Surprising the political world, Gov.-elect Pete Wilson on Wednesday named state Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), a philosophical soul mate and longtime ally, to replace him in the U.S. Senate.
Seymour, a self-made millionaire real estate developer who shares both the political philosophy and temperate personality of Wilson, has little statewide name recognition. Few political insiders viewed him as a prospect for the post. The 53-year-old legislator lost his only race for statewide office last June when he ran in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor and was beaten comfortably by another Orange County state senator, Marian Bergeson.
Now Seymour will have to begin gearing up for a grueling political marathon--running next year for the remaining two years of Wilson’s six-year Senate term and, if successful, competing just two years later in 1994 for a full six-year term. That means a lot of red-eye airplane travel back and forth from Washington and work to raise millions of campaign dollars.
“I’ll be happy to assist him all I can (in raising money),” Wilson told reporters.
Seymour’s selection was viewed with hostility by the right wing of the Republican Party. But it was greeted gleefully by many Democrats who not only have their eye on Wilson’s seat next year, but also on California’s other Senate seat to be vacated by veteran Sen. Alan Cranston. Basically, they look upon Seymour as a relatively weak statewide candidate.
“This certainly makes it a seat that the Democrats can take,” said Rep. Barbara Boxer of Greenbrae. Boxer is one of several Democrats expected to compete in the 1992 Senate free-for-all. Another could be former Gov. Jerry Brown, currently the state Democratic chairman, who ran for the Senate in 1982 and lost to Wilson. “It doesn’t discourage me,” Brown said of Wilson’s surprise choice.
Beyond competition from Democrats, Seymour probably will face a conservative challenge from within his own party for the GOP nomination next year. Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), a staunch conservative, said of Wilson’s selection: “This is so unimaginative that I think it begs for a primary challenge. Some conservative is going to take a look at this and say, ‘Yes!’ ”
Seymour is the first person to be appointed to the U.S. Senate by a California governor since 1964, when Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown chose Pierre Salinger to replace Democrat Clair Engle, who was terminally ill and had resigned. Salinger then was defeated by Republican George Murphy.
This seems to be a national pattern: Of the 23 senators appointed by governors across the nation since 1960, only 11 have won full terms.
Clearly, Seymour’s appeal to Wilson was his philosophy and long political loyalty. In fact, Seymour told reporters he did not even apply for the highly coveted job, nor had he interviewed for it. Yet Wilson described the legislator as his “first choice.”
“I was looking for someone who was philosophically compatible. I found someone who I think is about as close to my own positions as I could hope for,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he personally interviewed close to two dozen potential senators, including “blacks, browns, Asians, Hispanics, men and women. . . . I read a good deal of the record of each person. I did not take the responsibility casually.”
Ultimately, Wilson selected a white, middle-aged male, one he had first gotten to know in the mid-1970s when both were mayors--Wilson in San Diego and Seymour in Anaheim. Seymour also was a strong political ally who had been one of the few legislators to endorse Wilson for the Senate in 1982, was state chairman of his reelection campaign in 1988 and helped persuade him to run for governor last year.
“I have known John Seymour better and longer than several people on that list (of potential senators),” Wilson explained. “I did not have to do a two-hour interview with him to know where he was on issues. I didn’t have to have my staff perform exhaustive research. . . . I knew a great deal about this man.”
“He’s got guts,” Wilson said of Seymour, adding that “he happens to combine both the integrity and the drive, both intellectual and physical, to do the job.”
Importantly, Seymour fit a very specific philosophical litmus test that Wilson had established for his replacement: He favors a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. This also is Wilson’s position, but Seymour only began supporting abortion rights in 1989 after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that restored the right of states to restrict abortions.
Seymour’s selection was praised by abortion-rights advocates and denounced by abortion opponents.
“We are thrilled,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of the California Abortion Rights Action League. “He is a trusted friend of the pro-choice community.”
But Brian Johnston, Western regional director of the National Right to Life Committee, said: “Seymour’s appointment is appalling to us and a major blow to the Republican Party. . . . His loss (in last June’s primary) is directly attributable to his flip-flopping on the abortion issue.”
