9 Departing Congress Dismayed by Disunity : Politics: Lawmakers express frustration over partisanship in California delegation. They say state's clout has been diluted by it.


In the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Democratic and Republican leaders of the California congressional delegation called a rare meeting on Capitol Hill to map out legislative strategy for providing federal funds to the state.

Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Palo Alto) recalled that he was one of only seven of the state's 45 House members who bothered to show up. "That was striking because in California only one House district was not quake-prone," Campbell said.

Earlier this year, Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles) tried to get House approval for a grant to provide $10 million in additional funding for an East Los Angeles geriatric center built in his name.

"When that vote came up, some Californians voted against giving the money to Cal State L.A.," said Roybal, still seething over the incident. "Had that money gone to Harvard, Yale or Stanford, nobody would have questioned it at all."

Campbell and Roybal are among nine California legislators who are leaving elected office at the end of the year. Like many of their departing colleagues, they expressed frustration with the way partisan politics have split the state's delegation and prevented Congress from passing important national legislation.

Together, the retiring nine members represent one-fifth of the current delegation, 126 years of seniority and two key slots on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. In addition, California will lose the chairmanship of the House Budget Committee when Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) joins the Clinton Administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The 11th Californian to leave the House is Senator-elect Barbara Boxer. She was the only successful candidate among four Californians who gave up their House seats to run for the Senate.

For all the alarm about voter anger this year, only one California incumbent was defeated in a House race. Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) lost a primary challenge to millionaire Michael Huffington.

Interviews with six of the retiring House members--the others couldn't be reached for comment--revealed a collective dismay at the inability of the California delegation to work together on critical issues that confront the state. The legislators said that an expanded delegation of 52 seats--the largest in history--should boost the state's influence on Capitol Hill next year.

But they are not placing any bets.

"Ideology overrides California's economic interest here (in Washington)," said Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), a 10-year veteran. "It is unfortunate and it is something that I would hope could be broken through and overcome."

A glaring example of divisiveness within the delegation occurred earlier this month when Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) lost his battle to retain his post as the third-ranking Republican in the House to Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.). Lewis blamed his 88-84 defeat in a closed-door vote on conservative Republicans from California who failed to support him.

Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), who is retiring after 12 years, said the Lewis defeat is a reminder of how other large delegations seem to have no trouble pulling together at the expense of California.

"Every Texas Republican made it very clear up front weeks ago that they were supporting Armey," Lowery said. "Those that disagree with him ideologically said, 'He is a Texan, he is ours, so we are going to bat for him.' That contrast with California underscores the problem."

On the flip side, Lowery said, Congress' finest hour came during the January, 1991, vote that authorized the use of force in the Persian Gulf.

"That vote was the exception to how business has normally been done," Lowery said. "Members did not question the integrity, motive or position of their colleagues. Everyone was soul-searching to do the right thing. I wish we could apply that same high level of public debate to dealing with health care, the deficit and the tax code."

Indeed, all six of the lawmakers interviewed lamented the partisan fighting within Congress on national issues. Republicans complained that House Democratic leaders routinely ignore the views of the minority party. Lagomarsino said this was the case on the Interior Committee, where Chairman George Miller (D-Martinez) knew he had the votes to do as he pleased on any issue.

"When (Miller) wants something, he gets it and there's not much you can do about it," Lagomarsino said.

Others voiced concern about the decade-long stalemate between a Democratic Congress and a Republican administration.

"This is what prevented good bills from becoming law," Campbell said. He cited as examples gun control legislation, the Freedom of Choice Act and a line-item veto.

Such gridlock, however, is certain to vanish with the incoming Clinton Administration.

"I just wish I had an administration like this to work with in my decade here," Levine said. "I think people in Congress will be exhilarated by it. I think it will carry over to those Republicans whose primary interest is America, not partisanship."

Of the nine California House members preparing to leave government, five are Republicans and four are Democrats.

Rep. Glenn M. Anderson: After 52 years in public office, the former Hawthorne mayor is retiring to run his family business. At his peak of power, the San Pedro Democrat steered lucrative projects to his home district as chairman of the surface transportation subcommittee. But Anderson was disgraced in 1990 when his colleagues, disturbed by his ineffectiveness, stripped him of the chairmanship of the Public Works and Transportation Committee.

