In a surprise vote, the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Gov. Pete Wilson’s appointment of two Southern California businessmen to 12-year terms as regents of the University of California.
Gerald L. Parsky and Peter Preuss, both substantial Republican campaign contributors, won endorsement from the Democrat-dominated committee. Such approval usually is tantamount to confirmation by the full Senate.
But the committee left undecided the fate of UC Regents Chairman Tirso del Junco, twice chairman of the California GOP, current chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors and a Republican activist nationally for 20 years.
Committee Chairman Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward), president pro tem of the Senate, said a vote on Del Junco would be delayed indefinitely. He can continue to serve without confirmation until March.
Lockyer originally said the committee would postpone a vote on all three, but abruptly reversed himself without explanation Tuesday on Preuss and Parsky.
Clearly impressed by the two business executives, Lockyer uncharacteristically praised Wilson’s appointment of Preuss and Parsky, declaring that “I haven’t seen any finer two individuals to be offered” as appointees.
But the committee’s 5-0 vote may not set well with some Democrats in Lockyer’s own majority caucus. Some have said that any new Wilson appointees to choice jobs such as the Board of Regents should be rejected by the Rules Committee in the hopes that a Democrat would be elected governor next year and he or she could fill the vacancies.
Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh welcomed the committee’s vote on Preuss and Parsky, but said Lockyer and Senate Democrats should see fit to put their partisan differences aside and confirm Del Junco as well.
Walsh denied the notion that the unexpected vote to approve two of the three appointees might indicate that Lockyer and Wilson are putting aside their usual antagonism and are working out a deal involving the confirmations and some other issues.
Parsky, 54, chairman of an investment partnership based in Los Angeles, served as assistant secretary of the treasury during the Reagan administration. Later, he practiced law in Los Angeles, and he is a trustee of several foundations, including the Reagan and George Bush libraries, and is a governor of the performing arts council of the Los Angeles Music Center.
Federal and California campaign finance records show Parsky contributed more than $157,319 to state and federal GOP candidates and causes during the last six years, including $28,500 to various Wilson campaigns.
Preuss, also 54, founded Integrated Software Systems Corp. in San Diego in 1970. He is president of the Preuss Foundation, whose activities include the financing of cancer research. He also is a major contributor to the University of California, especially the San Diego campus.
Preuss and members of his family have donated about $66,500 since 1971 to mostly Republican candidates, including $35,000 to Wilson. Included as a recipient was Lockyer, who received $1,000 in 1995 from Preuss’ wife, Peggy.
On Monday, Lockyer criticized Del Junco as a Republican activist who supported the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 and for voting as a regent to abandon affirmative action for women and minorities at the university. Del Junco countered that he always separated his partisan activities and that they never infringed on his duties as a regent.
By contrast Tuesday, the political campaign contributions of Preuss and Parsky went virtually untouched by Democrats. Indeed, Democratic Sen. Richard Polanco of Los Angeles, who had attacked Del Junco’s appointment, testified Tuesday in favor of Parsky.
Lockyer asked Polanco how he made a distinction between the political activism of Del Junco and the campaign donations of Parsky. Polanco replied that Del Junco was “fully engaged in the political arena” and that his conduct had “crossed the line” into unacceptable behavior for a regent.
“I have not read nor do I have any evidence of [Parsky] going beyond and crossing the line,” Polanco said.
Unlike Del Junco, neither Parsky nor Preuss were regents in 1995 when affirmative action programs at the University of California were abolished by Wilson and the regents. The action infuriated Democrats in the Legislature.
Parsky and Preuss testified that in lieu of affirmative action, they are committed to expanding the diversity of the UC student body but were unsure how to proceed.
Later, Lockyer told a reporter that he also makes a distinction between the political activities of Del Junco and Parsky.
Lockyer said he agreed that political donations, such as those from Parsky, finance the party activities of individuals such as Del Junco.
But he said that donating money for political purposes “is a much more private political role, whereas Mr. Del Junco was actively involved in the day-to-day mudslinging activities of politics and politicians.”
“I respect that role and he has every right to do it,” Lockyer said. “But that is not the type of person who ought to be a regent at UC.”