own GOP caucus, could deny GOP Assembly Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga the speakership and allow Speaker Willie Brown to extend his record 14-year reign, or, in the event of a stalemate, make a run at the job himself.

"I'm assessing my Republican support," Horcher said this week, seeking to rally backing, especially among moderate lawmakers. "I would like to be a viable alternative to Mr. Brulte. I'm not an extremist."

In an interview, Horcher, who is of German ancestry and whose wife is from Vietnam, called himself a mainstream Republican and maintained he represents "everyone, not just people who look like me."

Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) describes the unfolding events in the Capitol as a drama because Horcher and Brulte have been at odds. Now, he said, the Republican leader must woo his nemesis. "Brulte's whole future is in his (Horcher's) hands. It's a damn nightmare."

Phil Perry, Brulte's spokesman, sounded a conciliatory note toward Horcher. Saying Horcher generally sides with the GOP, Perry added, "We think that with the (GOP) caucus in control, Paul can do even more for his district."

It is not the first time the tousle-haired, 40-year-old attorney has been embroiled in a nasty legislative or political scuffle with his position crucial to the outcome.

In 1991, Horcher was among a handful of Republicans who rose to support Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and vote for a $56.4-billion state budget that had been stalled in negotiations. Horcher actually cast the 54th and deciding vote after Wilson implored him to "please do the right thing." Afterward, Horcher said that even though he considered himself a fiscal conservative he "wasn't going to let the governor be humiliated."

Early in 1993, Republican lawmakers berated Horcher for what they perceived as an act of betrayal: accepting an appointment from Speaker Brown to a key budget committee after Brown had rejected Brulte's suggestion of another Republican for the job. At the time, Brulte said Horcher "should not have accepted the appointment" to the vice chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee.

With the post came additional staff and an office, but Horcher said the trappings had nothing to do with his decision. "I'm a public servant, not a prima donna," he said.

The tiffs with other Republicans continued throughout 1993. Horcher cited an unsuccessful effort at the state Republican Party convention that year to censure him for accepting the Ways and Means position.

"At best," says Assemblyman Phil Isenberg (D-Sacramento), Republicans "were dismissive and disdainful of Horcher. And Paul is a proud guy."

"If they aren't regretting it, they should," said Isenberg, recalling "how bitterly personal they were in attacks on him." Isenberg is chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee that includes Horcher.

This certainly isn't the first time Horcher has faced tough situations. In 1979, he was working in Iran overseeing refinery construction contracts for Fluor Corp. He said he was forced to quickly flee in the wake of the hostage crisis at the American Embassy.

"I made a decision," Horcher said, "never to be frightened again."

A native of Texas, he graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a bachelor's degree in political science and attended La Verne University College of Law before passing the State Bar in 1978. He and his wife, Van Le, have two daughters.

Horcher served on the Diamond Bar City Council before his 1990 election to the Assembly, succeeding Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who had won a special Senate election.

In Sacramento, Horcher has been known as a pragmatist and something of an anomaly. Horcher's biggest campaign contributor the past two years has been the typically Democratic-leaning California Trial Lawyers Assn., which has given him about $11,500, according to Legi-Tech, a computerized information service.

In fact, one of Horcher's biggest battles of the past legislative session was on behalf of the trial lawyers. He carried legislation restricting false or misleading TV commercials by personal injury attorneys. A compromise version was signed into law.

Horcher bucked the Republican Establishment earlier this year when he ran in a special state Senate contest and lost to fellow GOP colleague and veteran conservative Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia).

Whether Horcher will emerge as a candidate for Speaker--considered the second most powerful job in state government--remains unclear.

Horcher won't comment on whom he might support for Speaker or even whether he might switch parties. But he did say he might vote for himself as Speaker, a prospect that could leave Republicans short of the 41 votes needed to elect a new Speaker.

Assemblyman Curtis Tucker (D-Inglewood) doubts that Horcher would bolt his fellow Republicans, however tenuous the relationship may be. "Would you want to be the one Republican in the world" who denies the GOP the speakership after a quarter of a century?" Tucker asked.

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