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High Ambitions Behind Low-Profile Contest

California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / TREASURER

Two veteran assemblymen are locked in fierce battle for GOP nomination, while millionaire faces crowded field on the Democratic side.

May 26, 1998|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a typical race for state treasurer: Most Californians don't know the candidates and have little idea what the treasurer does.

No matter. There's a fierce contest for the Republican nomination between Assemblymen Curt Pringle of Garden Grove and Jan Goldsmith of Poway.

That's in no small part because the office has become a test pad for upwardly mobile politicians who have an eye on the state's top offices. The state's last two treasurers have run for governor and U.S. senator.

On the Democratic side, the race pits former state Democratic Party Chairman Phil Angelides, 44, of Sacramento, against South Gate City Treasurer Albert Robles, 33, and Mervin Evans, 45, an author of financial books from Culver City. Angelides, a multimillionaire developer who lost to Treasurer Matt Fong in 1994, is heavily favored in the polls against his little-known and under-funded Democratic rivals.

On the Republican side, the two Assembly veterans are vigorously competing for endorsements and cash, which can be translated into effective advertising. What they are after is an edge in name recognition in a contest eclipsed by the highly publicized gubernatorial and U.S. Senate contests.

Party veterans say there is little love lost between the two legislators, both of whom are being termed out of their Assembly offices this year.

The two had competed in the Assembly and then jockeyed for position in the statewide races last year. Pringle originally explored the controller's race but decided against it, moving to the treasurer's race where Goldsmith and San Mateo County Supervisor Ruben Barrales had already settled. Barrales moved on to the state controller's race, but Goldsmith--who had accumulated quite a few endorsements--stayed put.

Pringle, who served as the first GOP-elected Assembly speaker in 25 years in 1996, has the endorsement of Gov. Pete Wilson and Fong, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Goldsmith is endorsed by Barrales, Secretary of State Bill Jones, Los Angeles Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the Gann Citizen's Committee, the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the deputy sheriffs unions of Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

Pringle, 38, leads Goldsmith, 47, in the contribution wars, raising $957,491 since 1996 and having $302,031 in cash as of May 16. Goldsmith raised $532,272 and reported $134,588 in cash. Much of Pringle's edge comes from $250,000 given to him by multimillionaire Stockton developer and San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos.

GOP Race Is Close

The Los Angeles Times Poll found the GOP race a close one just two weeks before the June 2 election. The poll has Goldsmith with 15%, Pringle 9%, Angelides 27%, with 47% undecided. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Neither Goldsmith nor Pringle will be able to mount a sustained statewide media blitz.

Pringle, meanwhile, has locked up almost all the best-known GOP slate mailers, but Goldsmith--a more moderate Republican, particularly on social issues--is trying to take advantage of the blanket primary. He has some GOP slates but also appears on others that target independents and Democrats, including the California State Firefighters slate card that goes to 1 million households.

The job of treasurer, often called the state's banker, entails selling the state's bonds and safeguarding its $28-billion investment portfolio. Some liken it to a homeowner who has to secure the lowest mortgage rate and also find the best places to invest--bonds, equities, cash--a family's savings.

Goldsmith, a lawyer who worked in private practice including stockholder arbitration cases before being elected to the Assembly in 1992, wants the state to save $2 billion in long-term borrowing costs by boosting California's weak bond rating from A+ to AAA.

"That is the first priority," he said. "The rates are too high."

He would do that by having the state meet a number of Wall Street demands for changes in the state's budgetary policy, including amending the state Constitution to allow a majority vote on the state budget rather than the current two-thirds margin, requiring a balanced budget and instituting a 3% state budget reserve.

Goldsmith also proposes regionalizing the treasurer's office--without adding staff--so it could assist municipalities in packaging and getting better rates for local bond issues. He said state assistance would reduce the risk to the credit worthiness of all California municipal bonds if a local bond issue failed to comply with securities law.

Goldsmith considers his chief legislative achievements to be a law that simplified procedures for interracial adoptions and another that stopped nonresidents from coming to California to get costly surgery paid by Medi-Cal.

Different Views but Similar Goals

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