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COVER STORY : Never a Liberal, Mathews Says, but an 'Anti-Politician'

October 20, 1994|EDMUND NEWTON

Political science professor Peter Mathews, 42, is considered a charismatic figure around the Cypress College campus, where he has taught since 1986. The Indian-born Democratic candidate has always talked in sweeping terms about the big issues and how he would address them if he were elected to office, former students say.

"There was never any doubt what his views were," says Steve Katz, a former student who now teaches seventh-graders in La Mirada. "He was very liberal. I felt he was very focused on his political career."

As a candidate for Congress in the 38th District, Mathews has sought to hone a more moderate image. He now supports, among other conservative positions, a national balanced budget amendment and the "three strikes" provision of federal and state crime bills.

He has also changed his mind on the death penalty, which he used to oppose.

"I did some soul-searching and looked at the evidence," he says of his support for capital punishment in some cases. "There were these violent crimes, random violence, and I felt we had to send a message."

Such positions have raised eyebrows among local Democrats who viewed Mathews as a traditional liberal in his political philosophy. The problem, he says, is that he had been incorrectly pigeonholed.

He was never a liberal, Mathews says, but a "progressive Democrat" and an "anti-politician."

On the stump, Mathews has proved an affable hand-shaker. He passes out signed cards pledging that, if elected, he will work for welfare reform and middle-class tax cuts and support abortion rights and gun control.

Mathews, who has taken a leave of absence from Cypress to campaign, came to the United States as a 10-year-old. His father, clinical psychologist Paul Mathews, worked on rehabilitation programs in Wisconsin, Maryland and New York, before settling in Denton, Tex., near Dallas.

It was there, at the University of North Texas, that Mathews earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and political science and a master's degree in political science. He moved to Northern California in 1976 to teach political science at City College of San Francisco and Foothill College.

He got his first taste of electoral politics in the Bay Area, winning a seat on the North Fair Oaks Advisory Council, which advised the San Mateo Board of Supervisors on zoning and planning issues.

Mathews, who is single, has since tried unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in the Northern California community of Mountain View, for an Assembly seat in Orange County and, in the last congressional primary, for the Democratic nomination in the 38th District. He ran second in that race to then-Long Beach City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who in turn was defeated in the general election by Republican Steve Horn.

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