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Lungren Known as Tight-Fisted Conservative

November 26, 1987|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Friends of Rep. Daniel E. Lungren like to tell how the Long Beach Republican is so tight-fisted that he once voted against construction of a new federal building in his own district.

Although Long Beach officials eagerly sought the building, the conservative congressman assailed it as a pork-barrel project that would erode efforts to balance the budget.

Lungren was on the losing side of that battle--as he so often is in the Democratic-controlled Congress. But in September, he also had the political savvy to attend the ground-breaking ceremony for the $49-million building.

The episode demonstrates the conservative nature of the man named Wednesday by Gov. George Deukmejian to become the next California treasurer. It also illustrates a pragmatic streak that allows Lungren, on occasion, to compromise with his foes.

Strong Principles

"I think he's been unfairly portrayed as an extreme conservative," said his brother, John C. Lungren Jr. "He's really a politician in the Deukmejian mold, with as strong conservative principles as the governor but also a person who is willing to understand the other side's positions and compromise."

For the tall, curly-haired Lungren, 41, who two years ago abandoned his short-lived quest for a U.S. Senate seat, his nomination as treasurer represents a sudden upturn in his political fortunes.

If he is confirmed by the Legislature, he would be transformed from a little-known congressman into a formidable political figure. As treasurer, he would be the only Republican other than Deukmejian to hold one of the state's constitutional offices.

In Lungren, Deukmejian has chosen a politician whose views closely mirror his own. Both adhere to the same conservative political philosophy and strict moral values. Both began their political careers in Long Beach and have known each other for more than a decade.

Lungren, the governor's own congressman, does not drink alcohol, friends say, and is personally--as well as politically--frugal.

"He's an ideological soul mate to George Deukmejian," one Republican insider said.

At the same time, Lungren has a livelier style than the governor. He is outgoing and a skilled orator. He also can be combative and once got into a shoving match on the floor of the House with then-Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas.

"No one has ever suggested I'm a wallflower when I want to present my own views," Lungren told reporters Wednesday at a press conference to announce his nomination.

Yet Lungren has won the respect of some Democratic members of Congress who praise his intelligence, his diligence and his openness to different points of view.

Framed on a wall in Lungren's Washington office is a letter from then-House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.), who wrote to the Republican congressman:

"You have the qualities I admire in a politician. You are loyal to your party and your President, you love your country and you love politics. You never do anything half-heartedly and in true Notre Dame fashion, when you rise to debate in the House, you shake down the thunder from the sky.,"

Said Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), "He and I disagree most of the time, but I have respect for him. He's a straight shooter. I think he'll go far, and we'll try to stop him every step of the way."

Lungren comes from a politically well-connected family and has had an interest in politics since he was 6 years old and walking precincts for GOP candidates.

Fourth Member

Now, Lungren is the fourth member of his family to be appointed by Deukmejian to a state job. His father, John C. Lungren, was President Richard M. Nixon's physician and was named by Deukmejian to serve on the state Board of Medical Quality Assurance.

The congressman's brother John was appointed by the governor as a public information officer for the Department of Consumer Affairs. And his brother Brian, after working as an aide in the governor's office, was appointed executive director of Deukmejian's political organization, Citizens for Common Sense.

Lungren graduated from St. Anthony's High School in Long Beach and Notre Dame University, where his father and two brothers also graduated. At Notre Dame, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in English and graduated cum laude in 1968.

Although he was of draft age during the Vietnam War, he never served in the military. According to his brother John, Lungren was ineligible to serve because he had injured his knee playing football.

In 1971, he graduated from Georgetown University Law School. He worked briefly for two senators in Washington and was a special assistant to the Republican National Committee.

Lungren returned to Long Beach to practice law in 1973. In 1976, he ran for Congress the first time and lost. But he doggedly pursued his ambition and won election in 1978.

In Congress, Lungren has figured prominently in several issues affecting racial and ethnic groups.

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