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GOP CONVENTION '96

Pringle Toils in Convention Vineyard to Boost Assembly's Stock

Legislature: Speaker says he's 'not out here for my ego,' but rather is busy in San Diego trying to cement, and strengthen, the GOP's hold on his chamber.

August 15, 1996|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In the political theater of the Republican National Convention, California Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle has decided to be upstaged.

While Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren grabbed the spotlight by introducing Bob Dole's economic plan and Gov. Pete Wilson was cast for a time as the spurned chief executive of the host state, Pringle's performance here is designed to extend his nine-month run as head of the Legislature's lower house.

Pringle (R-Garden Grove) is not shying away from the behind-the-scenes work that goes with attending the convention as the first GOP speaker of the Assembly in a quarter century. He is spending most of his time trying to create a positive image for the Assembly via the airwaves--and building support among delegates and other guests for Assembly candidates in the November election.

"I am not out here for my ego," said the 37-year-old conservative. "I need to win Assembly seats."

Under Pringle's leadership, the Assembly has begun an about-face from the policies of his Democratic predecessor, Willie Brown. And while much of the Republican agenda of tax cuts, education vouchers, lawsuit control and welfare and regulatory changes has been stymied by the Democrat-controlled Senate, Republicans are getting a chance to play offense in at least one house of the Legislature for the first time in more than two decades.

That could end if the GOP campaign in California trips on President Clinton's coattails. Republicans hold just 41 of the 80 seats in the Assembly, and there are eight key races across the state this year.

Judging by the delegation's reaction Wednesday morning to what Pringle calls his "stump speech," these folks are hungry to help.

Before a dozen television cameras, Pringle did the warmup for former Vice President Dan Quayle's visit to the California delegation, receiving a sustained, standing ovation.

"Having a Republican majority in the Assembly changes the debate" in the Legislature, Pringle told them. "We are no longer talking about raising taxes, but which taxes to cut. We are no longer talking about how to protect criminals, but about how to protect victims."

It was preaching to the choir. But these are the workers and the donors whom Pringle must rely on this fall--and whose respect he needs.

"This election will test his political leadership," said Gary Hunt, executive vice president of the Irvine Co., a major GOP donor, who attended the rally. "I sense he is doing an effective job."

Republican leaders predict they will maintain their majority and perhaps add several seats. But Assembly Minority Leader Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) believes otherwise, contending that Californians favor abortion rights, support an increase in the minimum wage and oppose education vouchers. Pringle and the Republican Party are on the wrong side of all three, he said.

"Pringle is trying to recruit or shake money out of the true believers down there because he knows he is out of step with mainstream California," he said.

Although the San Diego convention is Pringle's first, he has had a small piece of the spotlight. He was teamed with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in the "speakers' car" during the whistle-stop tour of the GOP's Victory Express train on Saturday. He and his staff also have been part of the top-level strategy sessions of Dole and his campaign.

In addition to the kind of one-on-one political contacts cemented at conventions, Pringle hosted state delegates and their families on a harbor cruise Wednesday afternoon.

He hosted contributors to his Assembly victory fund--including representatives of the oil, gambling and development industries--at a posh dinner Tuesday and arranged Monday for state legislative leaders from around the nation to talk strategy and issues over a Mexican buffet.

Emphasizing the importance of the convention, Pringle sent an advance man to San Diego last week to work out logistics and also had his press secretary, John Nelson, come to San Diego instead of remaining in Sacramento this week. At least five staff members are accompanying Pringle.

Pringle has turned aside a half-dozen requests for appearances on national or international television shows, "where he can't be as California specific," spokesman John Nelson said. Instead, he is concentrating on what he calls "local media," the statewide network of television, radio and press that reaches California's 32 million people.

"This is not a national coming-out party for Curt Pringle," Nelson said. "It is much more the case of Curt saying, 'Look at us,' than 'look at me.' He is showcasing the success of the Assembly."

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