Lungren Prepares to Catapult Into State Politics

Times Staff Writers

Rep. Daniel E. Lungren jokes that he has known Gov. George Deukmejian longer than the governor has known him.

Lungren recalls attending a political rally as a youth in Long Beach, where Deukmejian, then an aspiring politician, addressed the crowd and introduced Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Deukmejian, not surprisingly, does not remember the then-14-year-old Lungren.

But Lungren did make a lasting impression on Deukmejian 16 years later, in 1976, when Lungren ran for Congress. Deukmejian, who then was seeking reelection to the state Senate, shared the platform with Lungren at campaign rallies and they became lasting political allies.

Now, as governor, Deukmejian has given a big boost to the political career of his fellow Long Beach Republican by nominating him as state treasurer. It is a post that could catapult the governor's hometown congressman into the forefront of California politics.

Lungren would replace the late Jesse M. Unruh, who died in August after transforming the treasurer's office into a position of political power and influence. The Legislature is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings this month on Lungren's nomination, and both sides are expecting a tough battle.

In announcing his selection of Lungren on Nov. 25, Deukmejian said: "He's a man of unquestioned honesty, fairness and sound judgment. He's a seasoned public servant and he's earned an outstanding reputation."

But many legislators are irritated with Deukmejian because he did not nominate one of their colleagues for the coveted job. And they have little incentive to make the confirmation process easy either for the governor or the congressman, who has few personal relationships with the state lawmakers. Some opponents already are trying to portray Lungren as a right-wing extremist who is outside the mainstream of Republican politics, a charge the governor and his nominee vehemently deny.

Lungren's political connections go back well before he first encountered Deukmejian. He traces his start in politics to 1952, when his father first volunteered to go on the campaign trail as vice presidential candidate Nixon's physician.

The vice president became a family friend who occasionally visited the Lungren household. When Dan Lungren entered political life, Nixon gave him advice, encouragement and, when necessary, condolences.

"I remember when I ran for Congress the first time and lost," Lungren recalled, "and he called me up and said in that deep voice of his, 'Dan, I've won and I've lost, and believe me, it's better to win.' But he consoled me and suggested that I ought not to give up, and that I might figure out what I needed to do to win the next time."

Lungren won on his second try two years later.

Now, in the middle of his fifth term, Lungren, 41, has established himself as a highly ideological but skillful politician who can, when circumstances require it, compromise with his Democratic foes.

In the House of Representatives, he stands out as one of the most conservative members. His voting record wins high marks from the American Conservative Union and the United States Chamber of Commerce. Conversely, he gets low ratings from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, the American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO.

He favors drilling for oil off the coast of California and opposed tough sanctions against South Africa. He championed a $12,100 salary increase for members of Congress but consistently has voted against increased spending for social programs.

Lungren has developed a good working relationship with members of both parties and wins praise from liberals and conservatives alike for his integrity and direct approach to politics.

"I have fundamental disagreements with him on a whole variety of issues," said liberal Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City). "We are far apart philosophically--and I like him. He is a good legislator. He does a good job for the conservative issues he believes in."

Energetic and outgoing, Lungren has the confident air of a man who knows his own mind and is not afraid to challenge others. He is straightforward, articulate and enjoys the sport of a lively debate. At times, he can be combative, even pugnacious, and once got into an altercation on the House floor with then-Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas.

Six-foot-2 with wavy brown hair, Lungren lifts weights and practices the martial art of tae kwon do. He likes to drink milk and does not touch alcohol. He is a devout Catholic and, by all accounts, is devoted to his wife and three children. "He's a straight-arrow family man, which is why he and the governor are so close. They're really the same kind of people," said Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, who first met Lungren in the 1970s and is now pushing for his confirmation.

Lungren, a fiscal conservative when it comes to spending taxpayers' money, is frugal in his personal life as well. For lunch, he often brings his own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from home. He wears clothes until they begin to fray and hangs on to a car until it falls apart.

Unconventional Side

And he is not afraid to do things a bit unconventionally--especially if it can save him a few bucks. Lungren, unlike many congressmen, does not maintain a residence in his district. In order to bring the family out to California during the summer recess, the Lungrens swap houses with friends who want to visit Washington or arranges to house-sit in the home of an acquaintance who is on vacation.

"I've lived in many parts of my district," Lungren said, while declining to identify who provided him with accommodations. Lungren said he is not required under federal law to report the free housing as gifts. Lungren now lists his office in downtown Long Beach as his residence for voter registration purposes.

