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Giddyup, Partner: Cowboy politician Pete Frusetta refuses to debate his opponent, whom he feels dissed his precious horse, Billy.

Horse's Mouth

Capital cowboy Pete Frusetta loves his horse, Billy. The Republican assemblyman from Tres Pinos even gave Billy a prominent role in a TV ad a couple years ago in which he covered his horse's ears so Billy wouldn't hear the nasty attacks being made against his master. Now Frusetta is refusing to debate his opponent, Salinas Mayor Alan Styles, because of a critical campaign piece that the cowboy legislator thinks makes his beloved Billy look like a jackass. The piece features a horse on the cover below the caption, "It's Time to Stop Horsing Around." Inside are a couple editorials from local fish-wraps, scolding Frusetta for missing key votes in the Assembly on gun- and flood-control. "The vicious attack doesn't bother me, but it sure made old Billy mad," Frusetta wrote in a recent edition of his Cowboy in the Capital newsletter. People don't like mudslinging, "especially when it targets a nice horse like Billy," he concludes. ... Earlier this month, Frusetta sent Styles a list of demands that must be met before he'll debate: a written apology, a retraction and repudiation of the "hit piece" and a pledge not to engage in any more "negative" campaigning. "After a short probationary, or time-out, period, in which you prove that you have indeed changed your ways and now intend to run an honest campaign," Frusetta lectured, "will I then consider negotiating your request." To this Styles reportedly replied, "I'll apologize to the horse, but not to him." Styles' campaign spinmeisters suspect the real reason for Frusetta's reticence has to do with Reep caucus leaders not wanting him to say anything crazy, i.e., open his mouth about anything actually relating to serious matters, before the election. (According to the Sacramento Bee, during the gay marriage debate, Frusetta "likened homosexuals to hormonally imbalanced heifers.") Demos don't seem to be taking a great interest in Frusetta's district, which runs from Monterey to Santa Clara County, but a huge gaffe could change that. Gov. Pete Wilson was concerned enough to drop $5,000 in Frusetta's campaign stable.

Junk Mail

One-term congressman Ernie Konnyu must be trying to drum up business for his new tax-accounting company. The clever Ernie--once noted for the campaign slogan "Ernie, he won't Konnyu"--enclosed a promotional ad in the shape of a mini-$100 bill along with a two-page fundraising letter he mailed on behalf of sheriff candidate Laurie Smith (a fellow Reep). "That was the idea," Konnyu acknowledges of the play money. "I'm certainly trying to get more clients for write-up work." Unfortunately, no one has responded and requested his services, though one woman referred him to someone who might need a tax expert. Despite the tepid response, Konnyu remains optimistic. "Hopefully, I'll get more." ... The campaign letter itself is quite a hoot. In it Konnyu sounds a partisan alarm, accusing Ruben Diaz, Smith's opponent, of being a tool of labor thugs. "If you don't help Assistant Sheriff Laurie Smith today," Konnyu warns, "Ruben Diaz may turn the sheriff's office into a product of Democratic-influence operations, guided in part by the Teamsters union." This is a novel take, since the Teamsters have nothing to do with the Deputy Sheriffs Association, the union which, by the way, recently endorsed Smith. Oh, and Konnyu's evidence of the Rube's debt to the Dems? His support from "San Jose Mayor Suzanne (sic) Hammer."

Party Pooper

Speaking of endorsements, who Supe Jim Beall will endorse in the sheriff's race has become the topic of some interesting, if peculiar, scuttlebutt. Beall endorsed Tom Sing in the primary, but Sing didn't make the final cut. At first blush, it would seem natural that Beall get behind Diaz, another Democratic stalwart. But as is often the case in South Bay politics, personalities may very well supersede party loyalty. ... Diaz is being backed by two of Beall's least favorite people, Assessor Larry Stone and mayoral glad-hander Ron Gonzales (Beall is one of the few prominent Dems in town not backing Gonzo). Furthermore, Beall's pal, Rich Robinson, is now running Laurie Smith's campaign. Backing Smith would be an indirect slap in the face to Stone and Gonzales, though not as gutsy as backing Reep mayoral contender Pat Dando, a move that would really piss off local Dems. ... From a political standpoint, it's hard to see what Beall gains by backing Smith and possibly offending party loyalists. One thought is that because Beall might run in a relatively conservative Assembly district, supporting a Reep might win him a few karma points. When told of the loose talk, Stone chuckled, "I wish I had that kind of influence over what Jim Beall does."

Knight Line

In the deal to bring Knight Ridder to San Jose, the city has found few concessions too crass or too tacky. Apparently, in the deal cooked up to bring Knight Ridder downtown, the Redevelopment Agency promised the former Miami-based corporation massive signage on top of San Jose's largest office building. On Tuesday the City Council voted to change its own sign ordinance--increasing it by 600 percent--per Knight Ridder's request. ... Frank Taylor's flip-flop on signage flies in the face of corporations like Netcom and Adobe, who apparently didn't have the clout of local hero Tony Ridder. But the concessions don't stop there. Knight Ridder wanted two consecutive floors of the 15-story building at 50 West San Fernando--for its encampment of 70 employees--and the Redevelopment Agency has decided to move from its 15th floor office in the same building to make way for its little buddy. The moving costs amount to another indirect subsidy of $500,000 taken from tax increment funds. What next? A city-paid marble statue of Ridder's head to go with those bronzed running shoes by the river?

Ducks Like a Quack

The resurrection of a once-dead bill to make the state insurance commissioner an appointed rather than elected post put the sitting Commish, Chuck Quackenbush, in an awkward spot. When the bill first appeared one year ago, the Quackster ducked the issue, saying he supported the idea of an appointed commissioner "in principle" but refusing to take a position on the bill drafted by irascible state Sen. Quentin Kopp because he hadn't had time to review it. The bill lost by one vote, and it looked for a while there like the Quackster dodged a bullet. Now, the bill for an appointed commissioner resurfaces in the midst of his re-election campaign. Nevertheless, that didn't deter his press flack from issuing a statement this week saying, once again, that the commish supports the idea "in principle," but hasn't had time to review the bill, and so the Department of Insurance is bravely remaining neutral. No contradiction there, at least not in principle.

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From the August 27-September 2, 1998 issue of Metro.

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