The same day U. S. Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) was voting Thursday for an assault-weapons ban and for making it a federal crime to block access to abortion clinics, three GOP candidates seeking his job in the 24th Congressional District were splitting over how they would have voted on the same issues.
But in their remarks at a candidates' forum sponsored by United We Stand America, the Ross Perot group, GOP candidates Richard Sybert, Mark Boos Benhard and Robert Hammer also showed a great deal of unanimity on several federal issues.
All three favored term limits for congressional lawmakers, supported the repeal of language in the U. S. Constitution that automatically grants citizenship to people born in the United States of illegal immigrants, backed a balanced budget amendment and were gravely skeptical of President Clinton's health care reform plan.
Such positions drew strong applause from the audience of about 100 local residents.
Also joining the three at the United We Stand forum were candidates Scott Gaulke, a Democrat, John Koehler, a Libertarian, and Rhett Wooden, an independent.
Beilenson, who declined to appear, saying he would not attend primary election debates, is virtually assured of winning the Democratic nomination in the June 7 election.
The Republican nomination is a tougher affair, with several relatively well-financed and active candidates in the running. In addition to the three at Thursday's event, Emery Shane, a realtor, and businessman Sang Korman are also in the GOP primary.
Thursday's forum at Parkman Junior High School in Woodland Hills came against a backdrop of the controversial votes being cast only hours earlier in Washington, by Beilenson.
Beilenson joined the House majority to support a measure to ban 19 military-style, semiautomatic weapons. The measure was approved by the narrowest of margins, 216 to 214, meaning that a change of one vote would have killed the measure.
Later in the day, Beilenson voted to make it a federal crime to block access to abortion clinics, a measure prompted by recent anti-abortion protesters' attempts to blockade clinics. A first-time conviction for blocking access to the clinics without violence would carry a maximum fine of $10,000 and six months in jail, a second conviction a $25,000 fine and one year in jail.
Beilenson had previously backed even stiffer penalties.
At Thursday's forum, Benhard staked out the most conservative position, telling the audience that he opposed any ban on assault weapons. "People are kidding themselves if they think banning assault weapons will solve the crime problem," Benhard told a cheering crowd.
Benhard also said he opposed singling out abortion protesters for a new federal law and would thus have voted against the measure to make such protests a crime.
Meanwhile, Hammer said he too would have opposed the assault weapons ban while Sybert took the opposite tack. "I was impressed by the testimony of the police chiefs (who urged the ban)," Sybert said. "No one can feel comfortable that 14- and 15-year-olds are riding around with these weapons."
On making it a federal crime to block access to abortion clinics, Sybert said that while he was pro-choice he was "concerned about discriminating against pro-life persons in the exercise of their 1st Amendment rights."
Finally, Hammer, who is pro-choice but opposes federal funding of abortions, said he would support such legislation to ensure "free access to the facilities." Of the three at Thursday's forum, Sybert has the best-financed campaign, having pumped more than $400,000 of his own money into the race. The former Wilson cabinet member has also been endorsed by dozens of local Republican elected officials.
Benhard, who owns a public relations firm and was an aide to former Congressman William Dannemeyer, has staked out a position as the most conservative candidate on a number of issues and recently won the support of the California Republican Assembly, a longtime conservative organization.
Hammer, a banking consultant, has also shown some fund-raising ability as he has attempted to establish himself as a moderate Republican who can bring a strong business background to managing the federal government.
In balloting after the debate, United We Stand members picked Hammer as their favorite with Benhard coming in second and Sybert tying with Wooden for third.