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Attack mailers flood mailboxes as election day nears

Under the state's new voting system, the top two vote-getters regardless of party will face each other in November. A political analyst says the 'nastiest campaigns are between candidates who are closest ideologically.'

June 03, 2012|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times
  • Much of the campaign material jamming mailboxes comes from the best-financed candidates.
Much of the campaign material jamming mailboxes comes from the best-financed… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

A glossy political ad mailed to voters in Pasadena grouses that an Assembly candidate in Tuesday's primary "missed" participating in five state elections since 2006.

In a crowded San Fernando Valley Assembly race, nearly all the candidates are taking potshots at one another. And a Westside assemblywoman has been attacked by a fellow liberal Democrat for "voting to cut" services to senior citizens and funding for schools.

With just days to go until the state's first wide use of a new election system, the hit pieces were flooding voters' mailboxes as candidates in competitive races scramble to distinguish themselves from rivals who might seem pretty similar.

"Sometimes," said longtime Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, "the nastiest campaigns are between the candidates who are closest ideologically."

The two candidates receiving the most votes in each race Tuesday — regardless of any party affiliation — will advance to the November general election. In districts where one party has a distinct edge in registration, candidates know they have do better than just get on the fall ballot.

Finishing too far behind the first-place candidate could discourage contributors and other supporters, spelling doom in the fall. So the attacks intensify as election day nears.

In a newly drawn Assembly district in the San Fernando Valley, some of the five Democrats and one Republican on the ballot are waging expensive, vicious mail wars. Much of the material comes from the best-financed candidates, charter schools executive Brian C. Johnson and Adrin Nazarian, a top aide to L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, both Democrats.

Implying that Nazarian would be a tool of lobbyists, a Johnson mailer pictures him peeking out from a dark suit jacket and asks, "Whose Pocket is Adrin Nazarian in?" Johnson is targeted in three pieces designed to look like popular board games, including Scrabble.

"Brian Johnson Spells Trouble," says one of them, all sent by a committee set up by the California Teachers Assn.

Another independent group, California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, which is backing Johnson, distributed mail attacking Nazarian and two other Democrats in the race, businesswoman Laurette Healey and law professor Andrew Lachman. Labeling the three "peas in a pod," the ad criticized Nazarian for accepting contributions from L.A. lobbyists and their clients.

It brought up Healey's longstanding state and federal tax liens (including documentation from public records) and accused Lachman of accepting contributions from big corporations "who know he will side with them in Sacramento."

Lachman said he finds it "ironic that the education privatization interests" backing Johnson would criticize him "because I have private-sector experience."

Healey said the business tax liens were mistakenly attributed to her and were the responsibility of a firm she had worked for. As for the property tax issues, she said she paid the taxes on her home late just once, in 1998, and was working with the county to straighten out errors she said it made.

The only candidates who seem to have escaped the assaults are business owner Adriano Lecaros, a Democrat who has raised just $6,000, not enough for a viable campaign, and chemistry teacher Jay L. Stern, the only Republican on the ballot in this strongly Democratic district. Stern told the secretary of state that he does not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000.

Democrats hold a 53%-18% registration edge over Republicans in the district, which slices through part of the Hollywood Hills and into Studio City, Sherman Oaks and part of Van Nuys and other mid-Valley communities.

Altadena attorney and car dealership executive Victoria Rusnak, running for the 41st Assembly District, has been blasted in several mailers from Alliance for California's Tomorrow, a business coalition. The group claims, among other things, that she only recently switched her registration to Democrat and that she did not vote in the November 2006 general election, the 2008 and 2010 primaries or the May 2009 special election on state budget issues.

Voter records show Rusnak was previously registered without a party preference. But she said she considered herself a lifelong Democrat in voting and outlook. The attack ads, she said, were "evidence that I am making the career politicians uncomfortable" and that she is a "progressive businesswoman focused on real solutions.

She did not respond to questions about whether she had missed the elections mentioned.

Two pieces lobbed at Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) by Santa Monica community activist Torie Osborn — also a Democrat — drew pushback from Butler supporters as the two women battle for an Assembly seat on the Westside. Also running are Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, another Democrat, and Republican attorney Brad Torgan.

Butler and Osborn, who have raised more than $600,000 apiece, are considered the favorites. Osborn accused Butler of voting to cut services for seniors and money for schools "because she thought she was appealing to Republicans."

Butler supporters said the assemblywoman had voted for the state budget, which included severe service cuts to help ease a state deficit, as did other Assembly Democrats, including some Osborn supporters.

"The Democratic budget was passed only after Republican leaders refused to put up one vote for a compromise budget because the cuts weren't big enough," said Allan Clark, president of the California School Employees Assn.

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement that praised Butler for making "the tough decisions we need to balance our budget, protect our Democratic priorities and get our state back on track. That takes political courage and integrity, and Betsy Butler has both."

jean.merl@latimes.com

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