PALMDALE - The Antelope Valley Republican Assembly, the most powerful partisan political group in north Los Angeles County, helped place a dozen of the 18 candidates the group endorsed in Tuesday's election.
The other guiding presence behind most of the wins were Antelope Valley businessman Frank Visco and attorney R. Rex Parris, who endorsed and supported a number of the same candidates as AVRA.
The victories came in six races for seats on local school boards and three races for seats on the Palmdale City Council.
The wins added to the seats already held by those affiliated with AVRA, a 72-member group whose ranks include Assemblyman George Runner, Runner's wife, Sharon, and his mother, Kay. AVRA also draws strength from conservative religious groups that questioned candidates about such issues as homosexuality and sex education in schools.
Asked about the election, Runner said he was disappointed his personal endorsements in the local races drew so much attention.
"I'd have rather seen the campaign revolve more around the issues and less on that," he said. But given the results, "the voters didn't have the same concerns."
So, as of Thursday, Runner conceded his role as a power broker, Valleywide, and particularly in Palmdale.
"I'm very glad most of the candidates I was supporting won," Runner said. "One of the issues that motivated me to get involved in the election was that I saw this as an opportunity to develop a council that would prioritize the relationship between the two cities and do their best to stop the needless competition and wasting of tax dollars."
Several candidates, including victorious incumbent Mayor Jim Ledford, asserted that the Runner slate was a bid for outside control of Palmdale's interests, and even a means of eventually shifting tax revenues from Palmdale to Lancaster.
Runner said the region needs Valleywide solutions that he believes his ranks can provide.
"I think that is the issue we need to resolve in the Antelope Valley, and I was glad to see candidates who wanted to do that get elected," he said.
But on the whole, "I'm very glad to see the election cycle get over," he said.
Parris said he was generally happy with the results, except for news of the arrest of sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Carney for suspicion of child molest, just days before Carney's election to the Palmdale council.
Sadness over Carney
Carney, endorsed by Runner, Parris, Visco and AVRA for a seat on the Palmdale City Council, is free on $100,000 bail after being arrested four days before the election on allegations of molestation of a 14-year-old girl.
The councilman-elect has denied the charges and faces arraignment later this month.
"I think the Carney thing put a cloud of sadness over all of this, and I don't know how it will resolve itself," Parris said. "This was one of the strangest elections I've ever been involved in."
On Friday, Parris, Visco and Runner withdrew their support of Carney, but it was too late to affect the outcome.
Given the election results, election of the AVRA-backed sheriff's Lt. Rod Penner, businessman Mike Dispenza and Carney, "it's certainly going to take Palmdale in a new direction," Parris observed.
"I hope it's the right direction," Parris said. "I hope the citizens of both cities recognize they all live in the Antelope Valley and that both cities need to start working together."
He urged intramural squabbling between the cities to cease.
"And the message (from Palmdale) to Lancaster should be the citizens of the Antelope Valley want this nonsense to stop," Parris added. "They want the two cities to work together to improve the quality of life."
Visco was reluctant to discuss the apparent success of AVRA members, saying he no longer was a member of the group.
"I have to work with both (local GOP) groups," he said, and his personal endorsements often differ from those of AVRA, a political organization peopled largely by Christian religious conservatives.
"When it comes to Republican politics, I will always speak my mind in who I like," especially in primary elections, Visco said.
Those differences gradually resolve "so that we all work together in the general elections," he said.
In nonpartisan races, like those at the local level, "sometimes I go with an individual regardless of party affiliation," he noted.
Attempts to reach AVRA President Wayne Woodhall were unsuccessful. Woodhall himself achieved election to the Antelope Valley College board of trustees, promising to deliver common sense and good family values.
When this week's victors are sworn into office, AVRA and those who work in concert with the group will have a firm grip on the city councils of both Lancaster and Palmdale.
In the Palmdale council, three of five members - Dispenza, Penner and Shelley Sorsabal - now have seats won with AVRA's backing, as well as Runner, Visco and Parris.
While not specifically endorsed by AVRA in 1997, Sorsabal had the personal backing of George and Sharon Runner.
Carney was endorsed early in the campaign by AVRA and personally by Visco, Parris and Runner, prior to Friday's arrest.
Despite the backing of AVRA, Visco and Parris, mayoral contender Rick Norris lost his race to Ledford, a Republican who leans toward the views of the Valley's more moderate GOP organization, the Antelope Valley Republican League.
