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The freshman class: ready to tackle economy

By Julia MaloneStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / November 8, 1982



Washington

The newly elected 57 Democrats and 24 Republicans in the House and the five new senators will bring a mixed message from American voters to Washington. But in telephone interviews and in a post-election press conference, a varied group of freshmen said they have one priority: the economy.

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''The people in New Mexico are tired of waiting to turn the corner'' in the economy, says Jeff Bingaman, the Democratic attorney general who upset Sen. Harrison Schmitt (R). ''They would like to see some more affirmative action.''

However, while Reaganomics loses a backer in New Mexico, Nevada is delivering a staunch new Reagan supporter. Chic Hecht, a former state legislator who defeated veteran Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D), says of Nevada voters: ''They feel the President is on the right track and they did not want to go back to the last 25 years.'' Mr. Hecht is considered to be one of two new anti-abortion votes, but he won't predict whether social issues will play a major role in the Senate.

Among new House Democrats, most are from the South and from hard-hit unemployment areas such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois. Democratic officials declare the new class to be mostly ''good Democrats,'' with few ''boll weevils,'' southern Democrats who often side with Republicans.

One southerner who promises not to be a boll weevil is Rick Boucher, a Democrat who upset a veteran Republican in the mountain and mine country around Blacksburg, Virginia, where joblessness is high.

Mr. Boucher says he is convinced that the voters of his district would gladly give up the planned 1983 tax cut so that the national deficit can be lowered. ''I was elected on that issue,'' he says. Second on his list; cutting defense spending.

Robert G. Torricelli (D), a former vice-presidential aide to Walter Mondale, took on the National Rifle Association in a direct battle in his New Jersey district and won with a pro-gun-control platform. He also took a strong stand for the environment, making his win one of several victories claimed by environmental groups for the new Congress.

On unemployment, he says it's time for a public works program. With 10.4 percent joblessness, he says, ''the government must in a massive way put people back to work.''

Returning Democrat Peter H. Kostmayer, who made a comeback in Pennsylvania, calls the election a ''non-ideological'' one in which the people are demanding solutions. ''I don't think the time is up for President Reagan,'' he says. ''I think they're concerned about effectiveness.''

Among Republicans, only one challenger, John R. Kasich of Pennsylvania, managed to unseat a Democrat, Bob Shamansky. He says he did it by going door to door, and won on a pro-Reagan platform with no apologies for budget cuts.

''I never backed away from budget cuts and tax cuts,'' he says. However, he notes there's ''a real belief that we ought to take a good look at the military'' for new budget cuts.

While the 1980 crop of Republican newcomers were labeled the ''Reagan robots, '' the White House may have trouble with many of those elected last week.

Nancy Johnson (R) of Connecticut, one of only five women among the new representatives, says she won her seat largely because of ''my reputation as an independent-minded but very effective legislator.'' A likely candidate for the ''gypsy moths,'' a group of moderate Republicans, she says, ''I will weigh the administration's suggestions against the best interest of my constituents.''

Close to her line of thinking will be Maine's new Republican member, John R. McKernan Jr., a moderate who walked 500 miles through his district for the campaign. ''The administration is going to have to be willing to make compromises that it heretofore was unwilling to make,'' he says.