Five-way scramble for GOP in 77th
Union Tribune (2006-005-12) Michele Clock
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Term limits claim incumbent La Suer
By Michele Clock
May 12, 2006
A bilingual charter school principal. A well-known city councilman. A businessman who stopped working on others' campaigns to launch one of his own.
Debbie M. Beyer, Jack Dale
and Joel Anderson
are the high-profile candidates in a hotly contested Republican primary in the state's vast 77th Assembly District, which traces the county's southern, eastern and northern borders.
Term limits are pushing out Republican incumbent Jay La Suer
, creating a rare open seat. Because the district is solidly Republican, the winner of next month's GOP primary is likely to win in November.
La Suer, who won landslide victories in 2002 and 2004, has endorsed Beyer. But she, Dale and Anderson also face competition from fellow Republicans Nancy Beecham, 58, a nurse and businesswoman, and Bill Jenkin, 49, a vintner and insurance agent.
Democrat Chris Larkin and Libertarian Rich Belitz are running unopposed in the primary.
With just a month left before the five-way Republican showdown, some political observers said it's still too early to rule anyone out.
In districts like this one, where 47 percent of registered voters are Republicans, candidates tend to compete over “who can most rightly claim the conservative mantle,” said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which monitors political campaigns.
Many of the candidates' political stances are similar – almost indistinguishable.
The district: Redrawn in 2001, the 77th Assembly District encompasses most of East County and part of the city of San Diego.
The race: Five Republican candidates will square off in the June 6 primary, each hoping to replace termed-out incumbent Assemblyman Jay La Suer; one Democrat and one Libertarian are unopposed.
Cash: Candidates had the following funds left over after paying campaign bills as of March 17, the end of the last fundraising period:
Nancy Beecham $147,000
Joel Anderson $142,000
Debbie M. Beyer $85,000
Jack Dale $82,000
Bill Jenkin $66,000
All five oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and new taxes. All support gun ownership, tightening border security, and restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live and hang out.
“They're all peas in a pod,” Hoffenblum said.
With little to separate their stances, the contest probably will come down to how effectively the candidates get their messages out, as well as the nuances in their biographies. Who will voters identify with most? A man? A woman? Will their professions matter? Where they're from? Do their records contradict their campaigns?
Beyer, 52, founded El Cajon's Literacy First charter school and serves as its principal. One-third of her students are English learners, most of them Iraqi-Americans.
On her Web site, she describes herself as an “East County conservative” who “stands for everything” that label suggests. Also backing Beyer are Tim La Haye
, co-author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” fiction series and once a local pastor, and his wife, Beverly, founder of the Concerned Women for America.
Beyer is the only Republican who won't have a candidate statement on next month's ballot, and some are wondering why. Beyer noted that it costs money – in this case $625 – to run a statement, and she believes most voters “will have their mind made up in advance of going to the polling location.”
Dale, 49, has the longest record of public service of all the candidates. A father of five, he was first elected to the Padre Dam Municipal Water District in 1984 and won a seat on the Santee City Council two years later. He has been on the council ever since, including eight sometimes-bumpy years as mayor.
“Drive through Santee,” he urged voters at a forum this week, pointing to his record of helping plan such projects as Trolley Square Shopping Center and the extension of state Route 52.
Dale's positions have at times been hard to pinpoint.
On the hot-button issue of abortion, which Dale now opposes, he said had a change of heart after imagining what he would say if one of his three daughters became pregnant and came to him to discuss the procedure.
When it comes to taxes, Dale supported the Proposition A Trans Net
sales-tax increase. He has also raised fees in Santee, but he said he wouldn't raise taxes in Sacramento.
Anderson, 46, is playing up his belt-tightening experience as president of the Padre Dam water board and his positions in favor of strengthening border security and keeping taxes low.
He has taken a leave from his job doing marketing and direct-mail work for other political campaigns to focus on his own. In 1998, he ran for the former 75th Assembly District and lost after tangling with another conservative. The more moderate Charlene Zettel, who won that race, has endorsed Dale.
Anderson's years working in the political trenches are paying off as endorsements roll in from the California Republican Assembly and state Sen. Tom Mc Clintock
, among others.
Santee is a natural focus point for Dale, but the East County city has become a hub for Anderson as well.
Anderson opened his campaign headquarters there and, late last month, began delivering maps to city residents of where nearby registered sex offenders live.
Gathering volunteers in Santee was convenient and the price was right, according to his campaign staff. He even held a news conference announcing the maps at the city's Chet F. Harritt Elementary School because he noticed several sex offenders living near the school, he said.
Jenkin is chairman of the Ramona Community Planning Group and runs an insurance agency and a winery there. Recently, he has become active in Alpine and Lakeside, and has secured endorsements from several members of the Lakeside Community Planning Group.
Beecham isn't as well-known as some of the other candidates in local politics, but she earned nearly 10 percent of the vote statewide in her 2002 bid for state controller. She's a nurse and businesswoman who has used humor to connect with voters.
Speaking at a Republican women's forum this spring in El Cajon, Beecham compared unnecessary state government programs to the bagel slicer in her kitchen.
“I bought it but don't use it anymore,” she said.
Beecham also has lent $100,000 to her own campaign, which could give her a boost if she goes ahead with plans to spend it, some political observers said.
The pace of the race has intensified over recent months as candidates craft and distribute news releases, air radio commercials and hire seasoned campaign consultants.
District residents may have even received a call from a polling firm asking their opinions. Candidates at this level typically conduct at least one round of polls, at a cost of up to $25,000, Hoffenblum said.
Candidates and their volunteers also are walking door to door all over the district, flying to Sacramento to meet with political action committees and holding fundraisers at locations ranging from a Petco Park suite (to watch a Padres game for Anderson) to a La Mesa parking lot (a pancake breakfast at Beyer's campaign headquarters).
Anderson's donor pool was larger than those of all the other candidates as of March 17, state campaign filings showed. Local Indian tribes, the Off-Road Business Association Political Action Committee and James Holman, publisher of the San Diego Reader, were among the more than 300 donors who contributed to his campaign.
Dale collected thousands from developers working in Santee and reported taking $2,500 from the Deputy Sheriffs' Association of San Diego County PAC.
Beyer received thousands of dollars from the campaigns of other elected officials, including La Suer and Grossmont Union High School District trustee Priscilla Schreiber, and several hundred from the publisher of the El Cajon-based Christian Examiner newspaper.
In addition to her personal loan, Beecham collected thousands from the California Association of Health Facilities PAC and several health care trade groups.
Most of Jenkin's funds came from a personal $50,000 loan, records showed.
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