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Lungren Nomination for Treasurer Stirs Little Fire

December 04, 1987|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

SACRAMENTO — Since he was nominated by Gov. George Deukmejian last week to be state treasurer, Rep. Daniel E. Lungren has given 21 news media interviews, stocked up on books about bond financing and begun house-hunting in Sacramento. But, surprisingly, he has encountered little political opposition.

To have heard legislators tell it before his nomination, there would be political blood all over the Capitol if the conservative Long Beach Republican--or any other non-legislator--got the governor's nod to succeed the late Jesse Unruh as treasurer. So far, there have been a few scattered shots triggered in response to reporters' questions, but no organized opposition has surfaced.

Long Way to Go

Lungren still has a long way to go before winning confirmation from the Democrat-controlled Legislature. Hearings will not even begin until next month. The deadline for legislative action is not until March 1. After that, if at least one house has not voted to deny him confirmation, Lungren can take office.

"We're in the Christmas season with the Christmas spirit," Lungren theorized in an interview.

Agreeing basically with that explanation for legislative lethargy was an aide to Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), one of Lungren's expected opponents: "It's mostly wait and see now. Nobody's focusing on Lungren. But they (legislators) will when they come back (in January). This was probably a shrewd time for Deukmejian to name him."

But for Lungren, unlike his opponents, this is not a time to "wait and see." It is a time to fully focus on the upcoming legislative struggle.

"We want to set the agenda," said Jim Robinson, a Deukmejian speech writer and political adviser.

Noting that Lungren is scarcely known outside of his Long Beach congressional district, Robinson said: "There's a blank canvas now. We want him to paint his own portrait before the opposition does."

Deukmejian's strategists regard the 41-year-old Lungren as an intelligent, articulate, veteran--i.e., classy politician who can sell himself to the public and hold his own under the most critical legislative scrutiny.

Assembly Democratic Leader Thomas M. Hannigan of Fairfield, asked how his select 19-member confirmation committee will proceed, responded, "Carefully."

"I'm new at this investigative business and would like to avoid embarrassment, so I will be sensitive to any information that comes to us," Hannigan said.

But asked to predict the outcome, the Democratic leader said: "I guess I would say he probably gets confirmed. There's no reason not to think so at this point. But I want to be fair and impartial, and I'm not out beating the drums for him. There's plenty of other people to do that."

In the Senate, President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) said, "I don't have any reason to vote against him."

'Die in Office'

One Senate Democrat put it this way: "It's too bad a Democrat (Unruh) died in office, but that's the roll of the dice. Lungren's detractors will have to come up with a hell of a lot to deny him confirmation."

The biggest blemish found so far by Lungren's detractors was his unsuccessful opposition to a $1.2-billion appropriation paying $20,000 in compensation to each of the 60,000 Japanese-Americans still alive who were sent off to internment camps during World War II. Lungren, who served on the blue-ribbon commission that recommended the compensation, favored merely apologizing officially to the former internees and setting up a $50-million education fund to continue scholarly research into their internment.

The bill passed the House and is in the Senate. The Reagan Administration opposes the measure.

Trying to head off Lungren's nomination, the Japanese-American Citizens League in September issued a statement declaring that his selection "would sit very badly not only among Japanese-Americans but among most other Asian-Americans as well."

After the nomination, however, the San Francisco-based organization's national director, Ron Wakabayashi, said that although he still is "strongly opposed" to Lungren's confirmation, "we're not leading the charge against him, and I don't anticipate that we will."

The biggest legislative critic of Lungren's opposition to the Japanese-American bill is Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne), whose district contains many voters of Asian ancestry.

"He stands out as a pure racist on this issue," charged the outspoken Floyd.

Lungren's reaction to such harsh talk is that "I got involved (with the Japanese-American redress commission) because I feel very strongly that the internment was wrong."

"To be criticized later on for being insensitive is more than ironic--it's hurtful," he said.

Lungren's opposition to the compensation was mainly a product of his fiscal conservatism.

"I don't think you can place a dollar value on loss of liberty," he said. "I don't think $20,000 in any sense gives a person recompense. It comes down to then becoming a symbolic gesture rather than true compensation.

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