California a Top Priority These Days in Washington : Politics: The Administration realizes that the state must be the engine of economic recovery.

Benjamin M. Reznik, an attorney with offices in Sherman Oaks, is chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn.

Having just returned from Washington as part of a Valley business delegation, I have renewed confidence that the economic recovery of California is a high priority for the Clinton Administration.

California, and in particular Los Angeles, seemed to be on every Administration official's agenda. From the White House to such diverse agencies as the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services, California's economic recovery was identified as a top priority.

The question is whether those expressions were mere political rhetoric, pandering if you will, to a group of Californians visiting the Capitol on the heels of the tension surrounding the conclusion of the Rodney G. King civil rights trial. Or is this in fact the beginning of a new era in Washington, one that will deliver on promises made to our region?

I left Washington with the firm belief that there is good reason for Californians to be optimistic, Angelenos in particular.

The commitments for assistance, and the level at which they were made, carried too much weight to be discounted as mere political rhetoric. There is ample evidence to suggest that this Administration is sincere about helping California.

Four of 14 Cabinet members are Californians. They brought along many colleagues who are also from California. Several key White House staff positions are filled by Californians, more specifically by Angelenos. These people are well-versed in our economic problems.

Perhaps most important, they understand that if this Administration is to enjoy a second term, it must win California again. For President Clinton to win in California in 1996, the state will have to be well on its way to full economic recovery. Perhaps this also explains why there are so many Californians awaiting confirmation to various other Administration posts.

This new breed of Californian in D. C. is sending a message that the nation as a whole cannot recover unless our state recovers. In our meeting with Mickey Kantor, the U. S. trade representative and part of the California Cabinet, I jokingly introduced our group as a trade delegation from Southern California seeking a free-trade agreement with the United States. Mr. Kantor that day was scheduled to sign a trade agreement with a small country that has an economic base no larger than our own San Fernando Valley.

After the laughter subsided, the ambassador turned serious and in no uncertain terms said California will no longer be ignored and left to recover on its own. California is not the caboose, it's the engine. As the world's sixth-largest economy, it must recover if the nation is to recover. He said the creation of jobs would make California a major beneficiary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Similarly, at Health and Human Services we heard about the Administration's plans to target the inner city of Los Angeles.

At the State Department, we heard how the Administration plans to intertwine trade and economic issues with international relations and how that will strengthen California's position as an economic power in the Pacific Rim.

Our meetings were in marked contrast to our 1992 meetings with the Bush Administration. It was frustrating last year to realize that our pleas for help fell on deaf ears. No wonder Bush lost California.

The $16-billion stimulus package the Clinton Administration sent to Congress provides further proof of the commitment to California. This so-called jobs bill included $1 billion in aid to California, which would have created 50,000 new jobs. Although it was filibustered to death by Senate Republicans, it demonstrated where the Administration stands.

So I boarded my flight back to Los Angeles filled with optimism. It did not take long, however, for reality to set in.

Sitting next to me was an engineer from Hughes Aircraft returning from a business trip to the Pentagon. His job is to match research and development work at Hughes with the government's needs.

When he learned the purpose of my trip, he reminded me of the 1,500 Hughes jobs we are about to lose in Canoga Park--old news. Then he really scared me, saying Hughes will never build another manufacturing operation in California. Yes, it will continue research and development here, but production will be done elsewhere.

Without the replenishment of manufacturing jobs, California cannot recover. The promised help from Washington is critical. The expectation will be that this Administration do all it can to deliver assistance to California's economy. We are depending on the seriousness of the Administration's assurances, and the success of the Administration depends on it as well.

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