Unruh’s Widow Says She Endorses Lungren
He cajoled, he pleaded. And when that didn’t work, Gov. George Deukmejian rolled out his latest weapon Saturday in his battle to win confirmation for treasurer-nominee Rep. Daniel E. Lungren: an endorsement from Chris Unruh, widow of the former Democratic treasurer.
The surprise announcement during Deukmejian’s keynote address to the state Republican convention here drew wild applause from the 1,200 delegates and left the Republican governor with a sly smile on his face.
But only a few hours later, the governor found himself dragged into a family dispute with the release of a letter from Randy Unruh, a son of the former treasurer from a previous marriage. The letter denounced the endorsement as a “self-serving exploitation of everything my father lived for.”
‘Excellent Fiscal Steward’
By that time, however, Deukmejian was on a plane headed for Washington for a conference of governors and could not be reached for comment.
Before he left and while he was still savoring what appeared to be a major public relations victory, Deukmejian told reporters he “certainly hopes” the endorsement of Chris Unruh would sway Democrats when both houses of the Legislature meet late in the week to consider Lungren’s confirmation. The Democrat-controlled Senate Rules Committee only last week recommended that the full Senate reject Lungren.
“She’s very familiar with what Unruh had in mind in terms of building that office and with how he would want to see that office conducted in years ahead,” Deukmejian said of Unruh widow. “She is convinced that Dan Lungren would be an excellent fiscal steward.”
Chris Unruh’s endorsement was contained in a letter that was released by the governor’s office and was the subject of Deukmejian’s weekly Saturday radio address.
‘Knowledgeable ... Energetic’
In the Feb. 15 letter, she described Republican Lungren as “a very knowledgeable and energetic person with a sincere desire to honor and respect the institution Jesse developed.”
The letter goes on to say that although Lungren’s conservative voting record has stirred controversy, “there has been no hint of scandal or outrageous behavior in his record. . . . California needs leadership in the state treasurer’s office. I would not want to see the office which Jesse worked so hard to build into a position of enormous responsibility languish any longer than necessary. For these reasons, I would be pleased to support Congressman Lungren’s nomination. . . . “
Deukmejian said Chris Unruh approached him after his January State of the State address and said “she would like to be of help.” He said the letter was unsolicited.
She was Unruh’s second wife, andthe two were married in recentyears while he was battling the cancer that finally claimed his life last year.
Unruh, who was strongly partisan during his years as the famed “Big Daddy” Speaker of the Assembly, became much less so after becoming state treasurer. In 1986, Unruh all but endorsed Deukmejian during his race against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat.
On Saturday, Democrats tried to downplay the possible impact of the surprise endorsement.
Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who led the Rules Committee in urging Lungren’s defeat, at first had little to say about Chris Unruh’s letter. Through aspokesman, Roberti predicted that the endorsement will leave “no impression” on Senate Democrats or the public at large.
Several hours later, Roberti’s office produced Randy Unruh’s highly critical letter dated two days after Chris Unruh penned her endorsement. Randy was the product of Unruh’s first marriage.
In the letter, Randy told Roberti that he decided to write after hearing “a rumor that a Mrs. Unruh might endorse” Lungren. “I would like you to know my family and I feel this is a contradiction to everything my father stood for in every way,” he wrote.
“My family and I feel that it is your duty out of respect to my father’s memory to clear up any confusion that such a callous abuse of my father’s name might produce. . . . We who knew my father best and longest know that he would have been the first to vote with you against a man whose policies he would have despised.”
The confusion caused by the Unruh family flap produced an offbeat end to the governor’s last day of personal lobbying on Lungren’s behalf. Deukmejian is not scheduled to return from Washington until Thursday, the day both houses are scheduled to vote.
Before leaving, the governor disclosed that he had sent letters to various Democratic lawmakers expressing his willingness to sit down and talk with them personally about the vote. Although he refused to say to whom the letters went, Administration officials are said to be concentrating on about five Democratic senators who are considered the swing votes in the Upper House, where Lungren faces the most opposition.
But Deukmejian publicly foreclosed any possibility that he would agree to trade political favors for favorable votes.
“You know I don’t engage in that,” the governor snapped in answer to a reporter’s question.
In his speech to the Republican convention, Deukmejian took one more shot at the Senate Democrats, characterizing last week’s Senate confirmation hearing as a “pre-programmed prosecutorial production.”
“If I had appointed an individual with the same educational and professional qualifications as Dan Lungren, except that he was a liberal Democrat, the legislative majority would have confirmed that person almost immediately,” the governor said.
In reply, an aide to Roberti said: “From the very beginning, Gov. Deukmejian has cast this nomination in a partisan mold. He successfully browbeat every Republican in the Legislature to blindly support his candidate, Dan Lungren, even before the hearings were conducted. . . . From his own record and testimony, Lungren is miles away from the mainstream of Californians.”