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Political Briefing

McKeon Calls Proposal for the East Mojave a 'Big Land Grab'


DESERT DUST-UP: Nary an acre of Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon's sprawling 25th District is included in the nearly 8 million acres of ecologically fragile California desert that would be preserved under a long-debated measure passed by the House this week.

Even so, the Santa Clarita Republican wants no part of the California Desert Protection Act, which has been opposed by miners, ranchers, hunters and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.

McKeon represents high desert in the Antelope Valley that borders the region slated to become protected federal wilderness and parkland under the measure.

McKeon joined with four other California Republicans, led by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands), to modify the measure--including downgrading the proposed 1.5 million-acre East Mojave National Park to a national "preserve" where hunting, fishing and trapping could continue.

"It's a big land grab," McKeon said. "I imagine we could find very sensitive ecological properties in each of the 435 (congressional) districts."

McKeon said he has heard from constituents who are opposed to the bill. Moreover, he expressed concern that the estimated $1 billion in funds to purchase the land--which will have to appropriated by Congress in the future--may not be forthcoming.

"If you set it up as a park and don't put the money there, what have you done?" McKeon said. "You basically keep people out of it so they can't use it."

Preservation of the desert, a high priority for environmental groups, has been championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). McKeon's Democratic election opponent, Santa Clarita attorney James H. Gilmartin, blasted the lawmaker's support of the East Mohave hunting provision.

"Once again McKeon's vote sold out the interests of the people to the desires of the National Rifle Assn. and their special interest groups," Gilmartin said. "A national park is a living and lasting legacy both to ourselves and our descendants."

McKeon, himself a hunter, said that the NRA has not lobbied him on the desert bill. The NRA Political Victory Fund contributed $4,450 to McKeon's campaign on June 6.


DEGREES OF SEPARATION: Not surprisingly, Valley lawmakers spanned the ideological and partisan spectrum in their voting records in 1993. According to tallies of 391 votes compiled by Congressional Quarterly, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) lined up with the majority of the Democratic Party 98% of the time that he cast votes.

Conversely, Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) joined the majority of Republicans 98% of the time that he voted.

Slightly less partisan were Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) at 97% and Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) at 95% on the Democratic side and Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), who recorded a 96% on the Republican side.

The lawmakers were less uniform on 102 recorded votes on which President Clinton took a position. Among the Democrats, Berman voted in agreement with Clinton's position 89% of the time; Waxman, 82%, and Beilenson, 79%. Of the Republicans, Moorhead took the same position as the Democratic President on 33% of his votes and McKeon did so 31% of the time.

When it came to participation, Moorhead had a near perfect record on 553 recorded votes. He voted 99% of the time, followed by Beilenson, 97%; McKeon, 95%; Waxman, 93%; and Berman, 88%.


CROATIAN NEGOTIATION: Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) brought his skills as a political conciliator to bear during a recent congressional visit to Croatia that he led as chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international operations.

Lawmakers, aides and diplomats were on a bus to the demilitarized zone in the northern sector of Serb-occupied Croatia when they ran into picketing residents, long ousted from their homes by United Nations troops. The angry Croatians refused to let the bus pass.

Berman and Peter W. Galbraith, ambassador-designate to Croatia, waded into the crowd to persuade the demonstration's leaders to allow the VIPs into the region.

"The key was reminding them that, even though we were going to meet with U.N. forces, we were not representing the U.N., we were representing the United States," Berman said. "And that the United States' position has been that the Serb occupation of part of this area is illegal and we do not accept it."

Bolstering his argument, Berman said he pointed out that "we could come back and report to the Clinton Administration that there are tens of thousands of Croatians who have been forced from their homes and not been allowed back."

When the bus was eventually allowed to pass--with representatives of the demonstrators on board--the visitors saw schools and houses with huge cannon mortar holes, and neighborhoods strewn with mines and unexploded shells. Former residents had snuck back in and planted flowers outside some bombed-out homes.

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