The Public Servant vs. the Scions?
If Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores has her way, that's how voters will view the contest for the 36th Congressional District, a newly drawn stretch of GOP-leaning turf extending from San Pedro to Venice.
Announcing her candidacy for the open congressional seat on Monday, Flores promptly took aim at two Republican rivals in the race who enjoy broad name recognition--thanks largely to their well-known fathers.
Maureen Reagan, daughter of former President Ronald Reagan, and William Beverly, son of state Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), came in for thinly veiled criticism that their campaigns hinge on who they are, not what they have done.
"I am running a campaign on my record, not on my last name," said Flores, who is 55.
Reagan and Beverly reject that view. Reagan, 52, says she is well qualified for Congress, having served in such varied posts as co-chair of the Republican National Committee to chair of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations World Conference for Women.
Beverly, meanwhile, suggests Flores is raising the specter of family influence to hide her own shortcomings. One, he says, is that she has had far less community involvement than he has in the 36th District--only a small part of which overlaps her council district.
"I'm pretty well-known in my own right, and she can't take that away," said Beverly, 41, an attorney who has served as president of the South Bay Union High School District and the South Bay Chamber of Commerce. "It comes from sitting in the bleachers in Little League games, attending Chamber of Commerce meetings, and asking people for money for the Red Cross and the YMCA."
Flores is launching her second bid for higher office in two years. In 1990, she tried unsuccessfully to unseat Democratic Secretary of State March Fong Eu.
She is expected to face two Republicans besides Beverly and Reagan in the June 2 primary--San Pedro businessman John Barbieri, 38, and former Assistant U.S. Atty. William Fahey, 41, of Manhattan Beach.
So far, only one Democrat has announced for the congressional seat--retired teacher Bryan Stevens, 71, of Rolling Hills Estates. But another Democrat, former U.S. Senate aide and Carter White House official Jane Harman, 46, of West Los Angeles, says she plans to announce her candidacy soon.
Flores' campaign will gun for Beverly and Reagan in the primary, because they have such broad name recognition in the district, says Allan Hoffenblum, Flores' political consultant. As part of that strategy, he says, Flores will point to her rise from City Hall stenographer to council member--and contrast it to the experience of the two GOP rivals.
"What we've got here are two scions of prominent Republicans," Hoffenblum said. "What we're saying is that Joan Milke Flores went from stenographer to City Council on her own, not on the accomplishments of a successful father."
Though Flores does not represent much of the new 36th District--her council district runs from San Pedro to Watts--Hoffenblum says media coverage of the Los Angeles City Council and the 1990 secretary of state's race have made her name known to voters throughout the congressional district.
To further improve her visibility, she will use direct mail and door-to-door campaigning, and possibly cable television advertising, Hoffenblum said.
Thus far, Flores has not developed detailed positions on national issues.
She says she generally supports President George Bush's economic proposals, for instance, but has not taken a stand on the $50.4 billion in new defense cuts he is proposing to carry out over the next five years. And while she expresses support for curbs on abortion, she is vague about what form such restrictions should take.
Instead, Flores is stressing her record since winning election to the council in 1981. For instance, she points to her role in creating the city's Department of Environmental Affairs and in making city records detail how individual council members vote on issues.
She also cites her opposition to city tax increases last year and her authorship of legislation establishing the city's first enterprise zones, areas where companies are given tax breaks to stimulate economic growth.
"Any candidate for Congress can stand before a group of people and say they are pro-business and anti-taxes," said Flores, a resident of San Pedro. "But I am the only candidate who has a proven record."
Beverly and Reagan are not letting such claims go unchallenged. Beverly, for instance, argues his Chamber of Commerce and school board experience has put him in close touch with local tax and business issues.
He suggests Flores' council experience could actually hurt her in the 36th District, which in the South Bay includes the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the beach cities, and Torrance.
"I think she has strong negatives because her affiliation is primarily with the city of Los Angeles," said Beverly, who lives in Manhattan Beach. "Over here on this side of the San Diego Freeway, I don't think we consider that a plus."
Reagan, meanwhile, says many aspects of her experience--her work on panels formed to promote export trade, for instance--would benefit the 36th District. She also challenges Flores' view that her council experience makes her the best choice for Congress.
"As far as experience is concerned, that is usually a phrase used by officeholders to suggest that only officeholders can seek election," said Reagan, who recently moved in to the 36th District by switching her residence from West Los Angeles to Westchester. "I don't subscribe to that theory."