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24th Congressional District

<i> Bob Rector is an op-ed page editor of the Ventura County and San Fernando Valley editions</i>

The 24th Congressional District, as it has been for the last three election cycles, is something of a political OK Corral where well-financed candidates shoot it out in races with national ramifications.

That’s because Republicans think the district, which encompasses wealthy neighborhoods in Ventura County as well as in the West San Fernando Valley and Malibu, should be theirs. Instead, the Democrats have held sway for years, with Anthony Beilenson and Brad Sherman.

This year’s race is no exception. Sherman, targeted by the GOP as one of the top 10 incumbents they want to defeat, faces a strong challenge from Randy Hoffman, a dapper millionaire from Thousand Oaks who turned a small high-tech company into one of the nation’s most successful producers of personal satellite navigation systems.

Hoffman has stressed his success in the competitive high-tech industry as evidence of smart business sense and accountability sorely needed on Capitol Hill.

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For his part, Sherman, a former tax attorney and member of the State Board of Equalization, has emphasized his votes in favor of a balanced budget and his success in landing federal money for more parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Times recently interviewed the candidates on local and national issues.

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Question: What is your opinion of the impeachment inquiry process?

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Answer: I don’t think we need an open-ended investigation because what differentiates this from Watergate is [Independent Counsel] Ken Starr. The Watergate panel started only after Congressional hearings had been held and then they went to impeachment hearings. We’ve had Congressional hearings both at the Senate and the House, plus $40 million of investigation. There’s a lot of criticism of Ken Starr. But no one has doubted that he would do a thorough job of finding any negative that might be out there about the president. He found what he could. If he wants to send over more, that’s fine. But there’s no reason to give the the judiciary committee a blank check to keep this thing going forever. Plus, it distracts us as a country.

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Q: The Congress in which you served is remarkable on several levels. It, of course, convened an impeachment inquiry and passed a budget with a surplus, not a deficit. Besides those two issues, how do you think Congress performed?

A: The most important thing we did in this Congress is reject bad ideas. And we never get the credit that we deserve for rejecting bad ideas. Keep in mind that if it had not been for the misadministration of economies in places like Tokyo and Jakarta, we would be talking about just how wonderful everything was, the way we were six months ago. I think a very balanced fiscal regime allows the federal reserve to keep interests rates low. I think that we’ve done a very good job of managing the economy because of what we didn’t do. We did not say, “Hey we’ve got a trillion-and-a-half-plus surplus. Let’s spend it!” And we rejected the tax cuts that were being put forward at the extreme level.

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Q: What needs to be done to get Social Security back on track?

A: I think ultimately we’re going to have to do the exact opposite of what Congress has been accused of doing for the last 20 years. For 20 years, everybody has said that money is being taken from Social Security to run the general fund. And now we may have to do the opposite of that. Take income tax funds and put it in the Social Security system to get us over the baby boomer situation. I think the most important thing we can do for Social Security is to maintain the U.S. economy.

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Q: What do we need to do yet in the educational field?

A: With the exception of providing $1.1 billion for teacher training and hiring, we haven’t done a lot. I think we need to go back next year and ask the president’s program to subsidize the construction of new classrooms and the modernization of classrooms. We need to go with testing. Every country in the world tests its students on a national basis and tells people where their school stands and where their kid stands on a national basis. And most of them try to then link their tests to international tests. Now, conservatives are concerned that this would mean that the federal government, in writing the test, would have an influence on curriculum. But algebra’s been algebra since the ancient Greeks. It ought to be part of the curriculum, we ought to test on it. And I think that the tests ought to be restricted to those areas everybody agrees students should have proficiency in. If a school district wants to teach cultural diversity, that’s probably a good thing, but I don’t think we should try to prod that at the federal level by saying there’s going to be a cultural diversity test.

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Q: What more does the federal government need to do in the Santa Monica Mountains?

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A: It will be awhile before we can buy all the land in the Santa Monica Mountains that ought to be protected. This is not cheap land. And the only way to protect the mountains is one parcel at a time, one level of government at a time. It’ll be at least 20 years before we get the funds we need to buy the parcels that are part of the National Park System Land Acquisition project. And until then we just have to keep trying and hope that our land acquisition stays one step ahead of the bulldozers.

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Q: What’s your view of the SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) initiatives in Ventura County?

A: It’s a democracy issue. People expect the character of Ventura County to change a little bit according to the master plan. And there are plans in every community and the county has a plan. And to take a piece of land that is planned to be agriculture, that is announced to be agricultural, and to change that is something people ought to have a chance to vote on. These agricultural parcels are not like a city lot. For the most part, it involves a huge development.

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Q: You and your opponents both claim to be moderates. How do you differentiate yourself from him?

A: On more than one occasion, I’ve said, “OK, I’ve cast a thousand votes, which ones do you disagree with?” Until he completed his poll he did not disagree with any of them. Now he disagrees with three, or is it two, out of a thousand? The second thing is that because I have a fixed record, it’s consistent everywhere I go. So I’d love to be able to go to seniors’ groups, take a penny out of my pocket and say, “I’m for saving every penny of the surplus for Social Security. Not one penny for anything else.” But in fact, I voted for a tax cut. A tax cut that was roughly one-tenth of what the Republicans put forward. A tax cut that still leaves a surplus of more than a trillion-and-a-half dollars. So I have to be consistent. My opponent is able to hold up that penny at the AARP [American Assn. of Retired Persons] debate and then, in a mailing to upscale neighborhoods, promise a repeal of the estate, gift and generations giving taxes. That’s a third of a trillion dollars right there. So everything I say is consistent, it’s on the Web, it’s part of the vote.


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