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Former assemblyman Richter dies

TIM OMARZU, Sun News Service

Former Nevada County Assemblyman Bernie Richter, a maverick Republican and sharp critic of affirmative action who was running to be a state senator, died early Monday. He was 68.

Richter went into cardiac arrest at his Chico home Monday and was pronounced dead at 9:08 a.m. by an emergency-room doctor, said Richter spokesman Tim Clark.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,” said Todd Juvinall, a Nevada County Republican leader who ran unsuccessfully in 1992 for the Assembly seat which Richter held for six years.

“He was a good man, and he was good for the body politic of the state of California,” Juvinall said.

Richter’s death makes Republican Assemblyman Rico Oller of San Andreas the forerunner in the March 7 primary race for the state Senate’s 1st District, a huge, largely rural area that includes Nevada County and extends over thousands of square miles of Northern California.

Richter had raised more than $800,000 for the primary, while Oller raised had more than $900,000, said Clark.

The race between Richter and Oller “was shaping up as probably the hottest-contested legislative race in the primary,” said Doug Willis, who covers California politics for the Associated Press.

“They were both considered very conservative. It really was a race of personalities rather than issues,” Willis said.

Richter, who was elected to the Assembly in 1992, was forced from the lower house by voter-approved term limits in 1998.

The combative Richter, who aroused strong emotions on both sides of the political aisle, was an anti-tax, anti-abortion, conservative Republican. He described himself as a civil-rights activist during his campaign in support of Proposition 209, the controversial voter-approved ballot initiative that sought to eliminate race-linked employment and college admissions programs. His Democratic opponents derided Richter’s claims.

“He was one of the major forces behind Prop. 209. Without Bernie, it wouldn’t have happened,” Juvinall said. “He is going to be missed big-time,” said Margaret Urke, executive director of the Nevada County-based CABPRO, or California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners.

“He has been such a strong supporter of property rights and good government and less government.”

During preparations for his Senate race, Richter narrated his life story for his campaign consulting firm, Wayne C. Johnson and Associates of Sacramento.

He discussed his childhood poverty and later successes in high school football and track, raising a family, and as a businessman who owned Chico-area liquor and video stores.

“In the video business, we never carried X-rated movies. I actively organized with ministers and others in an effort to keep X-rated movies out of Chico,” Richter wrote.

“In the 36 years that we were licensed to sell liquor, we had one time where a clerk sold to an underage person. That was a remarkable record,” he said.

Richter also stressed his lack of prejudice, explaining that when he was a businessman in his hometown of Reseda, he battled with other business owners who discriminated against blacks.

Richter said his lack of prejudice led him to champion Prop. 209.

“I look back now and realize Republicans were just really scared to death of this issue because they were fearful of being labeled racist,” Richter wrote in his memoir.

In the mid-1990s, with the Assembly in disarray and the Democrats looking for a compromise candidate to replace soon-to-be-termed-out Speaker Willie Brown, Richter made a bid for the speakership.

But his efforts to line up backing angered his GOP colleagues and revealed sharp divisions in the caucus. Richter later said his weeklong attempt to corral support led to screaming matches and threats against him, and at least two GOP legislators appeared in talk shows in his home district to denounce him as a puppet of Brown.

Richter is survived by his wife of 46 years, Rae; three daughters; and seven grandchildren.


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