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Inland office seekers throw charges

GOP candidates try to stand out from crowd as Tuesday's primary nears. School, hospital bonds also up for vote.

June 02, 2008|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

Voters in the Inland Empire will decide two hotly contested political races and a handful of regional ballot measures when they head to the polls Tuesday.

The loudest and testiest contest is between Assemblyman John Benoit and former Assemblyman Russ Bogh.

Each hopes to be the GOP candidate for the 37th Senate District in a heavily Republican area.

Two other Republicans, Brian Nestande and Kelly McCarty, are battling for the 64th Assembly District seat soon to be vacated by term-limited Benoit.

The candidates in both races hold similar political views but all profess to be more conservative than their opponents. The result has been a flurry of television ads and mailers seeking to draw distinctions.

Bogh, vice-president of his family's Beaumont construction business, has run commercials calling Benoit a "Gray Davis Republican," after the recalled former governor.

"People say we are similar, but really we are not," Bogh said. "John Benoit voted for Gray Davis' budget and he's proud of it. This was a budget that tripled the car tax. That's nothing to be proud of."

Bogh, 38, served in the Assembly from 2001 to 2006 before he was termed out. Benoit, 56, has been in office since 2002.

Benoit, a former state trooper, said his opponent's campaign was funded largely by the same public employee unions that backed Davis.

"It's been an ugly campaign because much of what Mr. Bogh has said is a gross exaggeration or an outright lie," Benoit said. "I would bring maturity and the ability to work with people to the Senate. I would be the first former public safety official to serve in the Senate since 1994."

Each man says he has spent about $700,000 during the campaign.

In the 64th district, which includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and parts of the Coachella Valley, the contest is nearly as intense.

Brian Nestande, 44, who ran the late Republican Rep. Sonny Bono's campaigns and served as his chief of staff, said he's the "trusted, accomplished conservative." He currently has a government consulting business in Palm Desert.

His opponent Kelly McCarty, 44, runs an auto body shop in Ontario and is past president of the California Autobody Assn. Her commercials accuse Nestande of not paying his taxes. Nestande had a personal tax lien of $10,000 against him in 2005 -- which he acknowledged and paid off. McCarty also said he donated money to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Nestande said the auto body association also gave money to Democrats while McCarty was president. She denied that, saying the donations came from the separate California Autobody Repair Political Action Committee.

"I have real-life experience. I have talked the talk and walked the walk. I have met payroll and know how to deal with the bureaucracy," McCarty said. "My opponent has been in the political arena his whole life. I think people are sick of career politicians. People who vote for me are voting because they want change."

Nestande said he'd never been an elected politician but his jobs in government had helped him understand how politics work.

"If you understand how things work, you will be a better representative for your district," he said. "Eight years ago I started my own business. Her dad started her business, but I had to hang out my own shingle."

McCarty said she had spent about $200,000 in the campaign and Nestande said he had spent $350,000.

Voters will also decide several key ballot measures.

In Riverside County, Measure F would allow Menifee, Quail Valley, Sun City and parts of Romoland to become a city. The area has about 60,000 residents and is governed by the county Board of Supervisors. Measure H asks whether that new city should be named Menifee or Menifee Valley.

San Bernardino County voters will decide whether to approve $10.9 million in bonds to modernize Vista Colorado Elementary School and Needles Middle School and to make improvements at Needles High School.

Residents will also vote on an $11.5-million bond measure for the Bear Valley Community Healthcare District in Big Bear Lake. The money would go toward retrofitting the emergency department and other facilities so they meet earthquake safety standards.

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david.kelly@latimes.com

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