Having written 19 bad checks on the House bank, Rep. Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez (D-Monterey Park) might have expected a slashing personal attack during his reelection campaign.
But his leading primary opponent, Bonifacio Bonny Garcia, a 35-year-old attorney, is avoiding that tack.
"I think voters are already aware of his record," Garcia said. "We will not be hitting him."
Some political consultants say the only way to beat an incumbent is with hard-hitting mailers and ads. But former Monterey Park Mayor Lily Chen tried that approach four years ago in a strident campaign that accused Martinez of multiple misdeeds, including junketeering at taxpayer expense. And she was beaten decisively.
Garcia said voters are tired of personal attacks and politics as usual.
"Voters have a real anger at Congress and at politicians," he said, but they are reluctant to toss out an incumbent because the successor might be just as bad. "The question I get is, 'How do we know you'll be different?' "
Garcia has sought to demonstrate his difference by taking political positions that reflect his principles and beliefs, but are not always popular.
"The way you can tell if someone is honest and trustworthy," he said, "is by the number of risks they take."
He could have raised more money and earned key political endorsements by backing abortion rights for women, he said. But, he's against abortion, and he is also opposed to the death penalty and supports gun control. "These are risky positions," he said.
Martinez, too, is opposed to abortion, but he favors the death penalty and supports gun ownership.
Although Garcia, who has raised more than $100,000, is waging the most aggressive campaign against Martinez, two other Democrats are on the ballot.
One of them, Louis A. M. Ritchie, has withdrawn from the race to endorse Garcia. The other, A. Gus Hernandez, 57, of Monterey Park, is basing his campaign on his lengthy residence in the district and his varied background, which has included work as a probation officer and ownership of several businesses.
Hernandez runs a construction trade school for youths referred by juvenile authorities. He served in the Army as a paratrooper and said one of his major concerns is protection of veterans' rights, including access to medical care.
He said he is running against Martinez because "the guy has been in office 10 years and he hasn't done anything."
Martinez has been plagued with bad reviews from political journals during his stint in Washington. For example, "The Almanac of American Politics 1992," published by the National Journal, describes Martinez as "a backbencher with little impact or influence."
Maxine Grant, his chief of staff, said that Martinez has a record of accomplishment that refutes that characterization. During the current term, for example, he has carried legislation to extend the Older Americans Act, which funds services for senior citizens, and has secured passage of bills that expand transportation services for senior citizens and extend unemployment benefits for reserve veterans of the Persian Gulf War.
Martinez said it would take a successor years to gain the experience and knowledge he has. "I'm the seventh-ranking member on the Education and Labor Committee," he said. "I know all the members and I know where the key members are. How do you get someone fresh in to do all that?"
When the House bank scandal developed, Martinez volunteered the information that the bank had marked four of his checks to indicate that they had been written without sufficient funds in his account. But records released by Congress last month showed Martinez had 19 overdrafts, not four.
Garcia accused Martinez of attempting to mislead the public, but Martinez said the discrepancy reflected the bank's ineptitude and his difficulty in getting information. "There were no accurate records," he said. "It was sloppy bookkeeping."
Martinez, 63, was running an upholstery business in Monterey Park when he became involved in city politics. He served on the Monterey Park City Council for six years before winning a seat in the state Assembly in 1980.
His Assembly victory was achieved with the help of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City), who was then in the Assembly and trying to get another vote to win the speakership.
Since then, the conventional political wisdom has been that Martinez was put in the Assembly, elevated to Congress and maintained there by Berman and his Westside political allies. Martinez said he has been helped in the past by the political consulting firm headed by Carl D'Agostino and Berman's brother, Michael, but not recently. "If I thought I was in a real tough race, I'd use them again," he said.
Besides defending his legislative record, Martinez said his real satisfaction comes from helping constituents break through government red tape. "The biggest joy I get," he said, "is when we help a little old lady get her Social Security."
One clear difference between Martinez and Garcia is educational background. Martinez attended Los Angeles Trade Technical College, but he has no degree. Garcia is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University and Harvard Law School. Martinez said his superior experience offsets any educational shortcomings.
