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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

The Promise Keeper

GOP Rep. Andrea Seastrand has stuck to her guns about big government and moral decay in America. Now she may be fighting for her political life.

March 31, 1996|GREGG ZOROYA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Seastrand has a Bob Dole-like way of referring to herself in the third person, as with a recent "News Hours With Jim Lehrer" appearance, when she said that "constituents . . . realize that Andrea Seastrand is keeping her promise."

Widowed for six years, Seastrand wears no wedding band, yet makes no time for a social life. Still, says Reiboldt, whom Seastrand characterizes as her closest confidante, if the right man came along, things might be different.

In Catholic high school they called her Andi. She was an organizer, loved to dance and covered parochial schools for a Catholic newspaper. Before that, she dreamed of being a nun.

A Roll Call analysis of congressional conservatives ranks her far right--somewhere in the Rush Limbaugh zone--but not as extreme as even other Californians. She believes strongly that the federal government is bloated, overbearing and strangling the future with debt. She worries as well about moral decay in America, opposing gun control, gay rights and abortion in all cases except where the mother's life is in danger.

Neither is she shy about her religious faith. But to her everlasting chagrin, someone tape-recorded Seastrand's 1994 comments to an Arroyo Grande church congregation. The speech has haunted her since.

In the remarks, Seastrand first quotes God's admonishment to Solomon in the Old Testament: that those people who "turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and heal their land."

Then Seastrand tells the congregation: "I think California has been given so many signs: floods, drought, fires, earthquakes, lifting mountains 2 feet high in Northridge. The signs are all here. . . . We probably have the most adulterers living here in California, child pornographers and molesters . . . and divorce, family breakups, all of that evil. California and America need your prayers."

She says now that she didn't mean by those remarks "that God's punishing us." Rather, she says, he's "just not blessing [us]."

Seastrand and her supporters frequently characterize her as a former elementary schoolteacher, connoting the kind of non-political roots of which so many of the Republican freshmen boast.

But Seastrand taught only four years when she was just out of college, quitting after her husband began working as a stockbroker. She stayed home to raise their two adopted children.

More accurately, her passion was and remains politics. "Our children always laughed about how other parents played bridge or went bowling, but theirs had a petition drive," she says. "My husband would always say that Andrea was the true politician in the family."

The political organizing remains second nature.

Last fall, Gingrich blitzed through Santa Maria, barely leaving the tarmac to raise $70,000 for Seastrand. For her reelection campaign she won the services of top-drawer GOP consultant Eddie Mahe, who handles only a few congressional races per cycle and who spirited Sonny Bono to victory in 1994. Mahe's partner, Ladonna Y. Lee, says they took Seastrand's race because she was targeted and to help safeguard a small, but growing (17) number of GOP women in Congress.

In a freshman class of brash, outspoken newsmakers, Seastrand remains largely in the background. "She hasn't had a real high profile," says Dave Mason, an expert on Congress with the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But that profile got a boost recently when she took a strong role co-sponsoring immigration reform. It was her topic of choice when leadership gave her the privilege of making the GOP response to President Clinton's Saturday radio address on March 16.

"For a little girl from the southwest side of Chicago," she said of that opportunity, "it's a bit overwhelming."

In many ways, Seastrand was a perfect player for the immigration issue since she is the granddaughter of Polish immigrants.

"Immigrants have been the backbone of growth, creativity and opportunity in American," Seastrand said in her Saturday address.

But the package of reforms that passed the House overwhelmingly on the first day of spring were stripped of several tough provisions that Seastrand and her co-authors had hoped to include.

One amendment she introduced would have set up a pilot program requiring employers to verify citizenship of a prospective worker with a hotline number. Employers, she says, "are faced with a person who maybe doesn't look American, sound American, and yet . . . [has] documentations that are very good in their fakeness." A phone call is quick and easy verification, she says.

The amendment failed on the House floor.

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