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California Elections : 23rd District : Beilenson Rival Hits the Books

May 15, 1986|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Times Staff Writer

George Woolverton, a workers' compensation attorney from Tarzana, has been poring over reading material lately that has nothing to do with sprained backs and other workplace maladies.

Sitting alongside his law and medical books are State Department reports, think-tank position papers, economic forecasts and stacks of the Congressional Record. He is trying to absorb as much as he can about national affairs and foreign policy to prepare himself to become a congressman.

He can recite facts and figures on everything from the Sandinista presence in Nicaragua to the federal deficit and other national problems.

"I've never done so much reading in my life," said Woolverton, 35, a moderate Republican who is running unopposed in the 23rd Congressional District in the June 3 primary.

"You name it, I'm reading it. Every resource I can get my hands on."

Once he's past the primary, Woolverton will attempt to do what five previous GOP hopefuls in the 23rd District have failed to do in the last decade--defeat incumbent Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles). Considering the odds, Woolverton's task is awesome--even impossible, some would say--since voters have returned Beilenson to Washington with increasingly wide margins every two years.

But Woolverton, who has spent a lot of time shaking hands with GOP congressional officials in Washington, impresses a number of key Republicans on Capitol Hill. At the urging of California's GOP congressional delegation, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of Republican House members, is seriously considering targeting the race, which would make some of its resources available to Woolverton.

Tom Hockaday, the congressional committee's Western regional manager, has said that Woolverton's challenge represents one of the few real opportunities in the West for a Republican to knock off a Democratic incumbent.

Meanwhile, Beilenson, who should easily win his primary race against two relatively unknown contenders, isn't losing sleep over the prospects of a showdown with Woolverton. In the past, the liberal has trampled over other enthusiastic Republicans who had insisted it was their year to capture the district, which begins in the palatial neighborhoods of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air, crosses the Santa Monica Mountains and ends in the bedroom communities of the south San Fernando Valley.

Defeated David Armor

In 1982, Republicans predicted that Beilenson had finally met his match in David Armor, then a social scientist at the Rand Corp. The district had just been reapportioned and had absorbed scores of new Republican voters as its boundaries moved farther into the Valley, which now comprises 60% of the 23rd District. But even though Beilenson was deprived of some of his liberal support in Westside, he won handily with 59% of the vote.

Beilenson, the fourth-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Rules Committee, suggests that even if the Republican Party is impressed with Woolverton, it won't back up that impression with money. He predicts that the GOP will instead concentrate on toppling shaky Democratic incumbents and helping Republican congressmen who are nervously looking over their shoulders.

"It's fair to say it's unlikely that others (Republicans) will agree with him that this is a propitious district for them to spend their money on," Beilenson said.

Achieves First Goal

Woolverton, however, believes that he has already proven his mettle by achieving his campaign's first goal--running unopposed in the primary. The political neophyte apparently discouraged potential GOP opponents by starting his campaign in late 1984, just after the results of that year's general election became known.

On the Democratic side, two relative unknowns from the Westside are running against Beilenson in the June 3 primary.

Eric C. Jacobson, 31, a consultant to Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) during Hart's unsuccessful presidential primary bid, has taken a leave from his political science doctoral studies at UCLA to run for Congress. The articulate Democrat believes that his party, which has been bloodied by attacks from the Republican right-wing in recent times, needs young politicians to help it rebound.

"If they (Democrats) are willing to entertain new ideas at a critical juncture of our party's history, then I believe I have positive alternatives," Jacobson said.

Twice Challenged Berman

After challenging Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) twice and losing both times, William J. Kurdi, 50, a pharmacology instructor at California State University, Los Angeles, decided to run against Beilenson. Kurdi, whose car is plastered with 150 bumper stickers that urge voters to "Oust All Incumbents," suggests that laws should be written prohibiting elected officials from holding the same office for more than eight years.

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