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San Gabriel Valley / Cover Story : Total Recall : Efforts By Disgruntled Citizens To Unseat Officeholders Are Increasingly Commonplace

March 16, 1995|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just a few months ago, Patricia Bolton was a volunteer in the 60th Assembly District Republican office, using her nimble fingers to stuff envelopes with campaign mailers touting the reelection of Paul Horcher.

Today, Bolton spends practically every spare moment making phone calls and walking precincts to recall Horcher for renouncing his GOP membership and voting to extend the reign of Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco. The recall vote on Horcher, who is now a registered independent, is set for May 16.

As Bolton sat recently in the GOP office, eagerly answering the phones with the refrain, "recall Horcher headquarters," she could find no polite words for the Diamond Bar assemblyman. "He double-crossed everyone," she remarked.

That's a common feeling about elected representatives right now in the San Gabriel Valley, where eight recall drives seek to unseat 20 officeholders.

The recall movement gained momentum in 1993 when Covina voters, angered by a 6% utility tax, removed the entire City Council. Now two leaders of that recall drive who were voted onto the council on a no-tax pledge--plus a third current council member--find the same tactic being used against them in response to their vote for an even bigger utility tax of 8.25%.

Elsewhere:

* Outraged parents are gathering signatures to force a recall of all five members of the Hacienda La Puente Board of Education.

* Community activists are intent on throwing out three Bassett school board members.

* A group of Duarte taxpayers want to replace three council members for imposing a utility tax.

* Some South El Monte residents want to oust a council trio who put a card club proposal on the ballot, an idea that voters rejected.

* Diamond Bar activists are targeting a councilman for alleged abuses, including physically assaulting fellow members.

* And residents in Walnut last week launched a recall campaign against Councilwoman June Wentworth, partly over racial issues.

These are all examples of how recalls are becoming more common in increasingly urbanized suburbs--especially on hot-button issues such as taxes, experts say. "The San Gabriel Valley was the site of the most dramatic and successful recall of modern times in Covina," said Alan Heslop, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. "And now it's a contagious political disease that's spreading here."

As divisive as recalls might seem, Heslop said, they also can serve as a way to unite disparate groups in areas that often seem to lack a cohesive sense of community.

But, he said, for all the furor they generate, many recalls ultimately fail at the ballot box. "To succeed, you need a scandal or a notorious action such as Covina's breakfast-time vote for a utility tax or Horcher's vote for Brown."

Horcher is the fifth state lawmaker in California history to face a recall election. His opponents swiftly gathered 19,012 signatures of registered voters, 251 more than needed to qualify the recall for the ballot in his district. Recall advocates had until June to gather the needed signatures, but they had the signatures in place and approved by March 2.

Horcher, first elected in 1990, said he is ready for an all-out campaign to keep his seat and that he expects Brown and other Democrats, and some moderate Republicans, to help him.

"The issue will be reform," Horcher said. "Their goal will be to replace me with some right-wing robot who represents party bosses and not the district."

*

Last December, with Horcher's support, Democrat Brown had 40 Assembly votes for speaker, the same number as Republican Leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga. Horcher later voted to remove Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia), who had also won a Senate seat, to give Brown a majority and the Democrats continued control of the Assembly.

"People are disgusted," said Kathryn Howard, a former Horcher friend who coordinates the recall effort. "Especially now they're learning he knew before the last election, when he won as a Republican, he was going to do this."

Yes, Horcher said, he resolved to become an independent before his last election and described himself as one in a mailer during the election. But he did not decide on the speaker's vote until he found there would be no moderate Republicans running for the seat.

Horcher, who represents a district extending from Walnut to Whittier, said he voted against Brulte because he finds the right wing that controls the Assembly Republican Caucus "immature" and not reflective of his half-Democrat/half-Republican district.

A feeling of having been deceived also prompted the newest recall in Covina, where resident Hank Vagt, who organized the original recall, is at it again four months after council members Thomas M. O'Leary, Linda Sarver and Thomas C. Falls surprised their constituents by voting for a new 8.25% utility tax. Sarver and O'Leary had worked side-by-side with Vagt on the original recall.

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