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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT 32 : Anderson's Many Years in Office an Issue


Has Rep. Glenn M. Anderson spent too many years in Congress?

The question, being raised by some of Anderson's colleagues on Capitol Hill, is at the core of Republican Sanford W. Kahn's campaign to unseat the 11-term San Pedro Democrat in the Nov. 6 election.

Anderson, 77, said he is in his political prime. He cited his rise two years ago to chairmanship of the House's powerful Public Works and Transportation Committee and his steady success in steering federal port, road and rail projects to Los Angeles County.

"There are only two ship channels I know of," he said, "that were ever named after a member of Congress: One is the Sam Houston channel in Texas, and the other is the (Glenn M.) Anderson channel in Los Angeles. You can't knock that."

But Kahn portrays Anderson as a once-vigorous lawmaker no longer up to his job. He also accuses the congressman of using his power improperly and of losing touch with his district on issues ranging from taxes to term limits. Anderson, he said, embodies the trouble with entrenched incumbents.

"Anderson has grown stale," said Kahn, 46, a Southern California Gas Co. engineer from Long Beach. "Anybody after 22 years (in office) would grow stale. It's time for a change."

Although Anderson draws praise from many of his Washington peers, some who serve on his committee say age and a 1988 quadruple-bypass heart operation have taken their toll. All those who criticized Anderson declined to be quoted by name, with some expressing concern that they might endanger their public works projects pending before the panel.

A Republican member of the committee said: "I think this is a classic case of someone who has been in Congress too long."

But committee member James A. Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) disagreed, saying that Anderson "has done a very good job. He gets things done without causing a confrontation. . . . He's dumb like a fox and he's forgetful like a fox."

Anderson and Kahn are staging a rematch in the 32nd Congressional District, which includes San Pedro, Harbor City, Wilmington, Lakewood and parts of Long Beach and Downey. In 1988, the veteran congressman beat Kahn by more than 2 to 1.

Kahn may be hard-pressed to improve on that performance. Despite having run two years ago, he is still not well known in the district and has failed to raise the large amounts of money needed for an aggressive districtwide campaign.

According to the latest federal election figures, Anderson has collected more than $350,000 since Jan. 1, 1989, and had $177,000 in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, 1990. Kahn, by contrast, collected less than $6,000 in the same period and had just $240 on hand as of Oct. 17.

In some respects, the issues in the 32nd District campaign mirror those in congressional races across the country. On two such issues--tax policy and legislative term limits--Anderson is "out of sync" with his district, Kahn said.

Kahn opposes any type of tax increase to help ease the federal deficit, saying Congress should instead freeze spending at fiscal 1990 levels and cut such big-ticket programs as agricultural subsidies.

Anderson supports a budget bill approved by Congress on Saturday that would boost taxes by $164 billion over the next five years as part of a $490-billion deficit-reduction program. Noting that wealthy taxpayers would be tapped for much of the new revenue, he said the package is fairer than a government spending freeze would be.

On legislative term limits, Kahn advocates holding House members to five two-year terms. Anderson expresses "serious reservations" about limits, arguing that legislators become more effective the longer they serve.

"After 10 years in office, I knew more than when I was elected, and after 15 years I knew more than after 10," he said. "Anybody who has been (in Congress) a few terms who doesn't tell you that they're better than when they got there, then they're lying to you."

But the most intensely debated issue in the campaign is whether Anderson's continued service in Congress is a plus or a minus to his constituents and the country.

Kahn said Anderson has lost his effectiveness. He pointed to a recent Washingtonian magazine poll of Capitol Hill staff members that ranked Anderson as "worst committee chairman" in the House. He also cited grumblings by committee members themselves.

In interviews with The Times, many lawmakers on the committee praised Anderson. But some on the panel--Democrats among them--said he is often unable to hold his own in policy discussions, is overly reliant on his staff and ineffective in advancing the panel's interests in Congress.

Some on the committee said these concerns could prompt House Democrats to take the unusual step of ousting Anderson from the chairman's post in December, when they hold their caucus.

"Everyone sees him as a nice person, but simply beyond his abilities in the job of chairman," a Democrat on the committee said. "The situation is not good for Glenn Anderson, it's not good for the committee and it's not good for the country."

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