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California : In a field of five, two GOP rivals hold spotlight : Linda Ackerman and Chris Norby are the main contenders in Tuesday's contest to replace Mike Duvall.

November 15, 2009|Jean Merl

He likes to trace his political activism to his days as a high school volunteer for conservative icon Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. She talks proudly of being a Goldwater Girl.

He insists there's plenty of money in Sacramento; it's just allocated incorrectly. She says state government tries to do too much.

When their campaigns are not busy trading attacks -- and there have been plenty of those -- Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, 59, and longtime GOP activist Linda Ackerman, 65, are pushing to outdo each other in conservative credentials.

The apparent front-runners in a five-way special election Tuesday in a GOP stronghold, the two are vying to replace fellow Republican Mike Duvall in the 72nd Assembly District seat. Duvall, of Yorba Linda, abruptly resigned in September after his recorded remarks to a fellow legislator about sexual exploits with a lobbyist or two were broadcast on television.

Norby and Ackerman are joined on the open-primary ballot by a third Republican, political newcomer Richard Faher, 51; Democrat John MacMurray, 63; and Jane Rands, 43, of the Green Party. If no one wins a majority Tuesday, the top GOP vote-getter will face MacMurray, a teacher, and Rands, a systems engineer, in a Jan. 12 runoff.

From the start, the race has been widely viewed as a two-way competition between Norby, a former Fullerton city councilman who grew up in the district, and Ackerman, the wife of former assemblyman and former state Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, who is also a Republican.

Each candidate has some baggage, which has provided fodder for campaign hits. For Norby, who has borne the brunt of the attacks, it was a since-overturned jury finding of sexual harassment and disclosures that he used campaign funds (later repaid) for a hotel room during his latest divorce. For Ackerman, it was a hasty move from Irvine to rented rooms in a friend's Fullerton home to qualify for the ballot, plus insinuations that she was riding her husband's coattails and would be beholden to him and his circle of "Sacramento insiders."

Among the hits on Norby was a cable television ad that showed Duvall's face as it morphed into Norby's. A woman's voice noted that Norby has been married four times and claimed he has "exhibited rude, inappropriate and offensive behavior toward women."

Documents on file with Los Angeles County and the secretary of state's office show that an independent committee called Citizens for Accountability LA bought time from cable company Time Warner late last month. The documents identify the purchase as television time to oppose Norby.

The documents also show that Majestic Realty Co., headed by Edward P. Roski Jr., made $37,000 in contributions to the committee about the same time. Norby has openly opposed Roski's efforts to build an NFL stadium in Industry. Neither Roski nor committee officials could be reached for comment Friday.

An Ackerman campaign mailer stated that Norby was "found guilty by a jury of his peers for sexually harassing a county employee under his supervision" but did not say that the finding was reversed by an appeals court. Another hit Norby for the hotel room expenditure and for voting for a "25% pay raise for himself" while he was a member of local sanitation district board.

The Norby campaign said the increase amounted to about $50 per month in meeting pay and accused the Ackerman campaign of "inflating" the issue.

Norby hit back with a mailer labeled "Why Does Linda Ackerman Lie?" intended to knock down the sexual harassment allegations. It accused her of using a "phony residence" and claimed she "lied about her tax vote" when, as a director of the Metropolitan Water District board, she approved a water-rate increase while promising voters she wouldn't raise taxes.

A fee for service is not a tax, Ackerman supporters say.

In fundraising, Ackerman has had the edge. By late last week she had reported taking in about $216,000, including $7,800 in loans, while Norby had collected about $203,000, including a $40,000 loan from himself. In addition, a campaign on Ackerman's behalf by the Alliance for California's Tomorrow had spent about $130,000. The alliance is a business group bankrolled by healthcare companies, casinos and other entities.

When not attacking each other, Ackerman and Norby have espoused the limited-government views that play well in the district, where nearly 43% of the 219,961 registered voters are Republicans.

Norby, whose endorsers include Rep. Tom McClintock, a favorite of conservative Republicans, and tax fighter Lew Uhler, touted his record in promoting a successful ballot measure to protect Orange County property owners from "eminent domain abuse" and his efforts to reform pensions and battle government redevelopment agencies.

Ackerman promised to "cut and control spending now," to slash government red tape that inhibits creation of jobs and to "eliminate burdensome regulations that force businesses to move out of state."

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