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Gov. Raises Funds for GOP Races

Schwarzenegger appears with Assembly hopeful Dean Gardner, who Democrats say used seven names, filed for bankruptcy six times.

September 10, 2004|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — One day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at a Bakersfield fundraiser with Assembly Republican candidate Dean Gardner, Democrats accused Gardner of using seven different names, filing for bankruptcy six times and repeatedly paying his bills late.

Schwarzenegger's appearance Wednesday evening at a Bakersfield sports arena helped raise $600,000 for the Kern County Republican Central Committee and could benefit Gardner, whose race against incumbent Democrat Nicole Parra is considered one of the tightest legislative contests this November.

Outside the fundraiser, Democrats parked a truck with rotating panels showing various names Gardner has used in public records, most of them variations on M. Dean Gardner.

"Is he Merl Dean Hinegard-ner or is he M. Dean Gardner or Michael D. Gardner?" read the truck display. Democrats expanded on Gardner's past in a Bakersfield news conference Thursday.

Republicans accused the Parra campaign of dirty politics, saying that Gardner, a Bakersfield business owner, has officially changed his name only once -- 25 years ago -- and has been open about his bankruptcies.

"Why should the governor care if he's changed his name?" said Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman. "There's no question mud will fly in these races, and it's to be expected."

Schwarzenegger urged an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 2,000, many of whom paid $30 to attend, to elect more Republicans to the Legislature to help him carry out his agenda of reforming workers' compensation and making California an easier place to do business.

The Republican governor was joined onstage by Gardner and two other Republican candidates seeking open Assembly seats elsewhere -- Bob Pohl, a Santa Barbara educational consultant, and Laguna Niguel City Councilwoman Mimi Walters.

The Bakersfield fundraiser was only the second time the governor had helped raise money for a Republican trying to topple an incumbent Democrat in the Legislature.

He appeared last spring at a fundraiser for Gary Podesto, the mayor of Stockton who is seeking to oust Sen. Mike Machado in what is expected to be the tightest of 20 Senate races.

Schwarzenegger appears to be throwing down the gauntlet to the Democratic leadership in Sacramento, said Barbara O'Connor, a Cal State Sacramento communications professor and director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media.

She said Schwarzenegger faces some risk in backing local candidates such as Gardner, given the businessman's history of bankruptcies and liens for unpaid bills.

"Those are the kinds of things a politician does -- campaigns for the party candidate irrespective of their qualifications," said O'Connor. "[Schwarzenegger] has been able to walk the line very carefully of being a non-politician. And the public still believes him to be one. But more incidents like this ... will, over time, erode the public's perception of him."

The Legislature's Republican leadership gave Gardner tepid financial support when he ran against Parra in 2002. But he surprised them by nearly beating her. She won by just 266 votes in a district that includes Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

This year, Republicans are determined to oust Parra and gain another seat in the Assembly, where Democrats outnumber them 48 to 32. Lawmakers and the California Republican Party have given Gardner nearly $80,000 thus far in the campaign, according to secretary of state records.

The new information, released Thursday by Democrats at a Bakersfield news conference, was the most pointed to come so far in the battle between Gardner and Parra, although Gardner paid more than $11,000 in late property taxes to Kern County on Aug. 31, the same day the Bakersfield Californian questioned him about his unpaid taxes.

Robijn Van Giesen, a researcher hired by the California Democratic Party, said he had uncovered six personal or business bankruptcies filed by Gardner since 1978. He also found 35 liens against Gardner for unpaid bills, including some for sewer service, homeowner association dues and $53,750 in federal taxes.

All those liens have been settled, said Van Giesen.

Gardner, 61, could not be reached for comment. His political consultant, Wayne Johnson, said he had not reviewed all of the information released by Democrats.

But Johnson said Gardner changed his name from Hinegardner 25 years ago because it was being misspelled and mispronounced. Besides owning a business that makes gun stocks, he said, Gardner buys run-down properties, fixes them up and sells them -- work that often involves liens.

"We're not going to run a campaign answering Nicole's charge of the week," said Johnson. "There are some people who take the approach that if you can't run on your record, you'd better attack your opponent."

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