Rep. Daniel E. Lungren, gracefully accepting defeat in his bid to become state treasurer, vowed Friday not to retire from politics as Gov. George Deukmejian started searching for a new nominee for the treasurer’s job.
Lungren, a Republican who will leave Congress when his term ends in January, said he plans to go to work in “the private world” but hinted that he will begin preparing to run for some other statewide office, such as attorney general, in 1990.
“It’s not my intent to retire from public office,” he told reporters at a Capitol press conference. “You may see me around here again in the future.”
Plans for Lungren
Deukmejian had initially chosen the 41-year-old Lungren, an articulate and pragmatic conservative, as a politician who could assume the mantle of leadership in the California GOP and go on from treasurer to even higher office.
Now, to replace the Long Beach congressman, aides to Deukmejian said the governor is looking for a politically experienced candidate who would run for election to the treasurer’s office in 1990, thereby enhancing the Republican Party’s long-term political prospects.
“Dan Lungren is an individual who represents the type of person the governor is looking for,” said Kevin Brett, the governor’s press secretary. “Someone who is a fiscal conservative, someone who can administer the duties of the office and someone who would stand for election in 1990 for a full term as treasurer.”
Michael Frost, the governor’s chief of staff, said Deukmejian has no timetable for filling the appointment and could not say whether the decision would be made before the Legislature adjourns in August for the year.
One leading contender, Senate Republican Leader Ken Maddy of Fresno, took himself out of contention for the job, saying he wanted to focus his attention on helping GOP candidates win in the November elections.
The office of treasurer was left vacant last August with the death of Democratic Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh, who had built the obscure post into a politically powerful office and fund-raising base. For the last 10 months, the office has been run by Acting Treasurer Elizabeth Whitney, a longtime assistant to Unruh.
Lungren’s nomination as treasurer was confirmed by the Assembly in February but narrowly rejected by the Senate. The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that under the state Constitution, rejection by one house of the Legislature was sufficient to deny Lungren the job.
The five-term congressman, who at times lashed out bitterly at his opponents during the confirmation proceedings, was philosophical Friday about his defeat. He appeared relaxed and engaged in friendly banter with reporters about the court decision and his political future.
“I respect the opinion of the court,” said Lungren, who was accompanied by his wife and three children. “I disagree with it, but I respect it. It is the law of the state of California now. You win some and you lose some and you accept it either way. I’m just sorry we had to go to court.”
However, Lungren criticized the Supreme Court for ruling that one house of the Legislature could block the governor’s action. The interpretation, he said, “is going far afield of a true understanding and analysis of the legislative process.”
Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) has called on Deukmejian to seek the advice of Democratic legislators in naming his next candidate for treasurer. But Lungren contended that such consultation could “emasculate the legitimate power” of the governor.
Future Course Unclear
Lungren said he is not sure what he will do when his term in Congress expires, but he said he is considering returning to the practice of law. He has purchased a house near Sacramento and moved his family there from Washington.
After meeting with Deukmejian in the morning, the congressman said he has no plans to go to work for the governor. Lungren’s two brothers already work for Deukmejian.
“No job was offered. No job was requested,” he said. “I don’t expect to have a job with this Administration. I expect to go into the private world.”
On his arrival in Sacramento on Thursday night, members of his family greeted him with a banner reading, “Lungren for A. G. in 1990,” a clear suggestion he has turned his attention to the office of attorney general.
“I’ll be looking at all possibilities,” Lungren told reporters. “Right now, I’m going to have to decide what I’m going to do starting in January.”
Depends on Van de Kamp
The office of attorney general would become vacant in 1990 if its current occupant, John K. Van de Kamp, decides to run for governor.
At the same time, Lungren all but ruled out the possibility that he would run for treasurer: “The chances of me running for treasurer are very, very slim because I would expect the governor is going to appoint somebody and I would expect that person would run for the position when his or her term would be up.’
The prominence Lungren attained as a result of his nomination and subsequent rejection as treasurer could aid him substantially in any bid for statewide office, GOP leaders said.
“He’s been made something of a hero in Republican ranks,” said state Republican Party Chairman Robert Naylor. “He has a real good fund-raising base. He’s known to the activists and to the people who write checks and to the governor’s friends.”
Members of the governor’s staff were tight-lipped about whom Deukmejian will nominate as treasurer. Frost, the governor’s chief of staff, said Deukmejian has not ruled anyone out and added, “I don’t think there’s a front-runner right now.”
Maddy’s decision to take himself out of contention caught many Republicans by surprise, particularly since he had been one of the finalists for the job when Lungren was chosen.
“There are many well-qualified individuals both in and outside of government who could be considered for appointment,” Maddy said in a brief statement issued by his office. “I encourage Gov. Deukmejian to quickly submit a new nomination to the Legislature so we can complete the confirmation process before the legislative session ends on Aug. 31.”
One of the choices facing Deukmejian is whether to pick another outside candidate like Lungren or select a member of the Legislature--who would be likely to have a far easier time winning confirmation.
“It does seem obvious that one of the things that was held against me during these proceedings was that I was not a Sacramento insider,” Lungren said. “It’s a shame that out of a state of over 25 million people, we say that unless you’re in the state Legislature you don’t have a right to be appointed.”
Legislative staff members and GOP activists speculated Friday that the list of potential candidates at this point probably includes those who were passed over when the governor picked Lungren.
Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) and Naylor, a former assemblyman, have all expressed interest in the appointment.
Also mentioned as possible nominees are San Diego banker Tom Stickel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum and lawyer Karl Samuelian, a close friend of Deukmejian who serves as his chief campaign fund-raiser.
Under the Constitution, Deukmejian has no deadline for making the appointment. Once he submits his nominee, the Legislature has 90 days to confirm or reject the appointment. If the 90-day period expires while the Legislature is in recess, the Assembly and Senate will have six days to act after they reconvene, according to the governor’s office.
Lungren said he had no regrets over giving up his congressional seat or the six-month battle to become treasurer.
“I don’t want anybody to feel sorry for me,” he said. “I had my best shot at this court. I knew what the ground rules were.”