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POLITICS '96 / A behind-the-scenes look at Orange County's
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Nothing Left Unturned in Leyes' Move Toward the GOP Establishment

February 11, 1996

If anyone has concerns over Garden Grove Councilman Mark Leyes' newfound conservatism, it's not the California Republican Assembly. The hard-right group, which is the state's oldest and largest GOP volunteer organization, recently endorsed Leyes on the first ballot in his run for 1st District county supervisor March 26.

This is the same Leyes who on Jan. 18, 1995, surprised many observers by switching parties. He had been not just a Democrat, but an active one, holding memberships on the state Democratic Party executive board, the Orange County Democratic Party central committee. He was Tom Bradley's Orange County coordinator when the onetime mayor of Los Angeles ran for governor in 1986.

"He has to be the only person who ever worked for Tom Hayden, Tom Bradley and Alan Cranston who has been endorsed by the CRA," said George Urch, Democratic party activist and former central committee member.

It is clear, however, that Leyes' former life as an activist Democrat is all water over the dam to the GOP power structure. Leyes, who campaigned hard against the sales tax increase last year, already has the endorsement of other GOP tax opponents, including Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle of Garden Grove, Assemblyman Jim Morrissey of Santa Ana and state Sen. John R. Lewis of Orange.

"None of us have problems with Ronald Reagan as a former Democrat," said Tom Fuentes, a CRA member and chairman of the county Republican Party. "Anybody who has proved himself as vigorously as Mark Leyes has should not be questioned."

Leyes was so eager to dive into Republican politics this year that he also tried to file for a seat on the GOP central committee. His nomination papers, however, were rejected at the registrar's office. The reason? He had not been a Republican long enough to run for the partisan office.

Leyes downplayed the missed opportunity, saying he missed the one-year minimum requirement "by only a few days." Besides, he said, he's already an alternate for one of the sitting central committee members.

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New endorsement: Fuentes himself has had trouble winning endorsements from the CRA in his past runs for the GOP county central committee. Two years ago, the group refused to endorse the longtime county party chairman, and this year it took four ballots for Fuentes to win its backing, along with a slate of five other candidates from the 71st Assembly District.

Perhaps it doesn't really matter.

"Two years ago I went on to receive the largest number of votes of any central committee candidate in the county," Fuentes said.

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Ganging up?: Donald Rowe, who is unopposed as the Reform Party candidate for the 67th Assembly District in the March 26 primary, has endorsed Republican Barbara Coe in the GOP race for the same seat. Coe is running against Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) and Cypress Mayor Cecilia L. Age for the right to compete in the November election.

Rowe, who "years ago was in the GOP before becoming an independent," has written a letter asking Reform Party members to re-register as Republicans so they can vote for Coe. He notes that Coe "has been active in the United We Stand America movement" and he supports "her stand against illegal immigration."

Rowe said Baugh epitomizes the old politics dominated by special interests, and attacked Baugh for not telling the truth on campaign reports last year when he "concealed a contribution" from the husband of stealth Democrat Laurie Campbell.

Baugh declined to comment.

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Fund-raiser of the week: It may not have brought in oodles of money, but a fund-raiser for 3rd District Supervisorial candidate Susan Withrow that featured the satire of the Orange County Crazies provided a good time for three dozen supporters.

The Crazies, known for punchy humor about county doings, took on the "Stupidvisors," showed a video of "young Bob Citron" having trouble with first-grade math, made fun of a mythical community called "Coto de Caucasian" and spoofed Assemblyman Mickey Conroy's failed legislation to reintroduce paddling for graffiti vandals and schoolchildren.

That last skit ended with a paddle-wielding Withrow chasing a white-wigged "Conroy" from the stage.

Withrow, a Mission Viejo City Council member, netted about $8,000 at the event, a spokesman said. She is counting on heavy South County support as she competes in a field of eight, with Helen Wilson, a council member from Lake Forest, the only other South Countian on the ballot.

If no one wins a majority of the vote, there will be runoff between the first- and second-place finishers.

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Same message, different messenger: Given the deflated state of the national Dornan for President campaign, there are few Dornan tactics other politicians might want to copy.

Except for one: The campaign slogan "Faith, family, freedom."

That slogan appeared on Dornan's campaign posters when he first entered the race almost a year ago. Now, it's being uttered by fellow conservative Patrick J. Buchanan, both on the stump and in radio commercials.

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