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California Elections : Martinez Ignores GOP Rival Who Is Urging Voters to Recall the Primary

Times Staff Writer

In last June’s Democratic primary, Rep. Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez (D-Monterey Park) routed an opponent who had flooded the district with mailers portraying him as sleazy and inept.

That sort of personal attack has been absent so far in the general election campaign, but Ralph R. Ramirez, the Republican nominee, is counting on voters to remember the Democratic primary and the scathing charges it produced.

Going door to door in an Alhambra neighborhood recently, Ramirez introduced himself to an elderly voter, noted he was running against Martinez and asked: “Have you heard about Marty?”

The man looked down, smiled slightly and said: “I’ve heard quite a few things about him.”

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Ramirez did not inquire about what the man had heard or offer any opinion of his own, but hurried on to the next house after asking the man to remember to vote on Election Day.

Ramirez said he doesn’t need to say anything negative about Martinez; voters heard it all in the primary.

“The public is very well informed,” he said. “When I go door to door, they bring it up. I don’t have to bring it up.”

In the June primary, former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Chen accused Martinez of misusing office funds, abusing his staff, taking holiday trips at taxpayer expense with a “girlfriend,” and other misdeeds. Martinez denied all the charges, called Chen “a sick woman” and defeated her by an overwhelming margin.

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Martinez dismissed a reporter’s suggestion that Ramirez might be able to capitalize on Chen’s campaign by saying: “Hope springs eternal.”

He said that if voters had believed the charges, “I wouldn’t have won 75% of the vote.”

The contest between Ramirez and Martinez has generated surprisingly few sparks so far, even though Republicans regard it as one of their few chances in California to oust an incumbent Democrat. Ramirez has tried to goad Martinez into meeting him in debate and has assailed his record in Congress, but Martinez has hardly bothered to respond. “I don’t think about the other person’s campaign,” Martinez said.

Both candidates are running as mainstream representatives of their parties: a conservative Republican against a liberal Democrat. That approach would seem to benefit Martinez, since Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 30th Congressional District nearly 2 to 1.

But the district, which is heavily Latino and largely blue collar, is full of Reagan Democrats. In 1984, President Reagan carried the district with more than 55% of the vote, and 2 years ago Republican Gov. George Deukmejian polled 52% of the vote.

Because Martinez is seen as vulnerable, Ramirez was invited to speak at the Republican National Convention and has received $45,000 in donations and services from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Last week, Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) told Ramirez supporters at a breakfast meeting in San Gabriel that their candidate is one of the top two or three Republican challengers in the nation and said: “I think he has a wonderful opportunity.”

His Latino heritage makes Ramirez an attractive candidate for Republicans who believe that the party must broaden its appeal. Taking note of the congressional district’s ethnic diversity, with a Latino majority and a growing Asian population, Kemp said the Republican Party must move beyond its middle-class Anglo base. “We have to be a party that touches the lives of ghetto residents and barrio residents,” he said.

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Meanwhile, the day after Kemp spoke for Ramirez, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) visited the Montebello Senior Citizens Center to urge the reelection of Martinez and stump for the national Democratic ticket. Speaking to nearly 400 senior citizens, Kennedy and Martinez drew cheers by stressing the need to enlarge the government’s health care coverage for the elderly.

Martinez, who has been in Congress since 1982, noted that he has faced tough campaigns and well-financed opponents before, and won.

Won Council Seat

Martinez, 59, was born in Colorado but has lived most of his life in California. He was running an upholstery shop in Monterey Park when be became involved in local politics, winning election to the City Council in 1974.

In 1980, he scored an upset victory in the Democratic primary for an Assembly seat over 16-year incumbent Jack Fenton. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panaroma City), who was then in the Assembly and trying to win the speakership, poured money and political expertise into the Martinez campaign.

Since then, Martinez has benefitted from the Westside political organization of Berman and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Mel Levine (D-Los Angeles). The three congressmen donated $8,000 to Martinez’s campaign early this year. For the primary election alone, Martinez paid $25,000 for the political consulting services of a firm headed by Berman’s brother, Michael, and Carl D’Agostino.

Martinez would not say how much he expects to spend on his reelection effort, but the primary campaign cost more than $200,000. Ramirez, who spent more than $100,000 in defeating two rivals in the Republican primary, said he expects to spend $300,000 in the general election.

This will be the second time that Martinez and Ramirez have faced each other in the district, which includes Alhambra, Azusa, El Monte, Irwindale, Monterey Park, Rosemead, South San Gabriel, part of San Gabriel and the Southeast cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Maywood, Montebello and Vernon.

