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Decision '92 : VOTING IN THE VALLEY / AN ELECTION GUIDE : ASSEMBLY / 42nd DISTRICT : Margolin Anticipates Another Smooth Ride


On paper, it would seem that Assemblyman Burt M. Margolin should be out hitting the campaign trail as the election nears in the 42nd Assembly District: Many of his current constituents haven't even heard of him, he's running in a new district with even more unfamiliar voters and he's made a lot of political enemies in Sacramento.

But as always, Margolin (D-Los Angeles) expects to coast to an easy victory in the Nov. 3 general election. He's not bothering to do any substantive campaigning and doesn't plan to spend any money in the 42nd District race until he sees what the opposition will do.

Margolin's main challenge comes from Republican Robert Davis, a West Hollywood swimming pool contractor and self-described "student/philosopher of government" who wants to reform the state Legislature. But even Davis, who is caustic in his analysis of the elected officials, has few specific criticisms of Margolin.

"He's a pleasant man without much record of accomplishment," Davis says of the veteran assemblyman. "He's never had a job outside of government, and he doesn't have much of a record in government."

Margolin concedes he's not the most well-known politician, but he says voters always return him to the Assembly by overwhelming margins because of his accomplishments. In the coming weeks, he plans once again to run on his achievements. The new district includes all of Studio City and Sherman Oaks, part of West Hollywood, and Beverly Hills, Westwood and Brentwood.

"My focus is on my work, in taking on the difficult and important issues," Margolin says. "I'm less focused on the kind of symbolic activities and ceremonial aspects of the job than some of my colleagues. But I'd stack my record up against anyone's."

First elected to the Assembly in 1982, Margolin is considered by his colleagues to be a masterful legislative technician with a clear liberal agenda. A former protege and chief of staff to powerful Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), Margolin gets significant backing from the influential Westside political machine aligned with Waxman and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City).

Margolin, 42, engineered the compromise between the bottling industry and environmentalists that led to the state bottle redemption bill in 1986, and he has been a leader on insurance and workers' compensation reform efforts in recent years as chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee.

He authored an anti-patient-dumping law to prevent hospital emergency rooms from denying critically needed care to those without insurance, legislation to improve prenatal care and a significant health care reform bill that Gov. Pete Wilson signed this year to help small companies keep insurance without raising premiums for workers.

"I was able in each case, as a Democrat, to get a Republican governor to approve these measures," he says. "In this, the worst year ever for the Legislature, I was able to get things done."

In 1989, he succeeded in shepherding through the Legislature a reform law that raised benefits to injured workers while cutting down on fraud and abuse. This year, he has continued his efforts on an even more wide-ranging workers' compensation reform measure.

As a point man on such a politically charged issue, Margolin also has borne the brunt of some opponents' attacks. In the last days before the June primary, conservative businessmen opposed to Margolin's proposed changes in state workers' compensation laws waged an "incredibly sleazy smear" campaign to discredit him in the primary election, the assemblyman says.

He trounced attorney and gay-rights activist John J. Duran (65% to 35%) despite mailers accusing him of being corrupt and responsible for the shortcomings of the workers' compensation system.

Margolin anticipates similar attacks by those who fear his workers' compensation reform efforts will be pro-worker and too burdensome on employers.

"That'll be the one ripple in the campaign, where things might heat up," he says. "But it's the price you pay for trying to get fair and comprehensive reform. You make enemies."

This year, Margolin is also working with state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi to push through Garamendi's proposed $34-billion plan, financed by a state payroll tax, for health care for California workers, people with pre-existing medical conditions and the unemployed. He also lists among his most important goals reducing air pollution and curbing overdevelopment.

Davis, 47, is a human services commissioner for the city of West Hollywood. He's never held elective office and wants to streamline and decentralize government, including breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District (a move Margolin opposes).

"We have to find better ways to deliver services," says Davis, who plans to raise and spend $60,000. "People already send lots of money to Sacramento, but it is being eaten up."

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