A 19-member Assembly panel that reviewed Rep. Daniel E. Lungren’s qualifications to be state treasurer recommended by the narrowest of margins Tuesday that the full Assembly confirm Gov. George Deukmejian’s nominee.
The committee’s recommendation, which followed a brief but fervent debate, came after a single Democrat--Long Beach Assemblyman Dave Elder--joined the panel’s nine Republicans to give Lungren a bare 10-9 majority.
The action by the Assembly Select Committee was in conflict with the recommendation of the Senate Rules Committee, which last week voted along party lines to urge rejection of the Long Beach Republican.
Although Deukmejian expressed pleasure at the outcome of the Assembly committee vote, it merely served to reinforce predictions that the real battleground will be in the Senate.
Looking toward Thursday’s vote on the floor of both houses, Deukmejian urged lawmakers in a statement released by his office to follow the Assembly committee’s “objective and balanced approach.”
Watching from the rear of a packed hearing room, Lungren seemed to take only limited comfort in the Assembly panel’s vote, however. “We thought it would be this way from the very beginning,” he said. “In fact, some of those on the Democratic side told me a month ago it would be a 10-9 vote.
“We’ve gotten through the first two primaries now we go to Super Thursday,” Lungren added.
Although last month’s weeklong series of Assembly confirmation hearings often sparked emotional debate, Lungren’s most vocal critics were restrained Tuesday. Only a few committee members even chose to explain their votes, further reinforcing the impression that the outcome was all but certain.
However, Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) related a conversation in which Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Sacramento) is said to have told several Assembly Democrats that he had been threatened by Lungren on the House floor.
‘Can Do Great Damage’
According to Vasconcellos, Lungren told Matsui he was upset that Japanese-Americans were opposing him because of his stance against a bill that would pay reparations to those who were interned in World War II. During the subsequent conversation, Lungren allegedly told Matsui, “My friends and I can do great damage (to the Japanese-American cause) if they keep on opposing me.”
While also criticizing Lungren’s votes against free legal services, AIDS appropriations and other matters, Vasconcellos said the reported exchange between Lungren and Matsui is what “really got me.”
Lungren later charged that Vasconcellos’ characterization of the conversation was “absolutely untrue.”
Maintaining that the incident was “blown completely out of proportion,” Lungren said he merely told Matsui that “I would think that people who were concerned about me being here (in Congress) . . . would rather see me in Sacramento.”
Other Democratic critics of Lungren argued that the real issue was Lungren’s ultraconservative voting record.
Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) told the panel that Democrats, like Republicans, have the right to oppose nominees because they don’t agree with their political philosophy. Noting that Deukmejian voted against gubernatorial appointees 14 times during his tenure in the Legislature, Katz added: “These were people who were qualified and who could do the job, but whose philosophy he did not agree with.”
Assembly Minority Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale countered that Lungren is facing opposition because “he unfortunately ran afoul of the clique of liberals who dominate the Legislature.” Lungren’s conservative voting record, he added, “is being used to hound him in the Legislature when that is really what the public wants.”
Preview of Debate
The debate gave a preview of some of the criticism and praise that is likely to be heaped on Lungren during Thursday’s floor vote.
Elder, Lungren’s only Democratic support on the Assembly committee, gave no reason for his vote before offering the motion in favor of Lungren. But earlier, he told a Times reporter that “it’s a positive move, particularly for my district.”
Elder, whose Assembly district overlaps Lungren’s congressional district, said he has come under heavy lobbying and that his constituent mail was running 12-to-1 in favor of confirmation.
Even though Tuesday’s committee vote hinged on the support of one Democrat, the Deukmejian Administration believes it has sufficient support among a handful of Assembly Democrats to assure Lungren’s confirmation in that house. Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), who is facing a rebellion by a dissident group of five Democrats, has purposely stayed out of the fray, refusing to take any public position on Lungren.
By contrast, Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) has come out strongly in opposition to Lungren. While Democrats in the Senate have not taken a caucus position on the nomination, one Democratic Senate source said Roberti was busy on Tuesday pressuring members to oppose Deukmejian’s nominee.