Politicians invariably claim that they never take reelection for granted, but San Fernando Valley-area congressmen apparently feel that defeat in November is as likely as snow in July.
And with good reason, say professional observers in both parties. Each incumbent represents a district drawn to give his political party a major advantage, is far better known then his nearly anonymous opponent and--with one exception--is much better financed. It also hasn’t hurt the incumbents that they have kept their names before voters with publicly funded newsletters.
Republican Jim Salomon, a Beverly Hills businessman opposing 12-year Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Tarzana), is the only challenger who appears to have the resources to wage even a visible campaign. But knowledgeable Republicans say privately that Salomon has yet to prove that his bid will be well-financed and aggressive enough to be viable in the 23rd District.
Salomon said he has raised nearly $60,000 toward his goal of $300,000 for campaign mailings, signs and other means to carry his message to voters.
Beilenson, who overwhelmed a spirited primary challenge in June with little effort, appears equally unfazed about Salomon. He has done no fund-raising or campaigning.
“I never heard of him before he filed for election this year, and I’ve heard virtually nothing of him since,” Beilenson said of his opponent Friday.
Campaigning in other districts is more low-profile.
Three-term Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) faces Republican G.C. (Brodie) Broderson of Burbank, an actor and Guardian Angel who was so discouraged by his anemic fund-raising that he almost quit the 26th District race last month. Broderson has raised less than $3,000 and describes his shoestring bid as a learning experience.
“What campaign?” Berman’s administrative assistant Gene Smith said of the congressman’s reelection effort.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) faces Democrat Don Stevens, a Westlake Village attorney who refuses to seek campaign contributions and vows to spend no more than $5,000. In a highly unusual move, Stevens also plans to leave the campaign trail for nine days this month to get married and take an out-of-state honeymoon.
Gallegly, who also trounced a well-funded primary opponent in June, maintains he is not ignoring the 21st District race. But he has not retained his campaign consultant on a regular basis and has declined to debate Stevens.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) is opposed by Republican John N. Cowles, 38, a Hancock Park businessman who has failed to ignite any widespread interest in his call for fiscal constraint. Waxman, 49, a powerful 14-year House veteran, is spending more time on legislation in Washington than on the upcoming 24th District election campaign.
“We’re focusing almost solely on legislation,” said Phil Schiliro, Waxman’s aide. “And once we’re done here, we’ll focus on things there.”
Waxman is generally reelected so easily he was unable to recall his 1986 opponent’s name in an interview earlier this year. (Waxman won 88% of the vote against opposition of the Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties.) His district includes the Hollywood-Fairfax area and sections of Studio City, North Hollywood and Sun Valley in the East San Fernando Valley.
Beilenson, 55, represents a moderately Democratic district stretching from the West Valley over the Santa Monica Mountains to the Westside communities of Malibu, Westwood, Beverly Hills and part of North Hollywood. The liberal, affluent Westside is his strongest base of support.
He emphasizes his political independence--including his refusal to accept campaign contributions from special-interest political action committees--his role in preserving the Santa Monica Mountains and his early, outspoken concern about the budget deficit. He sits on the powerful House Rules Committee, which decides what bills reach the floor and how they will be debated.
Salomon, 32, a Beverly Hills foreign trade consultant, is a first-time candidate who was active in Republican Ed Zschau’s unsuccessful 1986 U.S. Senate campaign against Democrat Alan Cranston. He seeks to portray himself as a crime-fighting fiscal conservative and Beilenson as a self-serving professional politician who is out of step with voters on important issues.
Salomon attacks Beilenson for opposing stiffer penalties for drug-related crimes, for supporting increased gasoline, income and sales taxes and favoring cuts in Social Security benefits. He also is sharply critical of Beilenson’s vote for a raise for Congress.
“People are not aware of many of the positions that Anthony Beilenson has taken,” Salomon said. “If they become aware of those positions, and the fact that I take the opposite view, then they will vote for me.”
Opposed Drug Bill
Beilenson responded: “A sizable portion of a successful program to bring the deficit under control must, of necessity, involve raising some taxes.”
He said he opposed a recent bill to impose the death penalty for those involved in drug-related murders because the measure placed too much emphasis on increasing already-stiff penalties for drug users and sellers and too little on education, prevention and treatment. He said he would support a temporary freeze on cost-of-living increases for Social Security benefits but only as part of an across-the-board freeze on spending to reduce the deficit.
Beilenson said he supports a salary increase for members of Congress coupled with a ban on speaking fees from special-interest groups. And he maintains he is responsive and accessible to constituents through his district offices and regular town hall meetings.
Berman, 47, an attorney and Los Angeles political power broker, stresses his role in supporting Israel and combatting terrorism as well as his efforts to restore Hansen Dam for recreational use. He also cites his backing of the creation of a Los Angeles drug task force and his attempts to decrease the noise from Burbank Airport flights over his district.
Attack on ACLU
Broderson, 58, who served as student trustee of the Los Angeles County College District when he returned to school several years ago, echoes Vice President George Bush’s attack on Gov. Michael Dukakis’ membership in the American Civil Liberties Union when he discusses Berman.
“He was an ACLU lawyer,” Broderson said. “They have never come out against child pornography. They have this feverish pitch for freedom of the press and the First Amendment.”
Berman said he handled labor rights cases as a volunteer attorney for the ACLU from 1969 to 1971. But he added that he is not a member of the organization and that he abhors child pornography.
“I am for using whatever is appropriate and constitutional to try to rid society of this kind of activity,” Berman said.
Berman’s solidly Democratic district includes the East Valley, stretching from Sylmar and Granada Hills to Sherman Oaks and Studio City and just over the Hollywood Hills.
Gallegly, 44, a former real estate broker and former Simi Valley mayor, is a freshman lawmaker in a heavily Republican district. He has portrayed himself as a hard-liner against spending and tax increases and a proponent of a crackdown on drug dealers and smugglers. He also emphasizes constituent services and frequent return trips to the district.
Stevens, 56, who boasts 20 years of financial experience in major corporations, seeks to make fiscal responsibility his campaign hallmark. He says the budget deficit threatens American competitiveness and must be pared through spending cuts rather than increased taxes.
He also charges that Gallegly “is insensitive to spending levels” because the legislator nearly doubled the amount he has spent on his offices and newsletters to voters from the first quarter of 1987, his first year in Congress, to the first quarter of this year.
“During the first six months of 1987 I had less than half my staff and we had only one district office in operation,” Gallegly responded. “The majority of that money is going to service my constituency in Ventura County.”
He said constituents indicated in a questionnaire that they did not want a decrease in newsletters, and he returned $50,000 from his office budget to the Treasury in his first year. Gallegly has sent five districtwide newsletters in 1988 at a cost of about $100,000 for postage alone.
Stevens has raised $1,800 and says he has not solicited any contributions because “it is inherently corrupt to receive campaign contributions of substantial size.” Also, he says, big bucks campaign spending would undermine his claim to being “a very stringent cost controller.”
Gallegly said Stevens is not taking any large contributions because “it’s obvious none have been offered.” He said individuals and single-interest groups contribute to his campaign because they agree with him on the issues. He noted that he recently opposed one of his largest donors, the National Rifle Assn., on a high-profile bill to require a mandatory seven-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. The measure was defeated.
The 21st District includes southern Ventura County, parts of the western and northern San Fernando Valley and Santa Catalina Island.