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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS: 72nd Assembly District

Two prominent Republicans are among the five vying for Assembly seat

Duvall's resignation sets up the Nov. 17 contest, an open primary in which voters can choose any candidate, regardless of party.

October 19, 2009|Jean Merl

The abrupt resignation last month of a disgraced GOP politician has generated a whirlwind special election for Orange County's 72nd Assembly District seat and set up a sharp-elbows contest between two well-known political figures in the Republican stronghold.

Mike Duvall (R-Yorba Linda) quit Sept. 9, a day after the televised broadcast of remarks about his sexual encounters that he had made to a fellow legislator during a lull in a July legislative hearing. Unbeknownst to Duvall, the remarks were broadcast over an open microphone.

State law requires that vacant legislative seats be filled by special election, and local pols wasted no time lining up for this one, an open primary in which voters can choose from among all the candidates on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation.

The best known of the five candidates who jumped into the Nov. 17 primary are county Supervisor Chris Norby and GOP activist Linda Ackerman, whose husband, Dick Ackerman, once held the Assembly seat. He later moved on to Senate minority leader, a post he held until last year, when term limits ended his Senate career.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 21, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Assembly race: An article in Monday's Section A about the open primary in Orange County to fill the seat of former Assemblyman Mike Duvall incorrectly described Jane Rands, a Green Party candidate in the 72nd Assembly District special election, as a systems analyst. She is a systems engineer. The article also said that Rands opposes more money for public transportation; she supports more money for public transportation.

There is a third Republican, plain-spoken political neophyte Richard Faher, in the race, plus John MacMurray, a Democrat who has garnered some name recognition by running for the seat twice before, and Green Party candidate Jane Rands. Their presence makes it unlikely that the contest can be won in the primary, political experts believe.

Although it would take a Jan. 12 runoff to choose a winner if no one garners a majority in the primary, the top vote-getter among the Republican candidates would be all but assured of the seat. That is widely expected to be either Norby or Ackerman, both of whom have deep roots in Orange County GOP politics but also some baggage.

Ackerman's critics attack her for moving into the district from Irvine to run -- she said she is renting rooms in a friend's house in Fullerton, where her husband once served on the City Council -- and for what critics see as her attempt to ride into office on her husband's coattails.

A civil jury in 2005 found Norby had committed sexual harassment against a county employee as part of the employee's wrongful termination suit against the county. The finding was later reversed by an appeals court, which said the three incidents were "not sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment."

Last year, Norby acknowledged improperly using campaign funds for a week's stay in a Fullerton hotel in 2007 while he was separating from his third wife.

He repaid the money after the expenditure came to light, calling it "a mistake."

At a recent forum in Orange for Republican candidates, Duvall's downfall loomed over the proceedings.

At the start of the forum, sponsored by the conservative California Republican Assembly, moderator Craig Alexander jokingly admonished contestants to remember that their microphones were on.

Ackerman said she was running to "bring integrity back" to the district, and Faher wondered aloud how it would play to have as Duvall's successor "somebody who had a sexual harassment charge filed against him." (That gave Norby an opening to point out the appeal court's throwing out the harassment part of the suit, which he called a "nuisance suit.")

Norby sent the first negative campaign mailer, attacking Ackerman with the headline, "Guess Who's Moving to North Orange County?" and labeling her a "big spending political insider" and "the choice of Sacramento special interests."

Ackerman, a board member of the Metropolitan Water District, a member of the Republican National Committee and political fundraiser and longtime volunteer, said the district had been her home for more than 30 years before she and her husband moved to Irvine.

She said she still has many ties to the area and would serve it well.

"Our community is not defined by political boundaries," she said.

The Ackerman-Norby competition can obscure that fact that they share most of the conservative values and views held dear by many of the voters in the 72nd Assembly District, which includes Brea, Fullerton and Placentia and parts of Anaheim, La Habra, Orange and Yorba Linda.

The district is solidly Republican, although unaffiliated voters have been cutting into the GOP registration edge, taking it from 49% in 2002 to 44% in 2008, according to the California Target Book, which tracks legislative and congressional races in the state.

Norby grew up in Fullerton, became a teacher and served on the Fullerton City Council before his upset election to the county Board of Supervisors in 2002. His most prominent endorser is Rep. Tom McClintock, a favorite of conservative Republicans.

Known for his crusading against redevelopment and eminent domain, Norby also has sought to rein in pension costs, opposes new taxes and calls for better use of education dollars. He is campaigning as an experienced outsider who will take on the "special interests" in Sacramento.

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