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Consensus-Builder Royce Is No William Dannemeyer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frank Barbaro remembers the Edward R. Royce who beat him in a 1982 Orange County state Senate race. In particular, he recalls the slashing attack mailer that helped Royce, then 31, win public office for the first time.

In the center was a picture of a young, slightly disheveled Barbaro, sporting long hair and a mustache. Framing the image were photographs of Jane Fonda during her 1972 trip to North Vietnam, and Tom Hayden in jail garb, fresh from a 1968 arrest in Chicago. Underneath, Barbaro recalls, the headlines read “More Power to the Viet Cong,” and “Jane Fonda urges you to vote for Frank Barbaro.”

That was news to Barbaro, now a prominent Orange County attorney and Democratic party fund-raiser. His only Fonda connection, Barbaro said, was that his wife had raised money at a reception for Hayden and other Democrats in 1976, when Hayden was seeking a U.S. Senate seat.

Ten years later, an older Royce, who is about to become the newest member of the Orange County congressional delegation, is sitting in his district office in a mission-style building in downtown Fullerton. In a gray suit and white shirt, Royce looks more like an earnest insurance salesman eager to sign up a new client than a right-wing storm trooper.

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At the end of an hourlong conversation about economic policy, empowerment and the rights of crime victims, Royce muses about the future of the GOP.

“There are two directions the Republican party can take,” says the diminutive senator, as he leans forward on his desk. “One, which I think would be a step backward, would be the rise of the (Patrick J.) Buchanan wing of the party.

Outgoing Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp, on the other hand, would be “a step forward, a step toward the future. Kemp speaks to . . . the politics of opportunity rather than victimization.”

So who is the real congressman-elect in the 39th District? An attack-dog whose approach to government would mirror the tone of that 1982 mailer and who Barbaro said in those days was “as far right as you could get.”

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Or a thoughtful economic conservative who wants to heal the wounds of nasty party battles over social policy and cultural values?

The answer seems to be a little of both.

“Ed is incredibly bright, truly one of the brightest people I’ve ever known in my life,” says longtime friend John R. Lewis, the brash Republican state senator who talked Royce into making his first bid for office 10 years ago. “He’s really an intellectual, a guy who has a lot to offer, a very, very hard-working person. I think he’ll be a great congressman.”

Lewis himself has not eluded controversy. He was indicted in 1989 for allegedly forging the signature of Ronald Reagan on a 1986 campaign mailer, although the charge later was dismissed. He also took heat for his involvement in a 1988 scheme to station private, uniformed security guards at polling places with signs warning illegal immigrants not to vote.

Another Sacramento colleague, a Democrat, who asked not to be named, had a different take on Royce.

“He’s a plodder. What he’ll do is pick an issue, and he’ll just bang away at that issue for a long period of time. He may be effective on that issue . . . , but quite frankly, he doesn’t appear to be that effective on a broad range of issues. Because, although he doesn’t wear his ideology on his sleeve, he is an ideologue. That’s how he operates.”

Retiring Orange County Republican Party Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said that Royce, while conservative, “is also a consensus builder. . . . He is creative, a very new-ideas sort of person.”

But Fullerton City Councilwoman Molly McClanahan, whom Royce defeated by a 58% to 38% margin in Tuesday’s election, predicted Royce will be a “stealth extremist congressman” with little effectiveness.

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There is one point on which Royce’s supporters and detractors agree. Ed Royce is no William E. Dannemeyer, the congressman who has represented the Fullerton area for the past 14 years.

A onetime Democrat turned Republican, Dannemeyer became one of the most conservative and controversial members of the House of Representatives during his stint in Congress, which began in 1979 and was brought to an end by his defeat in the Republican U.S. Senate primary earlier this year.

Dannemeyer infuriated homosexual activists, environmentalists and fellow representatives with strident speeches deploring the decline of American morality, the advent of officially sanctioned Godlessness in public schools, and the triumph of “critters” over human beings in the pantheon of government concerns.

A master of the obscure parliamentary maneuver, Dannemeyer once caused the defeat of a House pay raise proposal, to the chagrin of Democratic leaders, with a critically timed motion. And he enraged others when he inserted into the Congressional Record a detailed, technical and graphic exposition on the unique bedroom behavior of homosexuals.

He always relished the battle. Of his outraged opponents, Dannemeyer said recently, “They just didn’t like the knife.”

On many issues, Royce and Dannemeyer are not far apart. Royce, for example, is a strong supporter of the death penalty and favors a tough crackdown on illegal immigrants. Both men are fervid about cutting taxes and government spending.

But unlike Dannemeyer, Royce has spent much of his time in Sacramento working behind the scenes to seek quiet accommodation with Democrats and other opponents to push through legislation such as the landmark 1990 “stalker” law that makes repeated, threatening behavior a felony.

“If you’re patient enough, and if you don’t mind who gets the credit, you can change the world,” Royce says.

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If Dannemeyer was Conan the Barbarian, Ed Royce is the Invisible Man.

Does he believe that his quiet style is more effective than Dannemeyer’s--stridently staking out conservative positions from which there is no retreat?