The thrust of Garcia's campaign has been a pledge to bring new, hard-working political leadership to the San Gabriel Valley.
Garcia said the area's problems, from smog to lagging economic growth, have not received the attention they deserve. He has enlisted the support of a large number of newly elected city officials for a plan to develop a regional center to house federal offices and corporate headquarters. Garcia said the plan calls for cities to work together to attract businesses and jobs, instead of bidding against each other.
One of Garcia's slogans has been: "I've worked hard all my life; I'll work hard for you." The theme is intended to draw attention to the fact that Martinez missed nearly 20% of the votes in the House last year.
The 31st District, which stretches across the San Gabriel Valley from Monterey Park to Azusa, is diverse, with a population estimated at 59% Latino, 22% Asian, 17% Anglo and 2% black. It is considered a safe district for the Democrats, who outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1.
Nonetheless, two Republicans are competing for their party's nomination in the June 2 election. They are Reuben D. Franco, 31, a sales representative, and Nick (Nisar) Hai, 52, who owns an engineering and construction business.
Franco, who was born in East Los Angeles and lives in San Gabriel, is running on a platform that emphasizes economic revitalization. Franco said he favors creation of enterprise zones, which would attract businesses to depressed areas through tax inducements, including exemption from capital gains taxes. He also supports privatization of government facilities as a way to cut costs and streamline government.
Franco was the Republican nominee against Martinez two years ago, getting 37% of the vote.
Hai, who was born in India, came to the United States in the 1960s. He said he is running because "I got sick and tired of the corruption in the system." He is offering a wide-ranging platform that includes tax incentives to small businesses to create jobs, the development of affordable health insurance through a cooperative effort of government and the private sector, and the use of federal agencies, including the FBI and CIA, to combat gangs.
He also has stressed the importance of working against racism.
31ST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT CANDIDATES
The 31st Congressional District includes Alhambra, Azusa, Baldwin Park, El Monte, Irwindale, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and South El Monte.
Here are brief biographies of the three Democrats and
two Republicans in the June 2 primary. The name of a fourth Democrat, Louis A. M. Ritchie, will appear on
the ballot, but he has withdrawn and endorsed Bonifacio Bonny Garcia.
Bonifacio Bonny Garcia
Born: Oct. 27, 1956
Residence: San Gabriel
Education: BA, history and psychology, Loyola Marymount University; JD, Harvard Law School.
Career highlights: Partner in City of Commerce law firm of Barbosa, Garcia and Barnes. Chairman of the Board of Regents at Verdum Dei High School in Watts. Has taught history at the university level.
A. Gus Hernandez
Born: Jan. 5, 1935
Residence: Monterey Park
Education: Studied theology and psychology at St. Steven's Bible College, Los Angeles; public administration at Pepperdine University.
Career highlights: Served in U.S. Army as paratrooper. Owned auto parts manufacturing company. Worked as a county probation officer. Owns construction trade school serving youths referred through justice system.
Personal: Married. Four children.
Matthew G. (Marty) Martinez
Born: Feb. 14, 1929
Residence: Monterey Park
Education: Los Angeles Trade Technical College. No degree.
Career highlights: Owned upholstery shop while serving on Monterey Park City Council from 1974-80. Elected to state Assembly in 1980 and to Congress in 1982. Chairman of Education and Labor subcommittee on human resources.
Personal: Married; five children; 14 grandchildren.
Nick (Nisar) Hai
Born: Jan. 25, 1940
Education: BS, civil engineering, University of Wisconsin; MS, civil engineering, San Jose State University.
Career highlights: Born in India, came to the United States in the 1960s. Licensed as civil engineer in California and Arizona. Operates engineering and construction business in San Gabriel.
Personal: Married; five children.
Reuben D. Franco
Born: June 18, 1960
Residence: San Gabriel
Education, BA, economics, UCLA.
Career highlights: Runs business that sells orthodontic products. Active in Republican clubs and was party nominee for Congress twice. Received 37% of the vote in losing to Martinez two years ago.