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Martinez narrowly defeated Ramirez in a special election in 1982 to choose a successor to Rep. George Danielson, who gave up his seat for a judicial appointment. The special election to fill the remaining few months of Danielson’s term was an unusual one, coming in the middle of a larger battle for a full two-year term between Martinez and John Rousselot, a veteran Republican congressman who had lost his own district through reapportionment.

The Republican strategy was for Ramirez to run a hard campaign in the July special election to set Martinez up for defeat by Rousselot in November. Martinez defeated Ramirez by only a few hundred votes but widened the margin against Rousselot to 54% to 46%.

Martinez was reelected with 52% of the vote in 1984 and 63% in 1986. Besides opposition from Republicans, Martinez has twice overcome strong challenges in his own party, defeating Danielson’s wife, Candy, in 1984 and Chen this year.

‘Indicative of District’

Martinez said he has been successful with voters because “I’m truly indicative of this district.” He said he raised five children in the district, was president of a Rotary Club and worked his way up the political ladder from planning commission to Congress.

Martinez has received some unflattering reviews of his work in Washington. A Congressional Quarterly publication described him last year as a congressman who has “remained strictly in the background, serving quietly on the Education and Labor Committee as a reliable pro-labor vote.” A California Magazine article last year ranked him near the bottom of the California congressional delegation, giving him low scores for diligence and intelligence.

But Martinez has dismissed such criticism as uninformed, saying that what counts is what voters in his district think of him. He said his constituents appreciate the way he has helped thousands of them overcome problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies.

His major legislative achievement this year, he said, was passage of a program that will give states bonus money for training and placing long-term welfare recipients in jobs. Martinez is chairman of the House subcommittee on employment opportunities.

Martinez said economic issues are among the major concerns of voters, and one of his preoccupations has been finding ways for people to obtain the basic skills to get and hold jobs.

Ramirez said he, too, believes that economic issues are important, and that’s why he expects to win. He said that because of the success of President Reagan’s economic policies, people now identify the Republican Party with prosperity.

Ramirez, who will be 51 the day after the election, said the history of his own family shows what can be achieved through hard work and free enterprise. His parents, both born in Arizona, came to California to pick tomatoes. His father worked his way up from a gardening job to ownership of a prosperous business as a landscape contractor for expensive homes in San Marino and Beverly Hills.

Born in East Los Angeles, Ramirez grew up in South San Gabriel in a neighborhood where his was the first Mexican-American family. Ramirez said he faced prejudice and was once labeled mentally retarded because he couldn’t read English at school and his teachers were unaware that he read Spanish at home.

Held State Post

Ramirez overcame those early difficulties, graduated from Rosemead High School and went on to get a teaching credential from UCLA and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance. He has spent most of his life in the insurance business, but served from 1982 to 1986 as director of the state Industrial Accidents Division, which includes the Workers’ Compensation program.

He is devoting full time to his election campaign and has walked precincts throughout the district. Ramirez, who lives in San Gabriel, said voters are most concerned about drugs and crime.

Ramirez has criticized Martinez for missing a vote Sept. 8 on a death-penalty amendment to a drug bill, saying Martinez shouldn’t claim to be tough on crime “when you don’t even show up to take a stand.” Martinez said he and other congressmen sometimes miss votes because they have committee duties or other obligations. But, he said, he voted for the drug bill, which included the death penalty for drug-related murders, when it came before Congress for final passage Sept. 22.

In addition to Martinez and Ramirez, two other candidates are running for the congressional seat. They are Kim J. Goldsworthy, 32, a computer programmer who lives in Rosemead and is the nominee of the Libertarian Party, and Houston Myers, 74, a retired automobile garage owner who lives in San Gabriel and is the candidate of the American Independent Party.

Little Time to Run

Goldsworthy said he has been so busy as vice chairman of the Libertarian Party in Southern California that he has had little time to campaign for Congress. His platform calls for elimination of the income tax and restoration of the right of privacy. He said that “taxation is theft” and that governmental activities, from local police to national defense, should be financed voluntarily.

Myers has run for state Assembly, Congress and lieutenant governor under the American Independent banner. He contends that taxes are too high, judges are soft on criminals and politicians are putting their own interest ahead of the country’s. He is distributing a flyer headlined “Voter Revolt Public Notice,” which suggests that voters elect him as a signal of rebellion against the system, saying that if that doesn’t work, all that is left is “the final option of the gun.”

Ramirez said a recent poll commissioned by his campaign shows that the Republican presidential ticket headed by Vice President George Bush will carry the district by a margin of 8% to 10% and that he will win by a narrower margin, perhaps 2% to 4%.

Gary Townsend, a Martinez aide, said he “wouldn’t give any credibility” to the poll results reported by Ramirez. He said Democratic surveys show Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis taking the district in the presidential race and Martinez winning reelection with more than 60% of the vote.


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