Gov. George Deukmejian, suffering a stinging defeat with the rejection of Rep. Daniel E. Lungren as state treasurer, lashed out Thursday at Senate Democrats who opposed his nominee but pledged to move swiftly to find a new candidate for the post.
The Republican governor, in a terse statement, said he was extremely disappointed with the California Supreme Court’s refusal to seat Lungren and declared that he strongly disagreed with the decision. One former top Administration official said privately that Deukmejian was so upset that aides “were trying to stay out of the way.”
The decision of the high court--which is dominated by Deukmejian’s own appointees--squelches the Republican governor’s plan to elevate Lungren to statewide political prominence. Many Republicans had hoped that Lungren, anointed by Deukmejian himself, would have become a GOP standard-bearer who could have succeeded the governor.
No Permanent Treasurer
The court’s ruling leaves the state without a permanent treasurer more than 10 months after former Democratic Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh died in office.
The rejection of Lungren and the state’s continuing budget crisis have handed Deukmejian his most serious setbacks in 5 1/2 years as governor.
“He has had two setbacks and I think they have been serious ones,” said Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti.
Blaming Senate Democrats for Lungren’s rejection, Deukmejian said: “Unfortunately, because of the political motivations of certain members of the majority party in the state Senate, he was denied confirmation in that house, requiring the matter to be adjudicated by the state’s highest court.”
But an obviously pleased Roberti said the court’s decision was a vindication of the Senate Democrats’ position that, under the state Constitution, one house of the Legislature can veto the governor’s nominees.
The constitutional question arose in February after the Assembly voted to confirm Lungren while the Senate voted narrowly to reject his nomination.
The court’s ruling immediately touched off speculation over whom the governor would nominate next as treasurer and what role, if any, Lungren will play in state politics.
Lungren, who has moved his family to a house he bought near Sacramento and who decided to give up his seat in Congress in anticipation of becoming treasurer, said he was uncertain what he will do now but hinted that he may run for treasurer or some other statewide office in 1990.
“Have you got an offer for me?” he asked. “I don’t have any firm plans . . . because I’ve never deviated from my effort to become treasurer until the final decision and this was the final decision.”
On his arrival in Sacramento from Washington Thursday night, Lungren was greeted by members of his family who unfurled a 15-foot-long banner reading, “Lungren for A.G. in ’90. We Love U Dan. You’re R Man.”
Asked by reporters if he was preparing to run for attorney general in 1990, Lungren smiled and said: “I don’t know. I haven’t consulted with my family. I’ve got to see what they’ve got to say.”
Deukmejian’s selection of Lungren, one of the more conservative members of Congress, immediately catapulted the little-known congressman into the forefront of the Republican Party in California. In tapping Lungren for the post, Deukmejian picked a fellow Long Beach politician who is both articulate and aggressive.
Interviewed by telephone in Chicago on his way to Sacramento, Lungren said, “I feel like the Detroit Pistons. We gave it our best shot.”
Earlier, the five-term congressman said in a brief statement issued by his office: “I intend to remain involved in public life and hope to continue serving the people of my home state.”
Among the names that surfaced immediately as potential nominees were five Republican senators who were passed over by Deukmejian when he picked Lungren last November: GOP Senate Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, Sen. Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach, Sen. Robert G. Beverly of Manhattan Beach, Sen. John Seymour of Anaheim and Sen. William Campbell of Hacienda Heights, who ran unsuccessfully in 1986 for state controller.
Roberti, without naming any candidates for the job, suggested that Deukmejian could win quick confirmation by selecting a member of the Senate. And he called on Deukmejian to consult with members of the Senate before making his decision, a step the governor apparently did not take before nominating Lungren.
“He has the duty to participate in the advise and consent process,” the Senate leader said. “Because we disagree doesn’t mean we’re being obstructionist. It means that we take seriously our part of the checks and balances system.”
Roberti said the court decision was an important test of the role of the Legislature in setting state policy and that the case transcended the matter of who would fill the treasurer’s seat.
“The issue went far beyond the question of the right of Mr. Lungren to assume the position of treasurer,” he said. “The issue went to the whole question of . . . our constitutional system of government.”
The Los Angeles Democrat also took the opportunity to criticize the selection of Lungren, saying: “We do not feel that his votes in Congress indicated that he was representative of all of California’s people.”
In particular, Roberti pointed to Lungren’s opposition to federal reparations for Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II.
Deukmejian has no deadline for making the appointment and aides to the governor gave no indication when he would make his selection. Once the governor picks a nominee, the Legislature will have 90 days to confirm or reject the appointment.
Acting Treasurer Elizabeth Whitney, who has run the office since Unruh died last August, will remain in the post until a treasurer is named by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.
Deukmejian said the court’s decision had not changed his mind on the legal issues surrounding Lungren’s rejection.
“While I strongly disagree with the court’s decision,” he said, “we must accept it and immediately commence the process to select a new nominee for state treasurer.”
Republican members of the Senate, including several who once again are candidates for the treasurer’s job, said the ruling demonstrates that the court is politically insulated from the governor, who appointed five of its seven members.
“I think the court once and for all has declared its independence,” Campbell said.
Some Republican senators suggested that Deukmejian nominate a legislator who comes from a safe GOP district so that the Democrats would not be able to gain a seat. They also suggested that it could be easier to win confirmation of a candidate less conservative than Lungren.
In taking his case to the Supreme Court, Lungren said he should be sworn in based on a plain reading of the Constitution. “I consulted a couple of attorneys named Funk and Wagnalls,” he quipped.
Times staff writers Jeffrey L. Rabin, Ted Vollmer and Daniel M. Weintraub contributed to this story.