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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : Sifting the Economic Rubble : Voters and candidates are focused on the recession.


For Rep. Howard Berman, the lingering recession is a growing political headache.

The veteran liberal Democrat's district, which covers the northeast San Fernando Valley, contains two highly visible symbols of the faltering economy: the Lockheed aircraft plant in Burbank and the General Motors car factory in Van Nuys.

GM recently closed the vast plant, laying off 2,600 auto workers. Lockheed is sharply reducing its operations in Burbank, transferring hundreds of jobs out of the area and hurting local subcontractors and other businesses that depended on the giant defense firm.

Berman's Republican opponent, although little known and given little chance of beating Berman, criticizes him for not doing more to keep the GM plant open, calling its shutdown the "biggest disaster to hit here since the Valley was settled."

Berman has sought to insulate himself against political fallout by touting his leadership role in CALSTART, an innovative public-private partnership that promotes development of electric vehicles.

The consortium has raised $20 million--including federal grants championed by Berman--toward its goal of creating the futuristic industry and re-employing highly skilled workers now losing jobs at aerospace and car plants.

Berman's district is not the only one in which the economy is an issue.

As the recession continues to stall manufacturing, construction and real estate sales in the Valley, how to reinvigorate the economy has become Topic A among local voters, sending candidates scrambling to lay out their recommended solutions as Election Day nears.

According to a recent Los Angeles Times Poll, 47% of Valley voters believe unemployment is the biggest economic problem facing the country. Another 19% cited the deficit, and 13% said it was the departure of American jobs to other countries.

The poll, which surveyed 378 registered voters in the Valley between Oct. 9 and 13, found that nearly two-thirds of Valley residents believe candidates for Congress and the Legislature should pay particular attention to addressing either the economy, joblessness or the deficit in their campaigns.

Forty-four percent of Valley voters said the Democratic Party will do a better job than the Republicans in making America prosperous in the years to come.

Twenty-nine percent thought Republicans should be at the economic helm.

In a somewhat contradictory finding, the poll showed local voters almost evenly split on whether the government should help business create jobs and compete better.

Forty-eight percent said government should not get involved, while 47% said it should.

The poll, which has an error margin of plus or minus 6 percentage points, also found that 41% of voters want any savings from reductions in defense spending applied to domestic programs. Thirty percent thought the money should be used to reduce the deficit; 9% said taxes should be cut with the savings.

Among the dozens of candidates running for office in the Valley, there is no lack of ideas about how to jump-start the economy. They range from the conventional (cutting capital-gains taxes) to the novel (taxing disposable diapers to encourage more jobs making cloth ones).

Some contenders have detailed economic platforms, others are short on specifics.

State Sen. Don Rogers (R-Bakersfield), who is seeking reelection in the 17th Senate District, which covers parts of the Antelope Valley, favors doing away with what he views as unnecessary government regulations on business.

Asked to specify such a regulation, Rogers said: "I don't want to get into that game . . . Overall, there are many, many areas where we need to lighten up and back away."

Democrats and Republicans agree that government at both the state and federal levels is largely responsible for the country's economic woes. But some incumbents are quick to distance themselves from the problem.

"The federal government deserves a lot of blame for mishandling the economy . . . but I don't believe I'm at fault, if I may say so," said Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), a 16-year incumbent running in the 24th Congressional District, which stretches from Sherman Oaks to Malibu to Thousand Oaks.

He said he opposed two economic initiatives in the 1980s he believes badly damaged the economy: former President Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax-cut bill and the large defense buildups under Reagan and President Bush.

Beilenson said he regards the tax cut as one of the major causes of the current deficit, arguing that without it, the government would have an additional $340 billion this year--enough to offset the deficit.

In many cases, a candidate's recommended anti-recession medicine is based largely on party prescriptions.

The Democrats, traditionally the party of activist government, want to put more people to work through government job programs. Republicans, considered the party of less government, favor tax cuts to encourage consumer spending and stimulate investment.

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