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STATE ELECTION / 72nd ASSEMBLY DISTRICT : Winner of Pivotal Race Will Be Busy : North County contest could bear on speakership, California budget and O.C. bankruptcy. Three Republicans and one Democrat vie on July 18.


If this is July, it must be time for yet another special election in Orange County.

And like Measure R, which was soundly torpedoed by county voters last week, this election comes at a crucial political time, with implications that could reverberate throughout the state.

In less than three weeks, voters in the north Orange County's 72nd Assembly District will be asked to choose a new member of the state's lower house to wade into a political maelstrom in Sacramento unprecedented in California history. Currently swirling around the Capitol is a bitter, Republican-backed recall targeting Assembly Speaker Doris Allen (R-Cypress) for allegedly being a puppet of the Democrats. Then there's the threat of a state takeover of bankrupt Orange County and a state budget already overdue.

Four candidates--three Republicans and a long-shot Democrat--will square off July 18 in a primary election to fill the Assembly seat vacated last fall when Ross Johnson, a powerful Placentia Republican, moved to Irvine and was elected to the state Senate.

"Whoever wins will be jumping right into a hornet's nest," said state Sen. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove).

The three Republican candidates are all veteran city council members in the district, an area at the northernmost reach of the county that is home to about 370,000 people and includes La Habra, Fullerton, Placentia, Brea, Yorba Linda and small parts of Anaheim and Buena Park.

The fourth candidate, Democrat Shirley Hafner, is a longtime behind-the-scenes political player who was asked to run by her party although Democrats in the district are outnumbered by a nearly two-to-one ratio.

If none of the candidates wins more than 50% of the vote on July 18, a runoff election between the top Republican and Hafner will be held Sept. 12.

Although nearly guaranteed a spot in a runoff, Hafner acknowledges she has only an outside chance to win.

"It's a long shot, but you never know what can happen," said Hafner, 56, an Air Force veteran who has been a firefighter, a social services worker and now works at UC Irvine Medical Center.

"I think I have much more experience and much more knowledge than the other three candidates," Hafner said. "I've been in the military, I've worked with firefighters, I know what's involved in reforming welfare. I'm counting on all this to help me."


Hafner said she is also counting on the Republicans to "bloody each other up." The three Republicans--Richard Ackerman, Barbara Kiley and Chris Norby--all call themselves loyal Republicans, fiscal conservatives and Measure R foes, but they have already traded punches.

Kiley and Norby claim Ackerman remained too quiet during the No-on-Measure R campaign, a charge he dismisses through his endorsement from Tom Rogers of San Juan Capistrano, one of the leaders of the anti-Measure R forces.

"If Tom Rogers, who led the fight, thinks enough of me to endorse me, I'd say that speaks for itself," Ackerman said.

Much is also being made about the California Teachers Assn. endorsement of Ackerman. Kiley and Norby say it shows he sympathizes with a group that has been a major backer of Assemblyman Willie Brown (R-San Francisco) and Allen.


Ackerman responds that the teachers' group is now working with Republicans all over the state. He also points out that Norby interviewed for the endorsement but didn't get it.

"The CTA used to be totally affiliated with the Democrats, but not any longer," he said. "They realize the Republicans are now the players. They think I'm going to win and want to help somebody they can talk to and is responsible."

Ackerman, 52, a Fullerton attorney, former Fullerton councilman and a two-time mayor, scored points by winning endorsements from Johnson and U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), two men who represent the political establishment in the area.

He says he is most qualified because of his "character and consistency" and left local politics in 1992 after three terms on the council only because he is a strong advocate of term limits.

"People stay in these offices too long and the citizens need new ideas," Ackerman said. "But I've always considered running for office again."


Kiley, 48, a member of the Yorba Linda City Council who works with her husband's political consulting firm, portrays herself as the one candidate who refused to talk to the CTA. She established a statewide reputation by being the co-author of Proposition 187, the successful immigration reform measure on the ballot last November.

"That's my claim to fame," Kiley said. "Proposition 187 passed with 67% of the vote in our district. The 187 supporters know me and what I can do."

Kiley also became mayor of Yorba Linda in her second year on the council and has won endorsements from all four of her council colleagues, as well as from state Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia). "I take that as a real credit," she said.

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