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Congressmen Torn : State's MX Debate: Jobs vs. Ideology

March 26, 1985|ZACK NAUTH | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — For California Democratic congressmen representing districts with defense contractors, the MX missile--electronically programmed to strike halfway around the globe--hits close to home.

The House is preparing to cast its first of two crucial votes today on whether to continue producing the missile, and several California Democrats--and congressmen like them from other states--are torn between liberal opposition to the weapon and the jobs that the MX would mean for their constituents.

"We have 3,000 people feeding themselves on building the MX missile," said an aide to Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally of Compton, who represents a district southeast of Los Angeles that includes Northrop Corp.

How congressmen such as Dymally make up their minds will go a long way toward determining whether the House goes along with the Senate, which cast two identical 55-45 votes last week to provide President Reagan with $1.5 billion to produce 21 more MX missiles.

As late as Monday, Dymally remained undecided on the MX, many of whose components would be designed and built by his own constituents.

Like Dymally, Democratic Rep. Glenn M. Anderson of San Pedro, who represents a district in which roughly 450 persons are estimated to be employed by Northrop and Logicon Inc. of Torrance, was still undecided.

And, outside California, a number of other Democrats also must balance defense jobs at home against their allegiance to the House Democratic leadership, which opposes the missile. MX-related jobs will be scattered among contractors and subcontractors in 28 states, according to the Air Force. Critics call it the Air Force's way of trying to win friends in Congress.

15,000 Jobs Seen

But, in the MX employment derby, California is the clear leader. The Air Force estimates that almost 15,000 jobs have been created in California as a result of MX production, triple the number in any other state.

Altogether, the Air Force says, 3,000 of those jobs are in Dymally's district--a figure that Dymally's staff cannot verify. Dymally aide Randy Echols said that he could identify only 620 jobs with Northrop and 550 with Martin Marietta Corp., which has a plant just outside Dymally's district, plus a smattering of jobs with small subcontractors.

California companies received contracts worth $2.28 billion from 1983 to 1985 out of a nationwide total of $5 billion, according to the Air Force. In addition to Northrop and Logicon, some of the major contractors are Aerojet Strategic Propulsion Co. in Sacramento, Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park, its Autonetics Division in Anaheim and Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Sunnyvale.

The defense contractors are not letting the states' congressmen forget about them. Northrop runs a political action committee that gave more than $24,000 in 1983 and 1984 to California representatives.

Dymally received $2,500 from the Northrop Employees Political Action Committee and $5,000 from other defense contractors, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Similarly, Anderson was the beneficiary of $2,550 from the Northrop Employees PAC and about $8,500 from other defense contractors.

The choices facing Dymally and Anderson have proved less troublesome to some other California Democrats. Although Reps. Robert T. Matsui of Sacramento and Mel Levine of Santa Monica have more than $100 million in MX-related work in their districts, they have said that they will vote against the missile.

'Unpopular Stand'

Rep. Vic Fazio of Sacramento has come down on the other side. Several hundred of his constituents work at Aerojet Co., which is based in Matsui's neighboring district, and he is a leader of the Democrats supporting a limited MX program.

"It's been a very unpopular stand," said Jim Mulhall, a member of Fazio's staff. "The peace-oriented groups are definitely turning the heat on Vic."

But Fazio, who received $4,000 in campaign contributions from Northrop before his reelection last year, says that jobs generated by the MX did not determine his position.

"People whose jobs are at stake are not going to influence me," he said. "I don't see this as a jobs program. I think it's a pretty difficult thing to take the MX away from the talks right now"--a reference to the arms control talks in Geneva with the Soviet Union.

Republicans Also Torn

Democrats are not alone in finding themselves torn by the MX. Rep. Ed Zschau of Los Altos is one of the few California Republicans who plan to vote against it, even though he has several MX-related subcontractors in his district. Zschau says that he no longer supports the idea that the MX is an effective bargaining chip in the arms control talks.

But Democrats are most vulnerable to the conflicting pressures. Matthew G. Martinez of Rosemead is another for whom unemployment at home and his political ideology in Washington are pulling in opposite directions.

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