Resistance from incumbents has defeated an effort by the Pasadena League of Women Voters to set up debates in five political races in the San Gabriel Valley.
Two congressmen and a state senator have rejected debate invitations, and two assemblymen are expected to follow suit, even though all their challengers have accepted.
Representative Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) said he will not debate his opponent in the 30th Congressional District, Republican Ralph R. Ramirez, because Ramirez has circulated campaign literature that distorts Martinez's record.
In a letter to the Pasadena league, Martinez said, "If there comes a time when my opponent appears more interested in discussing the issues, instead of distorting the record, I would be more than happy to entertain the possibility of a public forum."
Ramirez denied that there have been distortions and accused Martinez of "hiding from the voters." He said there are differences between Martinez and himself, and "the best way for these issues to come out is through honest and open debate."
The league said it has received refusals from Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) and state Sen. Newton R. Russell (R-Glendale). Assemblyman Richard L. Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) and the press secretary for Assemblyman Pat Nolan (R-Glendale) said they also plan to decline the invitations.
It is a familiar pattern in congressional and state legislative races, political observers say. Challengers, who are often not well-known, eagerly seek debates in order to gather an audience and attract the attention of the news media. Incumbents, who usually are better-known and often have more cash to spend on mailers and ads, don't need debates to reach the public and see little to gain from debate appearances.
Katharine L. Patterson, president of the Pasadena league, said the organization issued debate invitations because directors became concerned that voters were not informed about local candidates and their views.
"We feel that the general public needs to know who their candidates are," Patterson said. "We are trying to do anything we can to get more interest aroused and encourage more people to go to the polls."
Moorhead and Russell declined the invitations, which were mailed Sept. 29, on grounds that there is no time to schedule debates with the election less than three weeks away.
Public Interest Questioned
Assemblyman Mountjoy said he intends to pass up the debate opportunity because his schedule is full too, and he questions whether there is much public interest in political debates below the presidential level.
Mountjoy said those who attend local debates are usually involved in the campaigns. "Who gives a hoot?" he said. "The only ones who come are those on both sides."
Mountjoy noted that the league's invitation, which reached him only last week, merely offered to supply a moderator, timekeeper and other volunteers and asked him and his opponent to obtain a meeting place and pick a date.
A government class at San Gabriel High School also invited Mountjoy and his Democratic opponent, screenwriter Richard Boyle, to debate in front of students.
Mountjoy said both invitations arrived after his schedule was set. "I'm booked solid," he said. "There's no way I could do it."
But, he said, he will try to visit the school and talk to students, though not in a debate with Boyle.
Meanwhile, Boyle said he has accepted the students' invitation and will speak to the government class Wednesday, using a debate format in which he will play both Mountjoy and himself. When he speaks for Mountjoy, Boyle promised: "I will do justice to his voting record. I will tell why he is for smog and against child care. . . . It will be better than the Improv (a comedy club)."
Elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley, Charles House, a Republican who is running for the second time in the 34th District against Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente), said he tried unsuccessfully in 1986 to persuade Torres to debate, and offered this year to debate him in Spanish on a Spanish-language television station. Again, he said, Torres rejected the offer.
House said the absence of joint appearances by the candidates "makes it extremely difficult for voters to compare them."
Not all incumbents are rejecting debate invitations. In fact, Rep. David Dreier (R-La Verne) instructed his staff to initiate a forum for himself and three opponents when no one offered to stage a debate. As a result, chambers of commerce in Walnut, La Puente and Diamond Bar have invited Dreier and his opponents to speak at a breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at the Los Angeles Royal Vista Golf Course in Walnut.
State Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) and his Democratic opponent, Janice Lynn Graham, spoke at a Business and Professional Women's meeting in Anaheim and have scheduled a joint appearance on an Orange County public television station, Channel 50, KOCE.