Outside of the torrid contest against Rep. Robert K. Dornan in the 38th Congressional District, the best-financed and most serious challenge to the other seven congressmen in the Southeast/Long Beach area is being mounted by Republican Charles M. House, who is seeking to unseat Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente) in the 34th District.
House, a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, is using relatively inexpensive cable television advertising to reach voters. "We're covering 90% of the district. We'll get a tremendous bang for the bucks," said campaign manager John Eastman.
The 30-second commercials cost less than $5,000 for 250 spots. They discuss fighting drugs and drug trafficking, excessive government spending and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, all of which the House campaign wants to make major issues in the election, Eastman said.
House accuses Torres, who is seeking his third term, of consistently voting to increase spending and raise taxes in one of the commercials. In another, House advocates using the military to halt the import of drugs and explains his opposition to Bird.
"His commercials are wrong. I'm not a big spender," Torres replied in an interview.
Torres said he voted for the proposed federal budget, which asks for nearly $15 billion less than requested by President Reagan and also voted to cut $30 billion from Reagan's defense spending request. In addition, Torres said he supported using the military to seal the borders against drug smuggling.
In an interview, House claimed his commercials are the only forum on the issues for district voters, since Torres at first agreed to a debate, then refused.
Torres disputed the allegation and criticized House for running "a very negative campaign."
"I never agreed to a debate with him. My constituents know my record," Torres said, adding that he saw no point in debating House.
House, 50, who has been a deputy for 20 years, is on leave during the campaign. This is his first run for public office.
A conservative black Republican, House is trying to win in an area where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1. House said he has not found "any hostility" about his race from voters as he campaigned in the district, which has a population nearly 75% white and 48% Latino.
He has a business administration degree from California State University, Long Beach, is married and lives in Hacienda Heights with his wife and two daughters.
House calls Torres a liberal who is representing a conservative area and can be defeated.
Torres, though, describes himself as a moderate who reflects the views of his constituents.
Torres said unemployment is one of the major issue facing his district.
"This district is an urban, working-class district and mirrors the problems of the nation. When we last took a poll, unemployment was about 10%," said Torres, former ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and special assistant to then-President Jimmy Carter. Torres was a United Auto Workers field representative for 17 years, and ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1974.
Torres has not taken a public position on state Chief Justice Bird because her reconfirmation is not at issue in the congressional election, he said.
As for the other national issues raised in the campaign, Torres pointed out his support for the death penalty in the drug bill passed recently by the House of Representatives. (In conference, the death penalty provision was deleted from the bill by the Senate before passage.)
Early in the campaign, House raised questions about a $150,000 loan from the Small Business Administration that Torres received in 1981 before he was elected. House asked whether Torres should serve as a member of the House Small Business Committee after receiving a $150,000 loan through the Small Business Administration prior to his successful 1982 bid for Congress.
"I find it unconscionable that a member of Congress has continued to sit on a committee which oversees a program he has been a beneficiary of," House stated in an letter he sent to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct earlier this month asking for Torres' removal from the committee.
Torres said the charges are misleading and have been raised in previous campaigns.
Torres was a private citizen when he received the loan from Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Co., licensed by the SBA to aid minority businesses but operated independently, said Bob Alcock, an administrative aide.
When he was elected he turned over an import-export business started with the loan to his wife and in 1985 the loan was paid off, Torres said.
Torres has spent more than $220,000 and has $104,000 remaining in his campaign chest, according to the latest Federal Election Commission data.
Eastman said House has spent about $35,000 and raised about $50,000.