Seymour also takes the liberal position on offshore oil drilling: He opposes it, as does Wilson. But, again, this is a change in position. He supported offshore drilling until the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989.
On a more pressing issue that Seymour will face almost immediately upon becoming a U.S. Senator, the ex-Marine said that he solidly backs President Bush’s policy in the Persian Gulf and will support sending U.S. troops to war, if that is Bush’s decision.
It is not exactly clear when Seymour will replace Wilson in the Senate. Wilson’s resignation will become effective immediately upon his being sworn in as governor on Monday. After that, Seymour will go to Washington and at some point take Wilson’s seat.
Wilson said he did not make his final decision on Seymour until after Christmas. He telephoned the legislator last Thursday morning in Mammoth, where he was vacationing with his family.
“He (Wilson) said, ‘Where are you and what’ya doing?’ ” Seymour recalled. “I said, ‘Well, I’m sitting here looking at the beautiful snow and watching the sun come up over the mountains.’ ” The legislator said he thought Wilson merely was calling to ask his advice on some appointment to a state job, but instead began urging him to seriously consider “filling his shoes.”
“Once I got myself up off the floor I said, ‘Well, Pete, I need a couple of days to talk to the family.’ We took a couple of days, called back and said, ‘We’re with you 110%. We won’t let you down.’ ”
Seymour said his hesitation in accepting what for most politicians would be a dream job was the hardship it clearly will place on his family as he enters a bruising political battle next year, after having just lost a statewide race.
Illustrative of the surprise of Seymour’s selection, his name had not figured in any of the news media speculation on whom Wilson might choose as his successor. Wilson passed over such potential senators as U.S. Reps. Jerry Lewis of Redlands, David Dreier of Covina and Tom Campbell of Palo Alto, and Orange County Supervisor Gaddi Vasquez.
Some people already had taken themselves out of the competition, including former Rep. Ed Zschau of Palo Alto, who unsuccessfully challenged Cranston in 1986, U.S. trade representative Carla A. Hills and state Sen. Rebecca Q. Morgan of Los Altos Hills.
But Zschau, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is considered a potential candidate for Cranston’s seat, which is politically more attractive because whoever wins it will gain a full six-year term. Dreier, a proven fund-raiser, also is regarded as a possible contender for the Cranston seat. Lewis, however, recently won a hard-fought race for the third-highest leadership post among House Republicans and is expected to stay put.
On the Democratic side, former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who lost the gubernatorial race in a squeaker last November, is expected to run for one of the two Senate seats next year.
Clint Reilly, a Democratic political consultant now working for Rep. Bob Matsui (D-Sacramento), who has declared his candidacy for Cranston’s seat, said of Seymour: “He appears to be a candidate who, starting out, has a long way to go in terms of building statewide name recognition. There’s nothing in his background which automatically makes him exciting. He’s the kind of Republican that we Democrats were hoping Pete Wilson would appoint.”
But Wilson shrugged off such talk. The governor-elect pointed out that he, too, lost his first statewide race when he finished fourth in a 1978 bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. “I don’t believe in being daunted by such small things,” he said.
Wilson’s explanation for Seymour’s primary loss last year was that he did not have enough campaign money. “If you don’t have that war chest, you’re not in the game,” Wilson said. “We’ll see to it that this time there is ample opportunity for his story to be told.” And as a U.S. senator, Wilson added, “he’ll be showcased.”
Skelton reported from Sacramento and Stall from Los Angeles.
NEW CALIFORNIA SENATOR John Seymour * Age: 53 * Education: Bachelor of arts degree in finance from UCLA, 1962 * Birthplace: Chicago (raised in Mount Lebanon, Pa.) * Profession: Real estate agent/businessman * Religion: Protestant * Family: Married to the former Judy Thacker; they have six children. * Political offices held: Since April of 1982, Seymour has been a California state senator representing the 35th District. He served as mayor of Anaheim from 1978 until his election to the Senate. From 1974 to 1978, he served as an Anaheim city councilman. Seymour’s Positions on Key Issues Favors: Abortion rights, Bush’s Persian Gulf policy, Death penalty & Term limits for incumbents Opposes: Offshore oil drilling