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They're Out In The Cold : The New Conservative Agenda In Washington Could Spell Trouble For Many Inner City Services And Funding

January 01, 1995|LUCILLE RENWICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If Waters fears that any of the programs or policies she's sponsored are in jeopardy--job training for youth, gang-prevention programs, economic development for South-Central and Inglewood--she's not saying.

"As long as they don't know where (the specific programs) are, I'm not going to put it in the paper. I'm gonna let them find them," she said.

She also rebuts skepticism that foreign issues dear to her--such as a continued U. S. pressure in support of reforms in Haiti and South Africa--will get little recognition now.

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She noted that when she successfully pushed for divestment of the state's investments in South Africa to protest that country's apartheid policies, the governor's chair was occupied by conservative Republican Gov. George Deukmejian. "He wasn't supposed to sign that. You just work from your beliefs and things happen," she said.

Waters acknowledges that getting Republicans to meet halfway on the issues that most concern her won't be easy. "I never really expect very much from Republicans in general and I expect even less when the right-wingers are in charge," she said.

Waters argues that although not a single Republican incumbent lost in the November elections, voters were anti-incumbent, not anti-Democrat. The problem with most Democratic politicians, though, is that they're disconnected, she said.

"They operate in a vacuum, within the walls of Washington, fighting about things that people don't give a darn about," she said. "I think elected officials have to get out of Washington, spend time in their districts, really understand their constituents."

For Democrats to rebound, she contended, they must better organize and energize their base. Within urban areas, for instance, this means concentrating on community activist groups and the recipients of such federally funded programs as Head Start.

In Waters' own district, which encompasses Hawthorne, Inglewood, Gardena and parts of South-Central and is composed largely of low-income neighborhoods, turnout in November was a dismal 30%. But the GOP goal to slash welfare will rally her constituents, she said.

"If they cut welfare in the way they're talking about cutting it, you will see thousands of people on the street . . . involved in the political process, in trying to do something about the fact that they have been harmed in some way," she said.

Turning to President Clinton, Waters argued against the centrist strategy that he so far seems to have adopted in the wake of the '94 campaign.

"I think that Clinton should not try to out-Republican the Republicans," she said. "I think there's a lot of room to play for the President on sound, sensible issues that will resonate out there.

"I think we can organize and that President Clinton can be a good Democratic President, not have to move to the right, and propose good, sound legislation that will be embraced by Democrats and Republicans out there," Waters said. "I really believe that."

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The 60-year-old Dixon, in contrast, believes the best move at the moment for liberal and moderate Democrats is to head to the center and support a common agenda.

"We (Democrats) are in a dilemma, because at one extreme we have liberals in our caucus and conservatives in our caucus. That tears us apart," he said.

Democrats, he added, need to learn what Republicans have mastered in their 40 years in the minority: Unify, define yourselves and keep the public's eyes glued to the opposition's every gaffe.

A valid criticism of his party's performance leading up to the '94 vote "is that Republicans did a better job of defining Democrats as evil than we did of defining ourselves," he said.

"After 40 years, the public said they wanted to try a more conservative movement. That to me is interpreted as 'We want a different course taken.' "

Elected to Congress in 1978 and currently representing a district that stretches from Baldwin Hills and Culver City to near Los Angeles International Airport, Dixon has quietly wielded considerable power inside the Capitol. As chairman of a subcommittee to the Appropriations Committee, he was a member of the House's "College of Cardinals," according to the American Almanac of Politics.

His influence allowed him to play a key role in the passage of an emergency bill to assist Los Angeles after the 1992 riots. He also has helped sustain funding for the city's Metro Rail, of which Dixon is a leading proponent. In 1993, for instance, he was instrumental in obtaining $163 million for Metro Rail routes extending to Mid-City, East Los Angeles and North Hollywood.

Overall, the estimated costs of the East Los Angeles and Mid-City legs are $684.4 million and $574.7 million, respectively, with construction scheduled for completion by the year 2000. But the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think tank, recently termed Dixon's Metro Rail project "pork," meaning it could be targeted as Republicans look to slash federal spending.

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