Panel Votes No on Lungren Nomination
Contending that Rep. Daniel Lungren’s fiscal conservatism too often takes precedence over his “social responsibilities,” a Democratic-dominated Senate Rules Committee on Thursday night recommended that the full Senate reject his nomination as state treasurer.
The recommendation came on a 3-2 party-line vote after more than eight hours of stormy testimony about the Long Beach Republican’s civil rights record, which climaxed when Lungren’s wife suddenly sprang from her chair in the audience and proclaimed to the stunned Senate panel: “He is not a racist!”
“There is not a racist bone in his body, not a thought, not an action, not a deed!” Bobbi Lungren loudly declared as the committee prepared to wrap up its three-day confirmation hearing.
Although the advisory committee vote is not binding on the 40-member Senate, it has been anxiously anticipated as a preview of how the full Senate may deal with Republican Gov. George Deukmejian’s nominee to succeed the late Jesse M. Unruh, a Democrat.
A special Assembly committee, which completed its hearings on Lungren last month, has scheduled an advisory vote next Tuesday. Both houses anticipate floor votes late next week on Lungren’s confirmation.
On Thursday, long before the committee had voted, Lungren was openly predicting the outcome would be unfavorable.
“I’d be very surprised if it was not preordained,” said Lungren, who has accused Democrats of orchestrating the proceedings to make him look like a right-wing ideologue.
While still optimistic that the full Senate will confirm him, Lungren said during a break in the testimony that the committee hearings reminded him of a “Hollywood soap opera, except there is a lot of ad-libbing in Hollywood. The (committee) has pretty much kept to a script.”
After the vote, Lungren stuck to his theme, winking at reporters and proclaiming: “Surprise, surprise, surprise, the script was followed!”
Deukmejian issued a prepared statement saying he was “disappointed but not surprised that the Democratic opposition chose partisan considerations over fairness to Dan Lungren, a nominee with an excellent blend of qualifications, experience and integrity.” But the governor added that he remains “confident” that enough Senate Democrats will vote for Lungren to confirm him.
Before voting, Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who chairs the powerful Rules Committee, praised Lungren’s personal integrity but said Democrats have an obligation to oppose his confirmation.
“We Democrats believe there should be an activist government to redress grievances and to equalize disparities in society between those who are powerful and those who are not,” Roberti told Lungren. “What we fear about your record is not that you’re a fiscal conservative. . . . But that in just about every tough question, your fiscal conservatism takes precedence over the social responsibilities that we also have.”
Sen. William Craven of Oceanside, one of two Republican Rules Committee members, reacted angrily, saying, “People will look upon what we’ve done tonight as a travesty.”
Lungren, in a last-minute plea before the vote was cast, said he expected the committee to view his fiscal conservatism as a plus. “I would hope that you would want a person in that office who makes safe and sound investments that protect the taxpayers,” he said.
The final day of Senate testimony closely resembled a debating society as representatives of various minority groups clashed over Lungren’s votes on civil rights.
For example, Bea Molina, national president of the Mexican American Political Assn., cited as evidence of Lungren’s insensitivity to minorities his support for the 1986 Immigration Reform Act, portions of which stirred controversy among Latinos.
“He voted against every one of the issues that are critical to us,” Molina told the committee.
Later in the day, Orange County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez said there is “no greater example of (Lungren’s) compassion” than his support of the same immigration act. Vasquez, who was appointed to his post by Deukmejian, said the legislation’s provision granting legal status to many undocumented aliens “will revolutionize the lives and life styles of hundreds of thousands.”
The exchange between the witnesses, Lungren and the committee turned hostile after Bishop H. H. Brookins of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles began to hammer away at Lungren’s votes against the Civil Rights Act of 1984, his opposition to a major fair housing amendment and his refusal to support strong actions against the government of South Africa.
Recalling Lungren’s support of a bill to establish a holiday in honor of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Brookins charged that “to say you are for King and are not willing to put your political career and life on the line for his programs is inconsistent and does not speak well for your commitment.”
Demanding time to rebut, Lungren read a series of friendly letters from black politicians and civic leaders, including one from King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, which thanked Lungren for his efforts on behalf of the King holiday.
‘From His Heart’
When Brookins took the floor once again to charge that the King letter was “a form letter sent to many congressmen,” Lungren’s wife suddenly bounded out of her chair, angrily telling the committee that her husband’s efforts on behalf of the King holiday “were from his heart.”
“I cannot listen to witnesses saying my husband is a racist,” she said. “It’s the farthest thing from the truth.”
Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who chaired the hearing, tried to defuse the situation by telling Bobbi Lungren that there was “some hyperbole” in Brookins’ remarks. But then Roberti, too, began to show anger and ended up lecturing her on the need to “put ourselves in others’ shoes.”
The exchange was typical of the kind of rough-and-tumble drama that has been played out daily since the Senate hearings began. Even before the start of testimony there were strong indications that 19 of the Senate’s 24 Democrats had already made up their minds to vote against Lungren. Confirmation will require 21 Senate votes, which means that at least five Democrats would have to join forces with the 15 Republicans and one independent.
Lungren Scores Points
In contrast to the compliant attitude he exhibited during the Assembly testimony, Lungren has been on the offensive since the beginning of the Senate hearings, accusing Democratic leaders of rigging the proceedings for purely partisan reasons. Although the Democrats have fought back with equal fervor, Lungren’s message, with help from Deukmejian, has captured the most media attention.
Lungren scored some points Thursday when several Democratic witnesses lectured the committee on its behavior toward the Republican nominee.
Joseph Everett, a special education counselor from Compton and Lungren’s former debate coach, told the committee that the proceedings “have left me feeling that I should apologize to Dan.” Everett also said he is thinking of changing his Democratic registration.
Another Democrat, Sacramento businessman Trong Nguyen, warned that if Democrats reject Lungren “you will be giving this guy the best name recognition and publicity since Humphrey the Whale.”
Democrats tried to counter that testimony by rolling out some big political names to oppose Lungren, including Mario Obledo, former secretary of Health and Welfare under Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., and Cruz Reynoso, former justice of the California Supreme Court who was defeated in a 1986 campaign led by Deukmejian.
Reynoso said he was “reluctant to speak” against the governor’s appointee but characterized Lungren as “lacking experience and woefully lacking in a vision of California and its people.”
As it has in the past, the most poignant testimony against Lungren came from Japanese-Americans who are angry over Lungren’s opposition to paying $20,000 in reparations to individuals interned during World War II.
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