Anderson, 79, left office with the hope that his stepson, Evan Braude Anderson, would succeed him. But Braude Anderson lost to Cal State Long Beach political scientist Steve Horn. Rep. Anderson did not return phone calls.

Rep. Tom Campbell: The Stanford economics professor dropped out of the House after only two terms to run for the Senate. He was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary by former television commentator Bruce Herschensohn.

Looking back, Campbell said, he believes he would have defeated Herschensohn in a one-on-one race, but his support was diluted by a field of Republican challengers that included singer Sonny Bono. Campbell, 40, will resume teaching at Stanford while serving as executive director of the Republican Majority Coalition. The stated purpose of the newly formed national organization is to "take back" the GOP to where it was before the religious right gained influence.

Rep. William E. Dannemeyer: When President-elect Clinton signaled that he was open to appointing Republicans to his cabinet, the arch-conservative Dannemeyer was among the first to apply for secretary of the Treasury and head of the Office of Management and Budget.

"I'm a little surprised I haven't got a response from Mr. Clinton yet," said Dannemeyer, 63, only partially tongue-in-cheek. "I don't know why he would avoid an opportunity of having a person with my commitment to getting a balanced budget."

Perhaps the best explanation came from Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Sacramento), who said recently that the departure of the combative Dannemeyer after 14 years in the House would help restore harmony to the California delegation. The Fullerton Republican, who lost a Senate primary race to John Seymour in June, said he intends to run again for the same Senate seat in 1994.

Rep. Mervyn M. Dymally: First elected in 1980, Dymally stepped down from his Compton district with the expectation that he would be replaced by his daughter. But Lynn Dymally lost the Democratic primary to Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker III.

Dymally, 66, who in 1974 was elected California's first black lieutenant governor while running with Edmund G. Brown Jr., devoted much of his attention to international affairs. Dymally became chairman of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa in 1990 and frequently traveled overseas. He could not be reached for an interview.

Tucker said that he will focus his legislative efforts on the poor, inner-city district.

Rep. Robert J. Lagomarsino: Lagomarsino is still bitter that his seat was virtually bought by Republican challenger Michael Huffington, who spent an all-time record $3.3 million of his own money in the Republican primary.

"I remain very upset about it," said Lagomarsino. "Time doesn't change what happened."

A House member for 18 years, Lagomarsino, 66, has no plans other than to return to California. "I am going to wait and see what comes up," he said.

Rep. Mel Levine: The Santa Monica Democrat suffered a lopsided defeat in a Democratic Senate primary, finishing third in a three-way race behind Boxer and Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy.

In retrospect, Levine said, the public's interest in women candidates made it "all but impossible" for him to win. "I happened to run in the year of the woman," he said. "I didn't represent change the way Barbara did because of her gender and her message."

Levine, 49, said he is interested in working for one of several law firms based in Los Angeles that specialize in international affairs with offices in Washington.

Rep. Bill Lowery: One of four Californians on the powerful Appropriations Committee, Lowery pulled out of his House primary race in April after he had written 300 overdrafts on the scandal-ridden House bank.

Lowery, 45, said the job had begun to lose its appeal. "It has not been as satisfying," he said. "Since 1989 Congress has not been able to get past the gridlock and partisanship bickering."

His hopes of landing an overseas post in a Republican Administration were dashed in November following President Bush's defeat. Lowery is negotiating with Washington consulting firms for a position that would capitalize on his Appropriations Committee expertise.

Rep. Frank Riggs: The freshman lawmaker gained some notoriety on Capitol Hill as a member of the Gang of Seven, the group of first-year members who led a revolt against perks, pay raises and the House Bank.

Riggs, 42, was defeated by Democrat Dan Hamburg, who said that voters in the Humboldt County district were sending a message that they want substance over gimmicks. No one answered the phone in Riggs' Washington or California offices.

Rep. Edward R. Roybal: A senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Roybal, 76, retired after three decades in Congress. He plans to work for the Edward R. Roybal Foundation at Cal State Los Angeles.

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