Visco said he backed Norris "because I have a partial problem with a candidate in Palmdale who, in my opinion, is short-sighted and in the long run, not very successful" - a reference to four-term mayor Ledford.
"I would like to see somebody who holds a job as the mayor of the city of Palmdale, because the citizens deserve a successful mayor," Visco said, referring to the fact that Ledford's personal income is based primarily on his $1000-amonth stipend from the city.
Parris said he had supported Ledford in the past but this year endorsed Norris, though he provided the candidate with no financial support.
Runner declined to endorse Norris personally, saying he generally avoids endorsing against incumbents.
On the Lancaster council, all five members - Frank Roberts, Henry Hearns, Michele Idleman, Andy Visokey and Jim Jeffra - have won office with the support of AVRA, Visco, Parris and Runner.
In that instance, Runner endorsed Idleman and Visokey against incumbents Michael Singer and Deborah Shelton.
Unlike Lancaster, Palmdale does not rely on personal appointments to its Planning Commission, an agency that has considerable sway over residential growth and business development.
Other public agencies where local GOP leaders wield influence are:
Antelope Valley College, where AVRA President Woodhall won election to the board but AVRA-endorsee John Currado lost to incumbent Earl Wilson, endorsed by the Antelope Valley Democratic Club.
When placed in office, Woodhall will join AVRA-backed trustee Michael R. Adams as well as Wilson, Betty Lou Nash and Betty Wienke.
Parris said he financially supported Woodhall but not Currado.
"I said he could use my name if he wanted to, and he chose not to," Parris said of Currado.
Visco said he supported Woodhall and Steve Buffalo in the college race.
Runner endorsed Woodhall and Currado.
The Antelope Valley Union High School District, where AVRA members Wilda Andrejcik and Darrel Brown will take seats alongside Bill Olenick, Brett Nelson and Cheryl Lundgren.
This year, Lundgren defeated AVRA-endorsee Isaac Barcelona. In 1997, Nelson defeated former AVRA board member Sue Stokka.
Andrejcik, Brown and Barcelona each got the backing of both Visco and Parris.
Despite the defeat of Barcelona, "I think Lundgren will be an excellent board member," Parris said.
Runner endorsed Andrejcik, Brown and Barcelona.
The Lancaster School District, where AVRA-backed winner Mel Kleven will rejoin AVRA-backed members Keith Giles and Greg Tepe, as well as longtime moderate Dick White.
Pat McIver, another AVRA-endorsed candidate for the LSD board, lost a bid for a seat on the panel to John Miller, who was endorsed by the AV Democratic Club.
Visco said he threw his support behind both Kleven and McIver, as did Runner. Parris supported Kleven and Miller.
The Palmdale School District, where AVRA-backed winners Larry Logsdon and Tom Lackey will join past AVRA-endorsee Sheldon Epstein on the board. The conservative trio will serve with trustees Velma Trosin and Fred Thompson.
Logsdon and Lackey both got the support of Visco, Parris and Runner.
In light of recent problems on the board over former public relations director Diana Beard-Williams, "I was really glad to see Larry and Tom win," Runner said.
The Westside Union School District, where AVRA-endorsee Scott Gmur won re-election but AVRA member and endorsee Robin Kessler was turned away in favor of longtime incumbent Gwen Farrell. Gmur will rejoin 1997 AVRA-endorsee Larry Bosma, as well as Farrell, Charles Haskell and Christine LeBeau.
Visco said he stayed out of the Westside race, but Parris said he supported Kessler, as did Runner.
While AVRA endorsed member Sharon Toyne and conservative Maurice Kunkel in their campaigns for the Wilsona School District, neither were supported by Visco or Parris. Toyne was personally endorsed by Runner.
Besides local councils and school boards, the board of directors of Antelope Valley Hospital is another public panel influenced by local conservatives.
All five members of the hospital board - Steve Fox, Larry Chimbole, Don Bean, Gary Hill and Deborah Rice - won with the support of Visco and Parris.
A number of local judges also have attained positions on local benches with the help of either Visco, Parris or both.
Visco said he was instrumental in helping the gubernatorial appointments of both Lancaster Superior Court Judge Frank Y. Jackson and Judge Chesley McKay.
Parris said he participated in efforts that brought about the elections of Municipal Court judges Richard Spann, Pamela Rogers and Steve Ogden.