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LOCAL ELECTIONS / 53rd ASSEMBLY DISTRICT

Wilson Throws His Clout Behind Walker's Effort to Oust Bowen

November 01, 1996|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stumping for Republican Assembly candidate Dan Walker in Torrance this week, Gov. Pete Wilson tore into Democratic Assemblywoman Debra Bowen with relish.

Bowen, who represents the 53rd Assembly District from her home base in Marina del Rey, is a highly vocal critic of Wilson, taking him on for what she contends is poor administration of the state lottery and bungled efforts to computerize state government.

Now it was Wilson's turn as he faced a group of about 50 Republican supporters.

"Why don't we do her a favor and in the process do ourselves a big favor," said Wilson, who reported before the rally that he had given a $57,500 contribution to Walker. "Let's send her packing on a permanent vacation Nov. 5."

After his talk, the governor went into a small office at the South Bay GOP headquarters and began calling campaign contributors to raise even more for Walker, a local businessman and five-term member of the Torrance City Council.

Bowen, a lawyer and feisty community activist from Venice before she was elected to the Assembly in 1992, said she expected the attack. "I would say Pete Wilson has every reason to want to get rid of me because I have been one of his strongest critics," she said.

Wilson's political sortie was just one in a long string of bruising attacks on Bowen from Republicans, who have not forgiven her for taking what the GOP considered a Republican seat. With Republicans hanging on to a slim majority in the Assembly, they see the 53rd District as a chance to pick off a Democratic seat.

"Registration is so close, Republicans have to go for it," Bowen said during an interview in her campaign office, where she was surrounded by a busy group of volunteers and shadowed by her massive white Siberian sled dog, Misha.

The 53rd District runs along the coast from Venice to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Within its boundaries are Los Angeles International Airport, oil refineries, power plants and aerospace and defense industry contractors and subcontractors.

Democrats hold a voter registration edge of 42% to 40% over Republicans in a district with a decidedly independent group of voters. It has the highest number of Libertarian Party and declined-to-state voters of any Assembly district in the county.

The challenger, Walker, has raised more campaign funds than the incumbent--at least $648,000, compared with Bowen's total of $539,000. Key last-minute contributions include Wilson's $57,500 contribution to Walker and a $28,000 contribution made by the Democratic State Central Committee to Bowen.

Walker has used his money to bombard the district with mail that attacks Bowen's voting record, criticizes her for absenteeism and refers to her as "a liberal lawyer."

"I've been called lawyer so often I'm starting to think of it as my legal first name," Bowen said.

Bowen and Walker disagree on numerous issues, including illegal immigration.

Bowen opposed Proposition 187; Walker supported it. Bowen voted against legislation that would have required voters to carry a photo identification and proof of citizenship with them to the polls; Walker said he would have supported it.

In a questionnaire sent to the candidates by Planned Parenthood on the question of abortion rights, Bowen answered all the questions yes and was given a "pro-choice" rating; Walker was given a "mixed" rating because he left most of the questions unanswered.

Bowen opposes Proposition 209, the ballot measure to ban state and local affirmative action programs; Walker is a regional co-chairman of the campaign trying to pass it.

Walker, using Bowen's voting record against her, is zeroing in on two of the assemblywoman's votes. One was her vote against a senior citizens benefits bill, the Older Californians Act, that passed 70 to 1 in the Assembly and unanimously in the Senate. The other was her lone no vote on a measure that passed 71 to 1 to increase the criminal penalty for a person convicted of burning a church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship.

Bowen contends that Walker is distorting her record, taking a handful of votes out of the more than 9,000 she cast, to misrepresent her positions.

She consistently votes in favor of expanding services to senior citizens, she asserted, but on that one particular bill she said she was asked by a group involved with fighting Alzheimer's disease to vote against it because they feared it would reduce funding for Alzheimer's programs. As for the church-burning bill, she said, "I made a mistake," explaining that the measure came up during a crush of bills being voted on in rapid succession and she was misled in a hurried reading of a bill analysis.

"They take this one vote and say, 'See, she's for church burning' or whatever, and ignore the 20 other bills on the same topic that I voted for," Bowen said.

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