Hometown may be Assembly race key
Wendy Leung, Staff Writer
Posted: 05/08/2010 07:07:52 AM PDT

The seven Republicans coveting the open seat in the 63rd Assembly District aren’t keen on the spending policies in Sacramento or the legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the June 8 primary that will help determine who will succeed a termed-out assemblyman might have less to do with campaign rhetoric and more to do with the candidates’ hometowns.

Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Rancho Cucamonga, with three terms under his belt, will leave an Assembly district that includes Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, San Antonio Heights, Redlands, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace and parts of Fontana, San Bernardino, Highland, Yucaipa, Moreno Valley and Riverside. The district is bifurcated into eastern and western portions, with the bulk of Republican voters in Rancho Cucamonga.

It would seem that a candidate with Rancho Cucamonga roots would have an advantage, but in this race, there are four who call Rancho Cucamonga home, and they could all split the West Valley votes, giving an East Valley candidate the advantage.

“Rancho Cucamonga is the largest bloc of votes in the district. If there were fewer candidates (from Rancho Cucamonga), it would go to somebody from the west side,” Emmerson said. “But it’s difficult when there’s so many from one city.”

The assemblyman is aware of this east-west divide because he benefited from it in 2004. That year, Emmerson, who resided in Redlands at the time with a dental practice in Hemet, beat out five other contenders in a close race that pitted four Rancho Cucamonga residents against each other.

Today, of the 129,219 registered Republicans in the district, 46,188 – about 36percent – reside in Rancho Cucamonga.

With four of seven candidates from Rancho Cucamonga potentially splitting the votes, it could hand some advantage to an east side candidate like Redlands Mayor Pat Gilbreath. Redlands has about 18percent of the district’s Republican voters.

But the other mayor in the race, Rancho Cucamonga’s Don Kurth, has a strong East Valley presence despite his West Valley residency. Kurth is an assistant professor in the Loma Linda University School of Medicine.

“It’s a great group of candidates. This is a Republican race in which voters will have a number of great choices,” said Jim Brulte, a political strategist who was the Republican Party leader when he represented the 63rd Assembly District from 1992 to 1996.

Brulte said there are not enough voters in any one city to carry the race, so the contenders will have to pull support far and wide.

“The majority of Republican votes is on the west side, so candidates have to be cognizant of that,” Brulte said. “The smartest thing to do is consolidate your base of support and then branch out from there.”

A few weeks ago, the Redlands mayor held a meet and greet in a Rancho Cucamonga restaurant. Days later, the Rancho Cucamonga mayor held a precinct walk in Redlands.

Mike Morrell, a Rancho Cucamonga resident who owns Provident Realty in Upland, is running for the Assembly for the second time. In 2004, Morrell placed third and lost to Emmerson. This time, he’s spending a lot more time on the east side.

Morrell said he’s aware that west side candidates could divvy up the votes like they did six years ago.

“That’s a danger,” he said. “That’s why I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time out (east.)”

Experience, or perhaps a lack thereof, may also come into play in a primary election caught in the roughest economic climes in decades. Morrell said his strength lies ironically in his inexperience in elected office. He said when he walks precincts, voters tell him they don’t want to vote for anybody who has been elected.

“I’ve heard that over and over again,” Morrell said. “I’ve used that to my advantage.”

The longtime broker said there’s hostility against many incumbents, whether they’re at the state or local level.

“One of the first things I say is that I’m not an elected official,” Morrell said about his campaign speeches. “I say I’m a parent, a spouse, a business owner and usually that’s my first round of applause.”

Political novices in this race are banking on the general distrust of elected officials. High-profile campaigns of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina – two newcomers to the political realm – might bolster the idea that political inexperience is a positive attribute.

“Across the country, we see people rising in the political arena that previously wouldn’t consider it,” said Henry Nickel, a San Bernardino resident running in the 63rd District. “Name recognition, money raised … all these traditional measures that used to give validity to a candidate are really irrelevant. We’re tired of politics as usual. This year, we’re done.”

Nickel, a financial analyst, said he wants to eliminate the pension benefits plan for state employees, charge fees for containers that come into California ports and fine companies that hire undocumented workers. Nickel said a wall at the Mexican border would be beneficial but Sacramento can also create an “economic wall.”

Similarly, Rancho Cucamonga resident Paul Chabot is hoping his Navy experience as a lieutenant commander will speak louder than his opponents’ mayoral experiences. Chabot’s slogan is: “Vote for a veteran, not a politician.”

Chabot supports cutting the budgets of all state agencies, with the exception of those dealing with public safety, by 20percent. He said if he is elected, he’d campaign for Republicans in Democratic-safe districts so conservatives can eventually rule the Legislature.

“I want to bring a revolution to Sacramento,” Chabot said. “I want to rally to have people voting for conservatives so that – not in two, not in four, but maybe in six years – we’ll have conservatives back in the majority.”

Chabot, who spent five months deployed in Iraq, said his experience on the battleground prepares him for the political battleground in Sacramento.

Fontana Councilwoman Acquanetta Warren said she has participated in a battle or two herself.

“I have experience working in a hostile situation: South Central,” Warren said.

Before the councilwoman became a Republican, she ran for the school board in her former hometown of Compton. Warren’s ideas weren’t well received by the Democrats there and she later switched to the Republican side.

Warren said she believes she’s the kind of Republican who can bring different groups together.

“I won’t sit in the corner and pout,” she said. “I’ll go across that aisle – not just reach across – I’ll walk across that aisle and get them to understand how the needs of my constituents will meet their needs.”

Like many of her opponents, Gilbreath, a retired accountant, is running for the Assembly after years of being disenchanted with Sacramento for its spending habits and regulations on businesses. One way to cut spending, Gilbreath said, is to scrutinize the departments and commissions that overlap and eliminate some social service programs.

“We’ve gone from a working California to a welfare program,” Gilbreath said. “We have generations of people on welfare. It has to be modified so we don’t have to reward non-effort.”

Kurth said he believes many of these welfare programs benefit illegal immigrants. Hospitals, for instance, should treat all patients on an emergency basis, Kurth said, but many illegal immigrants seek medical help on a non-emergency basis.

“Californians are some of the most compassionate people on the face of the Earth,” Kurth said. “But I don’t think this is the right time to fund an illegal alien program.

“(Illegal immigrants) are a gigantic drain on the California economy and there’s no doubt it takes jobs away from Californians.”

Another race to watch on June 8 is in the 37th Senate District. It pits Emmerson against Democrat Justin Blake and American Independent Matt Monica in a largely Republican district. If Emmerson wins, the 63rd Assembly District seat will remain vacant until December.

With the 63rd Assembly District well within Republican territory, the crucial race is the June primary, when voters will sift through seven choices and pick a contender to run against Democrat Renea Wickman in November.

Candidate Jacqueline Bolda, a former teacher, did not respond to requests for an interview.

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