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Valley Perspective | ELECTION '96 / PERSPECTIVE ON

Personalities Take a Back Seat

Valley voters will choose their candidates based on where they stand, not on their campaigns or individual qualities.

November 03, 1996|MARC LITCHMAN | Marc Litchman is a political consultant from Studio City

People who follow politics and care about their community are the first to tell you that elections are about issues, not about personalities. This year issues will determine whom we elect to office, perhaps even more than individual qualities or campaigns of the candidates themselves.

Why? The media doesn't focus on candidates. And when I say media I mean television. Research shows conclusively that most people get their information about politics and politicians from the tube, not from newspapers. Except for a few shameful, "Hey, there's an election tomorrow" segments on the 6 o'clock news, most TV news people think an assemblyman works at the GM plant in Van Nuys (that is if they know where Van Nuys is, or that there was ever a GM plant there).

Politicians can get covered if they get into controversial issues like breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District or Valley secession--or if they get indicted. It's even tougher for challengers. Even the smallest districts have a lot of voters, and candidates can get air time only if the media deigns them viable. The only way for them to get onto the map is to adopt a wildly controversial measure and hope to catch an incumbent flat-footed. Maybe then the press will take notice.

This is especially true in the Valley, where issues define politicians, not the other way around. In fact, the only politician I can remember who seemed to have the Teflon quality of Ronald Reagan was former state senator and Police Chief Ed Davis, who late in his career supported a bill banning discrimination against gays and became an outspoken environmentalist and advocate for the Santa Monica Mountains--not popular positions in his conservative district.

Busing created and nourished Bobbi Fiedler, the former Republican congresswoman from Northridge, and kept state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) around for a lot longer than he probably should have been. I've never met a politician in the Valley who in any way, shape or form opposes the holy spirit of Proposition 13. (I said opposes, not opposed). Most support police funding, although they might differ on the ways and means. If they oppose the death penalty, they keep quiet about it.

Democratic Valley Assembly members in "safe" seats lost big in 1978 when Republicans capitalized on their support of Proposition 13. Fiedler took out 26-year incumbent Rep. Jim Corman on the strength of her anti-busing campaign. And it would surely be a rough road for any incumbent who didn't have at the very least a carefully nuanced position on immigration, secession and a separate school district. They would be poor students of history if they did not.

What are the issues that will dominate this time?

Well, the big issue of '92, the economy, has gotten better. And since Bob Dole has failed to make a go of it, the Republicans have been unable to get their message on the economy out. (That 15% pin Dole wears on his lapel is for: A. His tax cut. B. The number of people who know about it. C. The percent of the vote he's going to get. or D. All of the above.) Don't look for the economy to be a particularly divisive issue in the Valley.

The extremism of the Gingrich Congress will be the big issue. Every Democratic candidate from dog catcher on up is tying his opponent to the Congress that shut down the government twice and proposed extreme cuts to Medicare, education and the environment. This has turned even solid GOP districts into competitive races.

But don't count the GOP out yet. When in doubt, they play the hate card or the race card.

In 1986, Republicans went after California Chief Justice Rose Bird. The GOP's ploy was to hang her around the neck of every Democratic candidate. If a candidate supported her, then they opposed the death penalty. And naturally, if you opposed the death penalty and supported Bird, you supported murder and mayhem. And of course, who can forget Willie Horton in 1988? It's worked before, and it will work again, so thinks the GOP. Keep in mind, the GOP isn't interested in doing anything real on these issues, they're playing on people's fears and hatreds to get their candidates reelected.

With Dole's campaign on the rocks, GOP candidates are counting on using the one-two punch of anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-affirmative action sentiment to rile up the hard right of the GOP, who would no doubt stay home if it weren't for this opportunity to get back at the people they believe are at the root of every problem, from crime to the designated hitter rule.

The issue is potent. And it may turn out voters who might not show up because Dole might not show up on election day.

But it cuts both ways. Affirmative action has principally helped women, undercutting the measure's effectiveness with so-called "soccer moms." Add to that the GOP extremism in opposing women's right to choose, and this clever little ploy might just backfire.

Valley voters will choose their elected representatives not on personality, but on where they stand on these important issues.

Hopefully, voters will send a clear message to Washington and Sacramento that the days of extremism are over and that common sense and moderation have again become the guiding principles of our elected officials.

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