Democratic leaders in the state Assembly, moving swiftly to resolve a potentially divisive issue, said Monday that they will begin confirmation hearings early next week on the nomination of Long Beach Rep. Daniel E. Lungren as state treasurer.
As lawmakers convened their 1988 session, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco and other top Assembly Democrats indicated that opposition to Lungren has been limited thus far.
But the real test is likely to occur in the Senate, where President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) reported that fellow Democrats expressed concern in a private meeting that Lungren reflects too much a white, upper-middle-class society and has little understanding of the state's vast economic and ethnic diversity.
"I don't know if Congressman Lungren has spoken for the poor or minority groups, and that's the problem," Roberti said. "Diversity has to be reflected in this state. He comes from the same background, the same philosophy, the same point of view that Gov. (George) Deukmejian comes from. I do think it is important that the Lungren nomination and confirmation be based on something other than his ability to sell bonds."
The Senate is not expected to convene its confirmation hearings until next month. And Roberti declared that Lungren's confirmation will not be "smooth sailing, that's for sure."
The Legislature is working under a Feb. 29 deadline. If neither house has rejected the nominee by that date, he may take office.
While reluctant to predict the outcome, Assembly Democratic leaders predicted that a floor vote on the treasurer-designate would not come until late in the month.
"This is as swiftly as it can be done," Brown said.
Preparations for the Lungren hearings dominated the Legislature's first day back in the Capitol after nearly a two-month vacation. And, as usual, it was a day steeped more in ceremony than substance as lawmakers embraced each other and the major business consisted of introducing resolutions honoring constituents who had died over the holidays.
In the Assembly, members also asked that dozens of measures to overturn Deukmejian vetoes be dropped from consideration in a quiet admission that the efforts, announced in some cases with great bravado, in fact had little chance of success.
The Senate session lasted a scant 11 minutes.
Almost immediately after Lungren was named by Deukmejian on Nov. 25 to succeed Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh, who died Aug. 4, the 41-year-old congressman was seen as a potential governor and a political target for Democrats. Should he be confirmed, Lungren would be the only Republican besides Deukmejian to hold a state constitutional office in California.
In response to Roberti's claim that he appeared to lack a sensitivity toward the poor and minorities, Lungren told reporters that in Congress he had immersed himself in issues that dealt with immigration and had a sensitivity toward minorities and newcomers. "You can't find people who are poorer than refugees when they arrive," Lungren said.
In Congress, Lungren added, "I tried to represent everybody that I possibly could." Lungren termed himself a "partisan Republican" but noted that he had built a reputation as someone who "can work with Democrats of all persuasions. Sometimes that means working with people you disagree with."
Assembly Democratic Floor Leader Thomas Hannigan of Fairfield, who heads a 19-member Assembly committee that will review Lungren's nomination, has promised that the confirmation hearings will be detailed and thorough. Other Democrats said questioning will be tough--particularly concerning Lungren's opposition to a congressional bill that would compensate Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II with $20,000 each.
In the Senate, several key Democrats have already been openly critical of Lungren, and Roberti told reporters that there is a "lot of hostility" over Deukmejian's appointment of a Republican to fill a post long held by Democrat Unruh.
On Monday, Senate Democratic Leader Barry Keene of Benicia characterized Lungren as "an extreme right-winger," likening his nomination to President Reagan's controversial appointment of James Watt as Interior secretary. Watt ultimately resigned.
"I think it's a very close call right now on the Senate side," Keene said of Lungren's confirmation.
But Senate GOP Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno said of Lungren's Democratic opponents: "They are going to be hard pressed to deny his confirmation. . . . He certainly has the qualifications."
Meanwhile, Senate staffers are delving deeply into Lungren's past and compiling background reports on votes he has cast during his nine years in Congress.
This is the first time the Legislature has been called on to confirm a nominee to a statewide constitutional office. According to Atty. Gen. John K. Van De Kamp, Lungren may be denied the office if either house rejects his nomination.
Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos of Los Angeles, who met briefly with Lungren early Monday, said "everyone takes very seriously the historical first." But he stopped short of assessing Democrats' mood, saying "I think (Lungren) is going to get a very exhaustive hearing. It's a high-stakes office and he shouldn't expect an easy-over."
Hannigan, who met with the treasurer-nominee last month, said Lungren appears to be "a real personable guy and I don't know of any information that has been particularly damaging to him."
Brown said that only two or three Democratic assemblymen have indicated they might vote against Lungren's nomination and that Asian groups upset over his stance on compensation for interned Japanese-Americans appear to be the only organized opposition. "No one has really zeroed in on (the nomination) yet," said Brown, who added that there also are concerns over Lungren's opposition to imposing strong economic sanctions on South Africa and its policy of apartheid.
Votes for Rejection
Rejection of Lungren would require 41 negative votes in the Assembly or 21 in the Senate. Democrats now hold 44 Assembly seats, but one Democrat, Art Agnos, will resign Friday and be sworn in as mayor of San Francisco. There are 24 Democrats in the Senate.
Meanwhile, top Republicans in the Senate and Assembly used the first day of the 1988 session to display a united front, holding a photo session with Lungren and predicting that his confirmation is all but certain.