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VOTER GUIDE | REGIONAL ROUNDUP

Focus Inland Is on Desert Assembly Race, Sales Tax

The 80th District race features incumbent who figured in governor's `hot' remark; funding is sought for more police in San Bernardino.

October 15, 2006|Sara Lin and Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writers

A tough Assembly race in the desert and a San Bernardino ballot measure to pay for more police officers on city streets top the contests and issues voters in Riverside and San Bernardino counties will be asked to decide in November.

The race for the 80th Assembly District, which includes the Coachella Valley and Imperial County, pits former Democratic Assemblyman Steve Clute of Palm Desert against incumbent Republican Bonnie Garcia, who is running for her third term.

Garcia, 44, was the object of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ethnically charged remark that she had a "hot" Latina temperament. Garcia, who is Puerto Rican, was quick to defend the governor, and he has supported her campaign.

Clute, who served in the Legislature from 1982 to 1992, comes in as the underdog despite the district's Democratic majority. The Democratic State Central Committee last month poured $250,000 into Clute's cash-strapped campaign. Clute, 57, of Indio, won the Democratic primary in June against Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden by just 88 votes.

Garcia holds a big lead in fundraising, collecting $577,000 compared with Clute's $351,000, state records show.

In the 45th Congressional District, which includes the Palm Springs area, Democratic challenger David Malcolm Roth, 36, has mounted a campaign against incumbent Mary Bono, who has represented the Republican district since her husband, singer Sonny Bono, died in 1998.

Bono, 44, has drawn heat for refusing repeated challenges by Roth for a public debate. Citing her ties to the district, which extends from Moreno Valley to the Arizona border, Bono has called Roth an outsider who moved to La Quinta from Los Angeles four years ago in order to run for office.

Roth lags behind in fundraising, collecting $396,000 compared with Bono's $877,000 through June 30, Federal Election Commission records show. But Roth hopes to capitalize on hard political times for Republicans, including the recent scandal involving former Florida Congressman Mark Foley, and he has enlisted two former campaign aides who worked for then Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

In Hemet, voters will be asked to consider Measure T, a $149-million bond to build more classrooms for the growing Hemet Unified School District. The measure would allow for the expansion of Hemet High and the construction of Tahquitz High School, two new elementary schools and a middle school. Upgrades and repairs at existing schools would also be covered. The measure must receive 55% of the vote to pass.

In San Bernardino County, voters will be asked to consider Measure P, which would limit county supervisors to three consecutive four-year terms. It would also increase their salaries to gradually match those of supervisors in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties.

The measure was drafted to make the supervisor races competitive by recycling positions more frequently and in the expectation that the pay increase would attract qualified candidates, said county spokesman David Wert.

If approved, the supervisors' salary will rise to 90% of the average pay of counterparts in December. Their salaries would then increase 5% for two years.

In the city of San Bernardino, Measure Z would establish a tax to hire 26 police officers for the city, which has traditionally wrestled with high crime rates.

San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris said the generated funds would help make the city safer and aid other social services. The quarter-cent-on-the-dollar tax increase would generate around $5 million annually.

"It's a pretty significant part of the overall effort to permanently reduce crime in the city of San Bernardino," said Jim Morris, the mayor's chief of staff and son.

Opponents say the proposed tax increase is tantamount to issuing the county a blank check and question whether the funds would actually go toward law enforcement.

"It is a general sales tax that is not guaranteed to go to any department," said Robert Rego, president of the Inland Mountain Republican Assembly. "We do have a history in this city where funds are diverted to other programs."

The race for San Bernardino County assessor features incumbent Donald E. Williamson and Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus and has been contentious from the outset.

Most recently, Postmus accused Williamson of handing a job to a former opponent in exchange for a reelection endorsement. Williamson promoted Michael Willhite, who ran in the June primary, to assistant assessor in September. Willhite has worked in the office for almost two decades.

Williamson denied the accusation and said Postmus lacked the experience to run the office, which is charged with calculating property taxes.

In the June primary, Postmus mailed fliers detailing a sexual-harassment claim the county settled for Williamson. Williamson unsuccessfully sued Postmus over campaign signs.

Postmus, who spent more than $1 million on the race, received the most votes in the primary but failed to win the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.

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