Lungren also has an independent streak that is evident in his opposition to spending on public works projects--including such things as highway improvements in his own district that he contends would add to the federal deficit.

"Some special interests don't like the fact that I don't genuflect and kiss their ring," Lungren said in a recent interview. "I have never done it and I won't do it in the future. And if people want to know why we get deficits, it's because all the special interests beat up on their elected representatives and say, 'We need to have the deficit spending. To hell with the rest of the country.' "

Not a Skillful Fund-Raiser

Even so, in some instances Lungren has received significant amounts of money from special interest groups he sides with. For instance, he received $8,200 between 1985 and 1987 from the Auto Dealers for Free Trade Political Action Committee, an organization of car importers that supports Lungren's stance against trade barriers.

By and large, however, Lungren has not shown himself to be a skillful fund-raiser. In 1986, he was forced to abandon his short-lived campaign for the U.S. Senate because he could not raise enough money.

During the first six months of 1987, he reported raising a minuscule $5,695 for his Congressional campaign committee. He ended up in June with $75,835 in cash on hand.

One of Lungren's earliest political memories is awaiting his father's nightly telephone calls from faraway campaign stops during Nixon's 1952 vice presidential race. Each night, the family would gather around the television set to see if they could spot the senior Lungren on the news.

That year, 6-year-old Dan volunteered for his first campaign. Craig Hosmer, a neighbor and family friend, was running for Congress in the same district that Lungren would eventually represent.

"I took his literature and I handed it around door-to-door," Lungren recalled. "And then 26 years later I took the seat."

After the 1952 campaign, Dr. Lungren joined Nixon for campaign swings in 1954, 1956, 1958 and his unsuccessful presidential race in 1960. Each time, the internist and cardiologist would shut down his thriving practice for up to six weeks to travel with the candidate.

Knew Nixon Family

During this period, the young Lungren also got to know the Nixon family. He recalls once going to Santa Catalina Island with a group of family and friends that included the vice president's two daughters, Tricia and Julie, who were about his age.

Nixon made an indelible impression on the youngster and over the years, the two have kept in touch. "From time to time, if there'd been an article about me in the newspaper, or maybe I'd written something, he might send a note about it," Lungren said. "It's kind of an interesting thing to have all through your life and that kind of started me on politics."

Politics, religion and Notre Dame University football were favorite topics around the lively Lungren dinner table, where the brood included four girls and three boys. All seven children attended private Catholic schools. Their home was in an upper-middle-class neighborhood near the Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.

Father Sylvester Ryan, who taught Lungren at St. Anthony's High School in Long Beach, recalls that he stood out as a student and champion debater. From St. Anthony's, Lungren went to Notre Dame, the same school his father and two brothers attended. He graduated cum laude with a degree in English in 1968.

Exempt From Draft

At the height of the Vietnam War, Lungren was exempt from the draft, first because of his student status and then because of a medical deferment. Lungren, who had a kidney operation as a toddler and suffered knee injuries playing football, was classified 4F after graduation.

That summer, Lungren worked in Nixon's winning presidential campaign. Then, while studying law at Georgetown University in Washington, Lungren and his new wife, Bobbi, had a ringside seat on the new Nixon Administration. Lungren took part-time jobs with U.S. Sen. George Murphy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Brock (R-Tenn.).

"You talk about post-graduate study in politics--that was it," Lungren said.

Lungren worked for the Republican National Committee organizing GOP youth groups in 1971 and 1972, but was not involved in Nixon's reelection campaign, he said.

In 1973, he joined the prestigious Long Beach law firm of Ball, Hunt, Hart, Brown & Baerwitz. The firm's partners included former Democratic Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown--the man who defeated Nixon in the 1962 gubernatorial campaign. Lungren defended insurance companies in personal injury lawsuits, at times working directly with former Gov. Brown.

Watergate Crisis

From afar, Lungren watched with disappointment as the Watergate crisis unraveled Nixon's political career. "You take something like that very personally when you know the people involved," he said. He attributed Nixon's downfall to "misplaced or excessive loyalty" to his subordinates.

In 1976, at the age of 30, Lungren made his first attempt to win elective office. He challenged Democratic Rep. Mark Hannaford of Lakewood, who had taken Hosmer's seat in 1974 in the wave of Democratic victories that followed the Watergate scandal. In the end, Lungren lost to Hannaford by 3,000 votes.

