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California and the West

Businesswoman to Join Race for Lt. Governor


A West Los Angeles businesswoman will join the Republican race for lieutenant governor, becoming the third independently wealthy non-politician to leap into a political race in California this year.

Noel Irwin-Hentschel, a co-founder and chairwoman of American Tours International, valued at $150 million, will become the only Republican woman seeking statewide office when she formally announces her candidacy in a few weeks.

Irwin-Hentschel, 45, had been considering a bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Barbara Boxer. She said she chose the state position instead "because it's where I can have the most impact," particularly on economic issues.

The businesswoman has been peripherally involved in state Republican circles in recent years. She joins Republican Darrell Issa, a U.S. Senate candidate, and Democrat Al Checchi, who is running for governor, in a triumvirate of very wealthy Californians making their first bids for public office in high-profile campaigns.

Both Checchi and Issa have spent millions of their own dollars forwarding their candidacies, and Irwin-Hentschel indicated that she is not reluctant to do the same. Although she said she wants to develop a grass-roots campaign, she added that "I have personal resources, and I intend to win."

The incumbent lieutenant governor, Democrat Gray Davis, is running for governor. Two Republicans, state Sens. Richard Mountjoy of Arcadia and Tim Leslie of Carnelian Bay, have announced their candidacies.

The only announced Democratic candidate is former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Miller, who is keeping open the possibility of running instead for secretary of state.

Irwin-Hentschel said she will contrast her business background with her opponents' status as political veterans. She brushed aside questions about her political ideology and policy positions, saying that she is studying the issues.

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