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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Holden Loses Bid to Activist

Legislative primaries are marked by firsts, including a win by a Vietnamese American.

March 03, 2004|Geoffrey Mohan, Patrick McGreevy and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

The storied political career of former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden appeared to end Tuesday, as he conceded his attempt for the 47th Assembly District seat to activist Karen Bass.

Elsewhere, the political muscle of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was evidenced again in Orange County as the only state legislator he endorsed, John Campbell, appeared headed to an easy victory over a candidate backed by the state's powerful prison guards union.

With returns giving her a more than 2-1 margin with three-quarters of the precincts tallied, Bass, 50, declared victory over Holden about 11:30 p.m., telling her supporters that her win in the primary was a victory for the social justice movement.

"So many people are responsible for this victory," Bass told her cheering supporters.

Holden, 74, conceded defeat soon after.

"I think I had a pretty good political career, and it just happens that she had a big organization behind her that hit me pretty hard," he said. "It's just one of those things. You don't always get things to go your way."

Bass was helped in her effort to succeed former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson by a strong anti-Holden campaign funded by unions and trial lawyers.

The 47th Assembly District, which covers much of Mid-City and Southwest Los Angeles, is safely Democratic, and the winner is expected to cruise to victory in November's general election.

Campbell, 48, a car dealer from Irvine and a pollster's favorite in the GOP-dominated 35th Senate District, took an early lead based on absentee ballots, considered a critical bellwether in what was expected to be a low-turnout election. He led Ken Maddox, 40, of Garden Grove.

Another milestone in evidence was a primary victory that paves the way for the expected election of the first Vietnamese American to the Assembly.

Van Tran, 39, led fellow Garden Grove Councilman Mark Leyes, 43, in the GOP-dominated 68th Assembly District, centered in Orange County's Little Saigon. His tally was nearly double his opponent's with about a quarter of the ballots tallied.

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It appeared all but certain that the state would see its first husband-and-wife team serving in the Assembly and Senate, as Republican George Runner ran unopposed in a heavily GOP Senate district in Ventura County, and his wife, Sharon, who succeeded him in the 36th Assembly District, also faced no opponents in the safely Republican district.

Throughout the state, legislative contests demonstrated the effects of term limits and redistricting.

About a third of contested seats had no incumbent candidates, as more than a century's worth of veteran experience will be leaving Sacramento. But family legacies continued, as wives and sons of notable solons battled for open seats.

District redrawing has strongly favored incumbents of both major parties, leading some special interest groups to spend heavily in the primaries, when many of the November winners are all but decided. Groups from the prison guards to trial lawyers pumped $7 million into selected campaigns.

Holden, 74, fought four other Democrats. Despite a $100,000 loan to his own campaign and backing from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), he trailed in fundraising behind both Bass and attorney Rickey Ivie, 52, both of whom were endorsed by former Holden supporters. Ivie also was backed by Wesson, who once worked as a council deputy for Holden.

A clinical instructor at the USC School of Medicine, Bass was backed by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

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In the Campbell-Maddox race, Campbell raised nearly $1 million -- roughly double the treasury of his rival. California's prison guards union and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians both funded an anti-Campbell campaign touting him as soft on immigration.

Huge independent expenditure outlays also marked the race in the 69th Assembly District, centered on heavily Latino Santa Ana.

Former assemblyman and lawyer Tom Umberg, 48, who ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general and insurance commissioner, had a strong lead in early returns over Santa Ana City Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez, 34, who got more than $600,000 from pro-business groups fearful of the influence of trial lawyers in Sacramento. Umberg had heavy funding from trial lawyers.

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Family affairs, meanwhile, dominated four races marked by term limits.

With Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Thousand Oaks) termed out, his 37th District seat appeared to be leaning to his wife, Audra, who held a 3-percentage-point lead over Mike Robinson, a former staff member to state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) with nearly 90% of precincts reporting. Jeff Gorell, a Ventura County deputy district attorney, trailed, along with attorney Eric McClendon.

In San Jose, former Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist, wife of a former state senator, held a 7-percentage-point lead for the nomination in the 13th Senate District seat against Assemblyman Manny Diaz (D-San Jose).

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