The recall campaign against Assembly Speaker Doris Allen took on a new cast this week as a professional signature collection organization joined the local activists who have been circulating petitions against the Cypress Republican.
Supporters of Allen called the move a sign of weakness and an indication that the campaign against her in the 67th Assembly District is losing steam.
Allen opponents said hiring American Petition Consultants will ensure that the necessary 25,606 signatures will be certified in time to allow Gov. Pete Wilson to put the recall on the ballot in the November election.
So far, 10,621 signatures supporting the recall have been validated by the registrar of voters' office.
Jockeying heated up elsewhere as Allen contested sentiment among leaders in the state Republican Party who want to actively contribute to the campaign against her. Republican Party rules generally prevent the organization from taking sides in GOP primaries or recall elections.
The state GOP, however, will probably consider endorsing the recall at its convention, which opens Sept. 29 in Palm Springs, party officials said. Should that happen, the party would be free to contribute time, staff and money to the recall drive.
The party's rules committee will meet in Irvine on Thursday to vote on whether to place before the semiannual convention a recommendation that Allen be recalled. Allen or her lawyer, as well as leaders of the recall drive, including Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), are expected to present arguments at the hearing.
The Republican Party was a major source of the $1 million spent on the recall this spring of Paul Horcher, who had switched from Republican to Independent and supported Assemblyman Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) for Speaker.
Allen was targeted by Republican conservative activists shortly after she joined with the Assembly's 39 Democrats on June 5 to elect herself Speaker. The Republicans had tried unsuccessfully since the November election, which gave them a seeming majority in the Assembly, to elect their caucus leader, Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga), as Speaker.
Recall advocates call Allen a puppet of former Speaker Willie Brown. They say that she sold out the Republican Party in her "unholy deal" with Democrats and Brown and that since then she has fired Republican staffers, hurt the Republican legislative agenda and damaged GOP fund-raising and election prospects.
Opponents of Allen expect to spend more than $150,000 on the signature gathering campaign, according to Jeff Flint, a Pringle aide, who is on leave from his legislative job to manage the recall. The Lincoln Club has pledged $50,000, and other money is coming from the Orange County legislative delegation, he said, including Pringle and Sens. Ross Johnson (R-Newport Beach), John R. Lewis (R-Orange) and Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove). Some $15,000 has also been contributed in checks of $100 or less from the public, Flint said.
Allen supporters say the campaign is nothing more than a "family feud" fueled by the envy of those Republicans who want to control the Assembly. They say that despite making a deal with Brown, Allen has forwarded the Republican agenda. Under Allen's leadership, they say, such measures as a 15% tax cut, the death penalty for drive-by killers and revisions in the tort system have moved out of committee and come before the Assembly.
Allen vigorously denies that she is under anyone's thumb or that she is disloyal.
"To anyone who thinks I am a Benedict Arnold, I have to say 'Why?' Jim Brulte couldn't take the speakership. I did it," she said. "Why would I be a Willie Brown puppet? There is no way anyone can ever control me--not the governor, not Willie Brown, not Jim Brulte. How could I be a Willie Brown puppet and put out tort reform? He is an advocate for the trial lawyers."
The Allen campaign will not discuss funds, but Allen says she has $35,000 in her campaign coffers, though it is widely expected she will draw on a variety of political action groups--including some that usually line up with the Democrats.
Polls taken by the two sides vary. One done for the recall camp several weeks ago had Allen trailing about 85% to 15% among very high-propensity voters, said Jim Righeimer, who is a leader in the recall. Allen's poll done about a week ago has the same voting group split 35% to 35% "and mush in between," said Allen Hoffenblum, Allen's political consultant.
The Allen opponents have opened two offices in the district and are sending volunteers-- mostly on the weekends--gathering signatures door-to-door using targeted lists of Republican voters. In addition, Sacramento-based American Petition Consultants is staffing shopping plazas all week long. They are being paid $1.25 for each signature, said Dave Gilliard, the consultant to the campaign.