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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : CONGRESS / 24th DISTRICT : Anthony C. Beilenson : It's a classic confrontation: Beilenson, the veteran liberal Democrat faces McClintock, the conservative Republican.


WASHINGTON — For years Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson has cast himself as a national legislator, largely free of parochial demands, a lawmaker who takes principled positions on tough issues even if doing so antagonizes some voters.

A critic of the federal budget deficits, he has long called for raising taxes. He would curb spending for potent constituencies including veterans and the elderly.

"He feels that if you tell the American people the truth, they'll want to do the right thing," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who serves with Beilenson on the House Budget Committee. "Unlike a lot of other members, you know his position and he's true to it."

Beilenson says his constituents value his candor and an independence demonstrated by his refusal to take special-interest contributions.

He will soon find out if he is right. His 30-year political career is hanging in the balance in a new district.

Beilenson has always done his political high-wire act over a safety net of loyal Westside Democrats. They remained his base of support even when half his district became the more conservative West San Fernando Valley after the 1982 reapportionment.

The redistricting after the 1990 census left him with a dilemma: oppose popular, well-financed Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) in a primary in a Democratic Westside district or take his chances in a Republican-leaning district that goes from Sherman Oaks to Agoura, extends up to Northridge in the West Valley and spills out to Malibu and over to Thousand Oaks in Ventura County.

Beilenson, 59, chose the latter--a partisan fight in the new 24th District. His opponent is conservative Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).

The tall, professorial Beilenson has won respect among colleagues as a thoughtful, fair-minded and dedicated lawmaker. A Harvard-educated attorney, he has been cited by Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, as one of the 20 smartest members of Congress and by U.S. News & World Report as one of the House's 12 "straightest arrows" for his integrity.

Norman Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, calls Beilenson "a legislator of the top rank, a professional's professional."

At the same time, some Democrats privately criticize him for a certain aloofness--a reluctance to engage in the kind of political outreach and fund-raising that can help elect like-minded colleagues or simply cover his own backside. "He was secure to a fault," said a party consultant.

Beilenson's voting record is to the left of center but defies easy labels. He advocates higher taxes but calls for spending restraint. He favors abortion rights and gun control but has voted for the death penalty and backs hard-line proposals to deter illegal immigration.

He is liberal on foreign policy. He opposed the Persian Gulf War, preferring sanctions. Shortly before the 100-hour ground offensive began, Beilenson was one of 45 lawmakers urging President Bush not to significantly increase the level of combat operations.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action rated his 1991 voting record 80%; the American Civil Liberties Union, 85%; the AFL-CIO, 67%. The U. S. Chamber of Commerce gave him a 30% and the National Taxpayers Union, 35%, making him "average."

The deficit has been Beilenson's foremost issue. He opposed President Reagan's 1981 tax cuts, which he says led to the sea of red ink. And in 1985 he unsuccessfully sought to persuade the Democratic caucus to back a plan to balance the budget within three years as an alternative to the Gramm-Rudman Act, which he termed unrealistic.

At one of his periodic town hall meetings at Tarzana Elementary School Beilenson told about 150 residents that he voted against a balanced-budget amendment because it would merely provide cover for members to claim they had resolved the problem while actually buying them five or six years of delay till ratification.

Moreover, he said, eliminating the $334-billion deficit in just five years would require such extreme measures that "it would probably destroy the economy."

He says the real key to fiscal constraint is stemming fast-growing health care costs, as exemplified by Medicare and Medicaid. He supports adoption of a national health-care plan, with the government paying the bills and setting prices for all services.

He is on record as supporting specific spending cuts including a reduction of 1.3 million active duty military personnel, canceling the space station and the B-2 bomber program and scaling back the Strategic Defense Initiative. He estimates that these cuts would save $90 billion over five years. Some would cost jobs in his district.

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