Quayle's Host Brings Special Qualifications to the Job

Times Political Writer

Buck Johns said he figures he was selected as host for Vice President Dan Quayle's Orange County reception tonight because Republican Party leaders think "he'll tolerate it and he's nuts." He was only partly joking.

His tennis court is big enough to accommodate 500 people. "That narrows it quite a bit," Johns said. "I imagine probably by default they picked me."

Johns and his wife, Colleen, have made their tennis court available for numerous events featuring many prominent Republicans, including Gov. George Deukmejian, U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson of California and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas during his bid for the nomination for President.

But both the Johnses said preparing for Quayle was a different matter. They have planted their Santa Ana Heights yard with jasmine, geraniums and other flowers, painted and wallpapered parts of their sprawling home, even straightened their dresser drawers in preparation for the reception.

"We never had the vice president before so we're very pumped up about it," said Johns, an Arkansas native who never lost the Southern twang. Said Colleen Johns: "There's something so different about this. It's a real honor to be hosting him in Orange County, much less in your own home."

The boyish-looking Johns, 47, is a well-known figure in Orange County political circles. He is a longtime member of the Lincoln Club, the county's best-known and most prestigious Republican support group, where he and businessmen John Cronin and Doy Henley represent the more conservative wing of the party.

Frustrated by the lack of an organized statewide effort to gain Republican seats in the Assembly, Cronin, Henley and Johns last year came up with Project '90. The effort was aimed at raising money for Assembly races in an attempt to get a GOP majority there before the redistricting that will follow the 1990 census. Among the fund-raising events was an auction, which was held on Johns' tennis court.

But the project largely failed last fall when Democrats made gains in the Assembly, virtually securing their majority in 1990.

Johns is owner of the Inland Group, a firm that acquires land and obtains rights to build on property in Riverside and San Bernardino counties that is then developed by others.

The four Johns children, ranging in age from 7 to 14, are joining in the activities for tonight's reception. They have even cleaned up their rooms, just in case Quayle should stop in to see them.

"They're in the thick of it," Johns said.

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