California Races Give 'Slight' a New Spin
HOWARD BERKES, host:
This Tuesday, Californians will be voting in primary elections. The air there is heavy with political attacks, and some of California's hot legislative battles have gotten really personal. A few have also gotten a little weird.
As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE reporting:
I came home from running errands recently and found this on my answering machine.
(Soundbite of answering machine recording)
Mechanical Voice: (On Machine) Saturday, 2:22 PM.
Mr. TOM MULLINS: (On Machine) Hi, I'm Tom Mullins. My wife Jenny Oropeza is running for state Senate.
JAFFE: Democrat Jenny Oropeza is a member of the State Assembly, now in a very tough contest for state Senate in a district running along the coast from Long Beach North to L.A. Her opponent is one of her Democratic colleagues in the Assembly, George Nakano. And Jenny Oropeza's husband had a bone to pick with a mailer sent out by the Nakano campaign.
Mr. MULLINS: Nakano said that we do not send our children to public schools. Let me set the record straight. Jenny and I do not have children.
JAFFE: The mailer in question had a comparative checklist. It shows that Nakano's kids went to public school. The Oropeza column is blank. It also describes three education bills Nakano voted for in the Assembly. Again, the Oropeza column is blank. Park Skelton, her campaign consultant, says there's a reason she didn't vote for those bills.
Mr. PARK SKELTON (Campaign Consultant for Assemblywoman Oropeza): All three of those were in the period of time when he was in the Assembly and Jenny had not yet been elected.
JAFFE: So she couldn't have voted for them. She wasn't holding office.
Mr. SKELTON: Yeah. She was probably at home taking care of her non-existent children at the time.
JAFFE: The Nakano campaign defends the mailer. It was merely supposed to highlight his record on education, says consultant Robin Swanson.
Ms. ROBIN SWANSON (Campaign Consultant for Assemblyman Nakano): And that was the point of that mailer, to talk about George Nakano's record, not to talk about Jenny Oropeza's record.
JAFFE: A bit farther south, in Orange County, voters are being constantly reminded about a painful part of Democratic State Senate candidate Tom Umberg's record that he'd just as soon they forget. Last year, he and his wife of 23 years, Robin Umberg, publicly acknowledged that he'd had an affair.
State Senator TOM UMBERG (Democratic Candidate, State Assembly): I've made mistakes, that's clearly true, in my personal life. And those now are, gosh, well behind us.
JAFFE: But directly in front of the voters, who've received mailers featuring a smiling Mrs. Umberg and a question: Why would we trust him? The mailers are actually paid for by an independent committee, not by Umberg's opponent, Orange County Supervisor Lou Correa. Umberg calls him responsible anyway.
State Senator UMBERG: My opponent is trying to dredge this back up. But it demonstrates that there are basically no bounds when it comes to political mail.
JAFFE: Calls to Supervisor Correa's office and to his campaign manager were not returned.
Another sort of affair of the heart has been getting attention in the rural Central Valley. A mailer there tells Republican primary voters, quote, "Tom Berryhill doesn't have the heart for State Assembly." It refers to the heart transplant that Berryhill had about six years ago, and cites an alleged statistic that transplants recipients only live, on average, another seven years. The mailers came from Berryhill's opponent, Bill Conrad.
When we reached Conrad, he declined to talk about the transplant claim, but he defended it to Sacramento TV Station CBS 13.
Councilman BILL CONRAD (Republican Candidate, State Assembly): It was a concern and an issue when Dick Cheney ran with his heart condition. And we felt that the voters had a right to know.
JAFFE: Tom Berryhill seems to be taking it all in stride.
Mr. TOM BERRYHILL (Republican Candidate, State Assembly): I'm feeling fantastic.
JAFFE: He says his opponent may have given him a new opportunity to educate voters about transplants.
Mr. BERRYHILL: Because I'll tell you. With the technology that they have today, it is absolutely amazing. And if you can get a good match, like I have received, life is really good.
JAFFE: And it may get a bit better for voters and candidates alike, once this election is over.
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.