“Let me choose my words here,” Royce replies.

“You need some people who are investing as much time working to explain to the opposition party why things must be changed as (others are) investing time in castigating them publicly. Both functions are important.”

That policy has had mixed results for Royce during his 10 years in Sacramento, where he has been identified primarily with issues involving limits on government spending and reform of the criminal justice system. He has not been out front on the social issues that have largely preoccupied Dannemeyer.

“The reason that I got involved in the Republican Party had to do with economics, free market economics,” Royce says. “That’s my platform. That’s my interest. That should be the platform and focus of the party.”

It is an interest reflected in his own life. In addition to collecting his $73,000 a year salary as a state senator, Royce and his wife of seven years, Marie, a Procter & Gamble executive, own a pair of flavored coffee bean boutiques in Laguna Hills and Thousand Oaks. Royce says they will sell the businesses when they move to Washington.

Aside from pursuing economic concerns, Royce spent much of his time in Sacramento working on legislation to protect victims of crime. In addition to writing the “stalker law,” Royce was a principal mover behind Proposition 115, the successful 1990 initiative that Royce called the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act. The law clamped sweeping limits on the rights of defendants and instituted procedural changes intended to speed up criminal proceedings.

His efforts have earned him compliments from both conservative soul mates and legislators on the other side of the aisle.

Most comparisons of voting records “would probably put Ed and me at nearly opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Sen. Bill Lockyer, the Hayward Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Royce has served. “But I consider him a very good friend, and I’ve enjoyed working with him.”

Even though Royce associates with the conservative lawmakers, including Lewis, who are known around Sacramento as “the cavemen,” Lockyer said he detects a difference.

“He’s certainly a conservative Republican, but he’s not rabid. . . . He has significantly more respect for different opinions or lifestyles,” Lockyer said.

“I’ve heard him, for example, express some concerns . . . about the extent to which the evangelical right wing is capturing the Republican party,” Lockyer added. “Not to the degree that it gets you into trouble because I think he is politically quite cautious. . . . I don’t think he goes around saying that publicly, but that’s a sign of impulses that are a little more tolerant and a little more moderate.”

At the Sacramento office of the American Civil Liberties Union, legislative advocate Francisco Lobaco said Royce generally carried legislation that the ACLU opposed. But Royce proved more flexible than many of his conservative colleagues.

For example, Lobaco said, Royce responded to the ACLU’s initial concerns about the stalker bill, which the organization believed would have outlawed innocent behavior in its original form. “He was willing to work with us and the criminal defense bar,” Lobaco said. “My sense is that he was not a strident right-winger.”

But there are other indications that the low-key style may not have served Royce well. In two surveys conducted by the California Journal, the monthly magazine that covers state government, Royce has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the Senate for both his effectiveness and his energy. Royce’s overall rating in the 1992 survey was 28th out of 39 state senators.

Some lawmakers complain that the surveys are biased against Republicans and based only on a modest number of responses (only 14% of the 1,472 lawmakers and aides who received them bothered to return the 1992 surveys).

Edward Randall Royce’s interest in politics dates to his days as a student at Cal State Fullerton, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1977. A active member of the Young Americans for Freedom, the Young Republicans and the College Republicans, Royce met many of his future political allies during those years, including Lewis and Republican Assembly power Pat Nolan, who represents Glendale.

Born to two conservative Democrats, Royce spent the first five years of his life in Los Angeles, in the mid-city area near the intersection of Normandie Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. In the mid-1950s, the family moved to Anaheim, where Royce attended public schools. He graduated from Katella High School in 1970, and then enrolled at Cal State.

Part-time work stretched his college career from the normal span of four years to seven, Royce said. Like future congressional colleagues Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Royce did not serve in the military. A student deferment kept him from going to Vietnam.

It was while Royce was working at the Southwestern Portland Cement Co. in Los Angeles in 1982 that Lewis, who had been elected to the Assembly two years earlier, first approached him about running for office.

Although the newly reapportioned state Senate district contained more registered Democrats than Republicans, voters there were conservative, and both Lewis and Royce thought a Republican could win.

“We walked the district five times,” Royce recalls. “They out-mailed us and they outspent us. But because of our ground efforts, I think we put more pieces of literature into the hands of the electorate than the opposition, and we were really riding that year on the momentum of President Reagan,” who had won his landslide victory over Jimmy Carter two years before.

In his perfected, deadpan style, Royce defends the Fonda mailer that his campaign crafted those many years ago. The answer is instructive because it suggests that both visions of Royce--the demagogue and the diplomat--may have some grounding in the truth.

“The campaign report for Tom Hayden for U.S. Senate, when Hayden was running against the Democratic nominee (then Sen. John Tunney), indicated that Frank Barbaro had had a fund-raiser at his home to raise funds for Tom Hayden,” Royce says. “We put a copy of the campaign report and a copy of the invitation” in the mailer.

And what about the incendiary message about the Viet Cong?

“There were some quotes from Jane Fonda on the piece,” Royce recalls. “I don’t remember what the quotes were.”


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