For the next two years, between trials and casework, Lungren campaigned steadily to unseat Hannaford--which was also a high priority goal for the Republican Party. Lungren hammered away at the incumbent as a big spender and opponent of the property tax-cutting Proposition 13.

Lungren won a decisive victory and has remained firmly entrenched ever since in his heavily Republican 42nd District, which now stretches from Huntington Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

In Congress, Lungren has earned the respect of fellow Republicans, who call him a "Boy Scout," and of Democrats, who say he is one conservative they can work with.

Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) is one of the most conservative members of the House and has voted with Lungren on most issues. "He is a good, articulate spokesman of conservative principles," Dannemeyer said. "He's a firm supporter of traditional family values. He's a firm supporter of moral values."

Lungren has also developed a good working relationship with liberals such as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "We obviously disagree on a wide range of issues, but I have a great deal of respect for his integrity," Frank said. "We have had some angry debates with each other. (But) he's bright and outspoken and people like that tend to get more done."

Work Out Together

Frequently, the unlikely duo work out together in the House gym. Last year, they made national news together when they accompanied Soviet dissident Yelena G. Bonner, wife of physicist Andrei D. Sakharov, back to Moscow after she received medical treatment in the West.

Lungren also gained notoriety in 1985 when he and then-Majority Leader Wright exchanged sharp words over a procedural ruling. According to Lungren, Wright grabbed him by the arm and expressed a desire to punch him in the mouth.

Lungren later entered a lengthy statement about the incident in the Congressional Record, noting, "My avocations are weight lifting and tae kwon do , and I certainly do not have to worry about someone who is two decades older than I am."

But Wright, who has since been elected Speaker, has played down the episode.

"There was never anything more than an exchange of words," an aide to the Democratic leader said. "Mr. Wright's worked with him on many occasions since and he considers him a friend."

'Loses His Cool'

Lungren, according to Congressman Berman, gets so involved in partisan conflicts "that he perhaps gets more confrontational than he needs to be. Once in a while he loses his cool."

Nevertheless, Lungren has been an effective lawmaker, racking up several major legislative successes despite the handicap of being a member of the minority party.

In 1984, Lungren played an essential part in winning passage of a bill to overhaul the Criminal Code. Under one provision designed to help law enforcement officers fight narcotics trafficking, police departments can receive a share of the property they confiscate from drug dealers.

But his biggest legislative success was his role in helping to win passage of the landmark immigration bill of 1986, which granted amnesty to many illegal aliens while prohibiting employers from hiring undocumented workers.

Lungren pushed for provisions that would help farmers obtain seasonal laborers and, at one point, blocked passage of the bill when it was considered too restrictive on agribusiness. But upon reaching a compromise with Democrats, he supported the entire measure--including the sanctions on employers that were strongly opposed by his traditional ally, the business community.

Controversial Issues

The immigration bill is just one of a number of issues Lungren has become involved with that focus primarily on ethnic groups. His supporters say this is the natural result of his membership on the House Judiciary Committee. But some of the issues are certain to become controversial during his confirmation hearings.

One that has sparked widespread criticism of was his vocal opposition to a bill that would pay $1.2 billion--$20,000 each--to the surviving Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II. Lungren argued that the government instead should formally apologize to the victims and spend $50 million on an education program about the episode. The measure passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

On the question of South Africa, Lungren sided with President Reagan in opposing tough economic sanctions against the racially segregated country's policy of apartheid. Lungren argued instead for milder sanctions. As treasurer, however, he insists that he would follow the California law that will require the state on Jan. 1 to begin selling stock it owns in firms that do business in South Africa.

Opposed to Quotas

Lungren is also opposed to quotas for contracting with minority-owned businesses, a stand that will put him at odds with Democrats in the state Assembly who are seeking to require such quotas in state bond sales.

On the other hand, Lungren, who initially opposed creating a federal holiday to honor civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reversed his position in 1983 and is credited with persuading other Republicans to vote for the holiday.

In an eloquent speech on the House floor, Lungren said: "I recall that Dr. Martin Luther King was an inspiration to me. He made me recognize that there were people in this country that were not accorded the same rights that I was given. . . .

"Dr. Martin Luther King stirred inside me a feeling that we had to walk together if we were going to work out the problems of this country. So I suggest that this holiday is not just for black Americans, but it is for all Americans--white Americans, red Americans, brown Americans and black Americans."

