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Ed Reinecke, who resigned as California's lieutenant governor after a perjury conviction, dies at 92

Ed Reinecke, who resigned as California's lieutenant governor after a perjury conviction, dies at 92
Ed Reinecke is photographed in Sacramento a week before taking over as state chairman of the Republican Party in 1983. (The Sacramento Bee via AP)

Ed Reinecke, the California lieutenant governor who resigned after being convicted of perjury in a Watergate-era scandal, died Saturday in Laguna Hills.

He was 92 and died of natural causes, said his son, Mark Reinecke.

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Reinecke was a protege of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who appointed him to be the state's second-in-command in 1969.

Reinecke had risen quickly in Republican politics, winning a seat in Congress in 1964 as a 40-year-old businessman with no political experience. The plainspoken Caltech graduate, who once called the House of Representatives a "posh pigeonhole," made no secret of his aspirations to be governor and ran in 1974 while still serving as lieutenant governor.

He doggedly continued his campaign after he was indicted for allegedly lying about conversations with Richard Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, about an offer from a telecommunications company to underwrite the 1972 Republican National Convention.

By the time Reinecke was convicted on July 28, 1974, of a single count of perjury, he had lost the primary to Houston Flournoy, who was later defeated by Democrat Jerry Brown. Reinecke clung to his position as lieutenant governor until half an hour before he received an 18-month suspended sentence.

In handing down the sentence, the federal judge called Reinecke "a victim of your own selfish ambition."

"I still do not feel that I am guilty," Reinecke told the judge.

The conviction was eventually overturned because of a technicality: the Senate Judiciary Committee had not officially published a rule permitting a one-man quorum, and the special Watergate prosecutor had not established that more than one senator attended the hearing.

Howard Edwin "Ed" Reinecke was born in Medford, Ore., and grew up in Southern California, graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1942.

After serving as a Navy radioman during World War II, he obtained a mechanical engineering degree from Caltech, then founded an irrigation manufacturing company with his siblings.

Reinecke triumphed in his first political contest in a San Fernando-Antelope Valley district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 40,000.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he attributed his win to "old-fashioned, handshaking, razzle-dazzle campaigning."

As lieutenant governor — a job in which it can be difficult to make news — Reinecke championed coastal protection, worked to boost aerospace employment and pushed for reforms in the University of California system.

But his accomplishments and political acumen were overshadowed by an emerging scandal.

On April 19, 1972, Reinecke testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was investigating whether Mitchell knew about the $400,000 pledge from the telecommunications company ITT before the Justice Department settled three antitrust disputes with the company.

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Reinecke had been lobbying for the convention to be in San Diego, where ITT Sheraton Corp. was opening a new hotel.

Mitchell told the Senate Committee that he found out about the ITT pledge from Reinecke six weeks after the antitrust settlements. Reinecke supported that account in his own testimony.

But Reinecke also acknowledged publicly that he had briefed Mitchell by phone about the ITT pledge months before the settlements. Reinecke said the discrepancy occurred because senators asked about face-to-face meetings, not phone calls.

Prosecutors argued that Reinecke lied to protect Mitchell, in hopes that Mitchell would help Reinecke become governor.

After Reinecke's downfall, Reagan remained loyal to his former lieutenant, soliciting funds to help him pay his legal bills.

"I'm sure, like most of us, you agree that Ed was —  and is — a victim of circumstances and Watergate," Reagan said in his appeal to donors. "This year it's our turn to help a man we all know to be a fine Christian and loyal husband."

Reinecke retreated to his Sacramento-area cattle ranch, working in real estate and running a restaurant. In 1983, he re-emerged as a political force when he was elected chairman of the state Republican Party.

At Reagan's funeral in 2004, Reinecke and his wife, Jean, had a private moment with the casket before members of the public entered, an indication of the two men's closeness.

Asked to sum up the former president's legacy, Reinecke said: "I think it was the philosophy of government, that it should be of and for the people, rather than of and for the government. He just turned the whole thing around."

Reinecke is survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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