While voter skepticism about political promises may be at an all-time high, San Fernando Valley politicians nevertheless joined in a nationwide flurry of soulful pledge-making Tuesday.
In Woodland Hills, GOP congressional candidate Richard Sybert signed the "Republican Contract With America," a 19-page GOP manifesto for reforming the federal government and then showed up on the doorstep of his foe, incumbent Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), and urged him to sign it too.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Reps. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) and Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) joined GOP House leader Newt Gingrich and more than 300 other Republi can incumbents and office-seekers in a solemn ceremony to sign the document.
And finally, in Burbank, Democrat Doug Kahn, seeking to unseat Moorhead, signed his own over-sized "Contract with the 27th Congressional District" and called Moorhead, a 22-year veteran of Congress, a hypocrite for signing a contract that includes a pledge to support term limits.
The Republican document that inspired all this pledge-making urges passage of a balanced-budget amendment, term limits for members of Congress, welfare reform that would include denying Aid to Families with Dependent Children payments to mothers under 18 years of age, tax-reduction measures including a reduction of taxes on Social Security benefits and anti-crime measures such as a mandatory 10-year sentence for using a gun during commission of a state or federal felony.
Democrats have criticized the document, saying adoption of its planks would cost $800 billion, send the federal budget into a deficit tailspin and commit GOP lawmakers to an agenda, crafted by ambitious Washington-based GOP strategists, who are concerned about power, not about the special circumstances and needs of any particular congressional district.
A congressman's stands should reflect "the will of the people back home, not the will of Newt Gingrich and the special interests contributing to GOPAC (a political action committee Gingrich controls)," Beilenson said.
But Republicans hope the contract will convince voters that the GOP has a common-sense reform agenda and make the GOP the majority party in Congress.
"The message of this is no more B.S.," Sybert said as he scrawled his name across the GOP contract outside Beilenson's Woodland Hills district office.
Sybert denied the contract simply meant more of the same partisan politics that seems to turn off voters. At least for him.
In fact, Sybert, a former Cabinet officer in Gov. Pete Wilson's Administration, tried to distance himself from the contract's partisan origins. Sybert said he had elected to sign the document in Woodland Hills rather than in Washington with his GOP confreres to stress his independence.
"I'm a lot more interested in representing the people of the district than in partisan politics," Sybert said. "This is far more specific than the promises that have been made in the past," he added. "Besides it's in the form of a contract."
But Beilenson, whose 24th District stretches from Malibu and the Conejo Valley to Sherman Oaks, was not impressed.
"This is a fraud . . . one of the most irresponsible political documents I've ever seen," the 18-year incumbent said, arguing that the Republican plan is long on tax cuts, but short on specifics of where to cut federal spending. "This is the same kind of warmed-over Reaganomics that created huge deficits in the past," Beilenson said.
Beilenson added that he was in agreement with some of the GOP proposals, notably those calling for congressional reform of its own institutions. "I've been one of the most outspoken Democrats in favor of trimming the number of congressional committees and prohibiting proxy votes (by which lawmakers can have others cast votes for them)," he said.
Beilenson said he was proud of his own recent votes to support President Clinton's deficit-reduction plan and crime bill. Both of these were effective and realistic, not pie-in-the-sky measures, he said.
In Burbank, Kahn signed a pledge of his own devising that mimicked the GOP pledge by including his support for term limits. But it also added a new twist--a pledge that Kahn would refuse to accept any pay hike as a congressman, and that he would contribute such money to programs to boost the number of police officers in the 27th District.
"It's hypocrisy for Mr. Moorhead to support term limits," said Kahn, who owns a typesetting business. "I'll believe it when I see it."
Meanwhile, Moorhead, who represents the 27th District that includes Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, said that his prior skepticism about Proposition 140, the California term-limits measure adopted in 1990, had to do with his concern that that measure would diminish California's clout in Congress. The measure would not affect congressional officeholders until 1998.
Proposition 140 would disadvantage California, Moorhead said, by forcing its senior lawmakers into early retirement while congressional members from other states--not be affected by its limits--would move into leadership positions. Seniority confers power in Congress, Moorhead noted.
Finally, in Santa Clarita, Democrat James Gilmartin, now trying to deny freshman congressman McKeon a second term, added his voice to the critics of the contract. "By signing the contract, Mr. McKeon has become the puppet of Newt Gingrich, not a representative of the people of this district," Gilmartin, a Santa Clarita attorney, said.
"That's just the canned response of the Democratic National Committee," snapped Armando Azarloza, McKeon's campaign press deputy. "What we're saying to voters is 'Give us Republicans a chance to have a majority in congress, and we'll enact some bold reforms,' " he said. "No more of the same old thing."
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