Asian-American Opposition

Despite his stand on the King holiday, Lungren's votes on other issues have sparked the opposition of Asian-American leaders who contend that he is against civil rights and opposes the interests of the underprivileged.

Lungren voted against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, introduced an amendment to restrict the use of bilingual ballots and opposed a variety of health, welfare and education programs, they point out.

"His voting record reflects an attitude that is anti-minority, anti-civil rights, anti-women, anti-poor and anti-elderly," said Donald K. Tamaki, a spokesman for a coalition of Asian-American groups opposed to Lungren's confirmation. "He is a radical, an extremist on many positions."

On fiscal issues, Lungren has generally followed the Reagan agenda. Subscribing to the school of "supply-side" economics, he has favored cutting taxes while increasing military spending--two policies Democrats blame for the ballooning federal deficit.

Social Program Cuts

Lungren, who attributes the deficit largely to increases in domestic spending, has favored cuts in a variety of social programs. Services such as food stamps are "worthy programs," he said, but should be designed to help only the "truly needy."

"I don't think I'm being unfair or unfeeling when I say we've got to look at these programs and eliminate the problems in them," he said.

At the same time, Lungren was one of the most vocal advocates of a $12,100 pay increase for members of Congress. The raise, from $77,400 a year to $89,500, was approved earlier this year.

Lungren contended that congressional salaries were inadequate to attract the best candidates and pointed out that if he had remained with his Long Beach law firm he would be making much more money.

Lungren felt so strongly about the matter that he testified in favor of the pay raise before a special congressional committee and bared his family finances for a story in the New York Times.

Too Little Compensation

Despite his protest that members of Congress receive too little compensation, Lungren, his wife, and their three children--Jeffrey, 14, Kelly, 12, and Katie, 11--have lived comfortably in their suburban Virginia home. Continuing the family tradition, all three children attend private Catholic schools.

In addition to his pay, Lungren reported receiving $12,500 in speaking fees, plus travel expenses, in 1986, the most recent year for which records are available. His largest honorarium was $2,000 for a speech sponsored by the Manville Corp. in Denver. On top of that, Lungren said, his wife makes about $20,000 a year working as a travel agent.

If confirmed as treasurer, Lungren would officially take a $17,000 pay cut. However, in addition to the annual $72,500 in salary, he would get a state car and receive $82 a day in expenses anytime he left the Sacramento area on business. Furthermore, Unruh demonstrated that the treasurer's office can be a lucrative post for outside speech-making, making more than $42,000 one recent year in honorariums.

Relatives in Sacramento

If the congressman is confirmed by the Legislature, he will join a flock of other Lungrens who already have moved to Sacramento. Three other Lungrens previously were appointed by Deukmejian to state posts.

Dr. Lungren, the father, serves on the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance, which licenses doctors and oversees the medical profession. The congressman's older brother, John C. Lungren Jr., is a spokesman for the state Department of Consumer Affairs. And his younger brother, Brian, after serving as an aide to the governor, now heads Deukmejian's political organization, Citizens for Common Sense.

As the state's 27th treasurer, Lungren would oversee the daily investment of the state's reserves and the annual sale of an average of $5.6 billion in state bonds.

He would also sit on more than 40 boards and commissions that give the office significant influence. These panels can help businesses and public agencies finance construction of facilities such as hospitals, industrial plants and classrooms.

More Mundane Worries

Unruh, state treasurer for 13 years, used his post to collect millions of dollars in campaign contributions from firms doing business with his office.

In leaving Congress to become treasurer, Lungren is willing to give up the daily debates over national and international issues in exchange for the more mundane worries of bond issues and interest rates.

"I can think of only one reason," Rep. Berman said. "He considers it a better stepping-stone to a senatorship or a governorship. The man obviously likes his job. He isn't leaving because he's dissatisfied."

Lungren declined to discuss his political ambitions--except to say that, if confirmed, he will seek election to a full term as treasurer in 1990, assuming that Deukmejian runs for a third term as governor. If Deukmejian were to retire, Lungren has made it clear that he might want to assess a possible campaign for governor.

Lungren has declined to spell out how he would operate the state treasurer's office differently from Unruh, if at all.

But Lungren said he envisions the office as a platform to promote California's economic interests and political power. His own fate, he implied, is intertwined with the future of the state.

"It's not only an opportunity to come back to California," he said, "but California is the biggest state in the union and should have a voice in national and world politics that is consistent with its real importance. People don't even realize what this state can do over the next 25 to 30 years."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
54°