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


SACRAMENTO — The way Assemblyman Tom McClintock tells it, he was first drawn to politics by his mother's tears.

The Thousand Oaks Republican recalls that about 25 years ago he saw his mother crying after she figured the family's federal income taxes.

"All of her savings essentially were eaten up by an unexpected tax bill," McClintock says.

"The tears and just utter frustration she felt are something I'll never forget," McClintock says. "It was as if everything she had worked for had gone up in smoke."

It was a defining moment for McClintock, who has turned revulsion to higher taxes and bigger government into the linchpin of his fight for a staunchly conservative agenda.

Now, he seeks to carry his anti-tax crusade to Washington.

In the Nov. 3 general election, the conservative McClintock is battling liberal Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles) for the newly drawn 24th Congressional District, which stretches from Sherman Oaks to Malibu and north to Thousand Oaks.

"This is a highly competitive district," McClintock said. "The outcome will be close . . . and every vote will count."

The contest is a classic conflict between one of the Assembly's most conservative lawmakers, a proven vote-getter, and a highly regarded veteran liberal who faces his toughest race in years.

A sampling of McClintock's positions reflects his philosophy.

McClintock emerged as a vocal critic of a 1991 budget accord, which included tax increases aimed at raising $7 billion. Even before summer's budget impasse, McClintock said the 1991 agreement was leading to "the worst fiscal disaster in the state's history."

As long as environmental safeguards are met, McClintock supports oil drilling off the California coast. He seeks tougher anti-crime penalties but opposes gun controls. He opposes virtually all abortion-rights legislation, especially government funding for abortions.

After a decade in Sacramento, McClintock's votes and views evoke strong sentiments from friends and foes.

McClintock, 36, is described by colleagues as a bright, likable, thoughtful and independent voice. He displays the fervor of an evangelist as well as a self-deprecating humor. He sprinkles his speeches with quotes from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. His admiration for the British leader is so great that McClintock listens to tapes of Churchill speeches.

His detractors fault McClintock as an aloof, strident and self-righteous ideologue who in 10 years has failed to learn the art of compromise. They say he is too close to the business community, which has pumped the lion's share of contributions into his state legislative campaigns.

As a Republican lawmaker in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, McClintock starts off with built-in disadvantages. Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown assigns committee chairmanships, which generally go to fellow Democrats. Along with the chairmanships come larger staffs and control over the flow of legislation.

Even without a chairmanship or big staff, McClintock has managed to turn his back-bench status into an asset.

From his desk in the very back row of the ornate Assembly chamber, McClintock challenges his enemies; introduces legislation, at one point during last summer's budget deadlock pushing for about 50 budget amendments; and peppers Democrats on points of order. (As a registered parliamentarian, McClintock in 1989 served as a paid consultant to the Society for American Baseball Research).

He has drawn attention to himself by regularly bashing fellow GOP leaders, including two successive governors, especially on fiscal and tax issues. Earlier this year, for example, he asserted that Gov. Pete Wilson's budget was "based on literally absurd revenue projections."

McClintock ranks among the Legislature's top naysayers. For example, in the two-year legislative session that ended last month, McClintock cast more "no" votes on the Assembly floor--1,838--than any other lawmaker, according to Legi-Tech, a computerized information service.

His admirers cite his votes as a demonstration of McClintock's willingness to break ranks with his party. Rep. John Doolittle (R-Rocklin), a fellow conservative who served in the Legislature with McClintock, says that McClintock stands out because other lawmakers may dislike Wilson "but won't risk offending him."

Of McClintock's combative style, Rep. Doolittle says: "If you get to be a big enough pain in the neck, they eventually try to accommodate you."

His critics acknowledge that McClintock, a onetime newspaper columnist, knows how to attract publicity by issuing pithy sound bites for the nightly TV news but fault him for failing to find common ground with other lawmakers. Says one GOP legislative staffer: "You may get headlines, but you won't get things done."

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