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Liberal Democrats at odds over Pavley’s Assembly successor

Sen. Sheila Kuehl and Assemblymember Fran Pavley, who are usually on the
same side politically, will do battle next year: Each has endorsed separate
candidates in the race for Pavley’s 41st Assembly District seat, which is up
for grabs because of term limits.

But in the split, they both could end up losers, as two other candidates, a
local mayor and a political unknown, have surprised political experts with
major fundraising campaigns that have put them far ahead of the competition.

The 41st District stretches from San Fernando Valley in the east to a
western portion of Ventura County in the north, and it travels down through
the wealthy coast that includes Malibu, Pacific Palisades and the district’s
largest city, Santa Monica. The area is unquestionably liberal Democratic,
with former representatives that include progressive icon Tom Hayden and
Kuehl, the first openly gay state legislator.

So it comes as no surprise that all the candidates are quick to point out
that they are strong on education, the environment and social issues.
There is speculation that Kuehl’s backing of local school board member Julia
Brownley and Pavley’s support of Louise Rishoff, a longtime friend and
member of her staff, could split the vote and provide a victory to Calabasas
Mayor Barry Groveman. But not everybody is buying that.

“You can do the political math a million ways,” Rishoff said. “There are the
coastal candidates versus the inland ones, men against women, Fran versus
Sheila. I think this is a campaign where the candidates are just going to
have to grind it out and make their own case as individuals.”

Groveman has already set himself apart from the rest of the candidates,
raising $270,000, including $100,000 from his own pocket, as of the latest
statement released on June 30. Except for political unknown Jonathan Levey,
a law professor from Santa Monica who has raised $233,000 mostly through
lawyers and law firms, no other candidate has accumulated even half as much
as Groveman.

“From a purely horse race standpoint, Barry [Groveman] is the one to beat,”
said Tom Mullens, president of the Democratic Club of the Conejo Valley. “He
has the most money, most name recognition. He has a lot of connections,
people who already know him in Democratic politics.”

Groveman worked as an attorney for the city of Los Angeles and in the Los
Angeles District Attorney’s Office on environmental crime. He also helped
craft the language for Proposition 65, the drinking water safety measure
approved by California voters in 1986. In his current private practice, he
has represented public entities, including the Los Angeles Unified School
District, on environmental issues, but he has also represented several
businesses. Many, including Pavley who said so in an interview last month,
see Groveman as a candidate for the business interests, despite not having
anything in his public service record proving he is any less of a liberal
than his four opponents.

“While Barry would be considered liberal in a lot of cases, he’s a corporate
lawyer,” Mullens said. “He’s been part of the corporate system. He
represents himself that way.”

Parker agreed that Groveman has received a pro-business reputation, but said
that is more due to perception than anything else. Groveman said he does not
like being labeled by others, but said he calls himself an “effective
progressive.”

With Rishoff and Brownley looking unlikely to catch Groveman in the
fundraising, Stan Moore, a political science professor at Pepperdine
University, said Keuhl and Pavley’s participation in the campaign is
essential for their endorsees to have a chance.

“I really think that it is the money that plays the biggest part, but if
Fran and Sheila really participate and go out and campaign for their
candidates, that could override the money situation,” Moore said.

Money is not necessarily a deciding factor in this race. Pavley won a close
Democratic primary in 2000, despite runner-up S. David Freeman raising more
than four times as much as she did. But Moore said that was a rare
situation.

“The districts are so large that the people don’t really know the
candidates,” he said. “It is difficult to get your face out there without
lots of money.”

Levey has raised an impressive amount of money–if one excludes Groveman’s
loan to his own campaign, Levey has raised the most money–but his being a
political novice could be his doom. He recently served as counsel to an
Assembly Commission on the California Initiative Process, but has no other
political experience and few people know anything about him. But Levey
believes that although he has a tough hill to climb, it might not be an
impossible task.

“That’s a huge sign in a competitive race if you can bring in a substantial
amount of money,” Mullens said. “What happens when you raise that much money
so fast is that it brings in more recognition and more support. At some
point, people want to be with the winner.”

The fifth candidate in the race is Kelly Hayes-Raitt, an activist who has
worked as a political consultant on environmental and health issues. She has
been to Iraq twice since the American invasion, and has attracted large
crowds to talk about her humanitarian trips. Although few see her as having
a chance to win, with her loyal and active following, Hayes-Raitt could
factor into the race by stealing votes from some of the other candidates.


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