The two new congressmen being sent to Washington by Orange County voters are not only friends, but near political twins.
Both are strong conservative Republicans who worked for President Reagan in the White House--one as a lawyer, the other as a speech writer--before returning to California to run for Congress. Each won his district by moving to the spot furthest to the right of his competitors.
Now, as they assume their new offices, they are staking out similar issues to champion: budget controls, transportation and public works. Both are assuming--and it is a safe bet--that they will be in the Capitol long enough to build up the seniority so important in getting things done in the House of Representatives.
C. Christopher Cox, 36, the former senior associate White House counsel who was elected to the 40th Congressional District, and Dana Rohrabacher, 41, a former Reagan speech writer who will represent the 42nd District, were introduced at the 1984 Republican Convention by Arthur Laffer, the economist who rose to prominence after conceiving the now-famous Laffer Curve on a paper napkin.
When Cox arrived at the White House in 1986, where Rohrabacher had already been at work for several years, the two men often had lunch together. On a couple of occasions, the two bachelors shared hosting duties for chili-and-tequila parties given for their Washington acquaintances.
But, according to Cox, it was a serious conversation they had nearly a year ago on the way to lunch in the White House mess that changed their careers.
Bumping into each other in the hallway, the two talked about Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), who had announced he was retiring, and Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), who had become Gov. George Deukmejian’s choice as state treasurer.
“We discussed the unusual coincidence of two congressional seats likely to be open in our home districts right next door to each other,” Cox said last week. By the time they arrived at the White House mess and Cox had ordered his tuna sandwich, “we decided simultaneously, both of us, to enter the primaries,” Cox said.
Cox, a USC and Harvard Law School graduate who was with the Newport Beach law firm of Latham & Watkins before going to the White House, began an intense series of meetings with GOP legislative leaders in California.
Rohrabacher, a Cal State Long Beach alum, waited as Lungren, who eventually failed to get confirmed by the Legislature, decided that he nevertheless would not return to Washington.
Then, of course, both candidates had to win. Cox, who proved an awesome fund-raiser, eventually beat out 13 GOP competitors to win the primary. The more modestly funded Rohrabacher defeated 11 other Republicans in his primary. Both closely aligned themselves with Reagan, and both brought in another star of the conservative movement--fired White House aide Oliver L. North--to campaign for them.
Both won, and it was easy going from there. Neither GOP nominee had significant opposition in the general election.
Cox and Rohrabacher say their first priority in Congress will be holding the line on taxes.
“If there was any pledge in my campaign,” Rohrabacher said a few days after the Nov. 8 election, “it was that I would be against raising taxes.”
“My first and foremost job,” Cox echoed, “will be to help form that core of Republican veto strength for (President-elect) George Bush to live up to his No. 1 campaign promise of no new taxes.”
Cox said he has developed legislation to reform the federal budget process. Under current law, Cox said, Congress can spend money not within its own budget.
“It’s too easy for Congress to end-run the system,” Cox said.
Rohrabacher said he will be looking at new ways to curb federal spending. For example, he said he will propose that the Postal Service be turned over to its employees. This, he said, would not only save money but give incentives for employees to provide good service.
“Overnight, you could turn hundreds of thousands of people . . . into owners of a new company that would have a fantastic competitive edge in the marketplace,” he said. Rohrabacher conceded that such legislation would take years to accomplish and require bipartisan support.
“I’m planning on being someone who’s known for creative ideas and offers new solutions to vexing problems,” Rohrabacher explained.
Rohrabacher’s first act as congressman-elect was to enter--apparently illegally--strife-torn Burma earlier last week as part of a broad-based but unofficial fact-finding trip designed to encourage “freedom-fighters around the world,” according to a former aide. Rohrabacher spoke to more than 800 anti-government Burmese students receiving military training, promising that he would seek U.S. support in their struggle for democracy.
Both men plan to make the proposed Santa Ana River Flood Control Project a high priority, just as their predecessors have.
Despite unanimous support by the Orange County congressional delegation, the $1.2-billion project has never gotten beyond the authorization stage to actually be funded. It is estimated that when the river floods--and experts agree it will at some point-- as many as 1,000 could die.
“It’s criminal not to proceed,” Cox said.
“That flood-control problem has to be at the top of anybody’s agenda who represents Orange County,” Rohrabacher said.
Highway Funds Sought
Also among their top priorities is getting more federal highway funds to Orange County, which they believe has been shortchanged.
“Chris Cox and I will have a lot of contacts in the new Bush Administration,” Rohrabacher said with regard to transportation funding. “I will be trying my best to use those contacts to get Orange County what it rightfully deserves.”
The new congressmen said that among their first priorities will be setting up offices to serve their constituents. Cox plans to open an office in Costa Mesa. Rohrabacher will open two: one in Seal Beach and a satellite office in Torrance.
They believe their experience in Washington will help them assist constituents in their problems with federal agencies.
Cox and Rohrabacher will replace veterans who had built up years of experience in Washington. Badham, for example, is the third-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee and ranking Republican on its procurement and military nuclear systems subcommittee. Lungren is fourth-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Many committees, such as Ways and Means, are off limits to freshmen, and others are long shots. Rohrabacher has set his sights on the Foreign Affairs and Science, Space and Technology committees. Cox said he is thinking about, among other committees, Armed Services, Budget and Public Works.
In Minority Party
Cox and Rohrabacher, while recognizing they will be not only freshmen but in the minority party, believe their familiarity with Washington will help them establish themselves in the Capitol.
“If you are a member of Congress who has solid working relationships with those who are running the executive branch, that puts you a leg up,” Cox said. “At the very least you can . . . help your constituents in a way that would otherwise be unavailable.”
But Cox said he did not mean to suggest that his White House experience would necessarily help him on Capitol Hill, especially given the institutional rivalry between the two.
“I will have to make it on my own with the members,” Cox said. “They certainly won’t be impressed by the White House credential.”
Both plan to have long careers in Washington. Rohrabacher said frequently during the campaign that he gave his 30s to the White House and now wants to give his 40s to Congress. Cox is looking ahead to the time when Republicans control the House of Representatives.
“There is certainly an opportunity for a member entering Congress in January, 1989, as a Republican to assume a leadership position at the end of the century,” Cox said.