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Lungren Prepares to Catapult Into State Politics

January 04, 1988|RICHARD C. PADDOCK and MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Rep. Daniel E. Lungren jokes that he has known Gov. George Deukmejian longer than the governor has known him.

Lungren recalls attending a political rally as a youth in Long Beach, where Deukmejian, then an aspiring politician, addressed the crowd and introduced Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Deukmejian, not surprisingly, does not remember the then-14-year-old Lungren.

But Lungren did make a lasting impression on Deukmejian 16 years later, in 1976, when Lungren ran for Congress. Deukmejian, who then was seeking reelection to the state Senate, shared the platform with Lungren at campaign rallies and they became lasting political allies.

Now, as governor, Deukmejian has given a big boost to the political career of his fellow Long Beach Republican by nominating him as state treasurer. It is a post that could catapult the governor's hometown congressman into the forefront of California politics.

Lungren would replace the late Jesse M. Unruh, who died in August after transforming the treasurer's office into a position of political power and influence. The Legislature is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings this month on Lungren's nomination, and both sides are expecting a tough battle.

In announcing his selection of Lungren on Nov. 25, Deukmejian said: "He's a man of unquestioned honesty, fairness and sound judgment. He's a seasoned public servant and he's earned an outstanding reputation."

But many legislators are irritated with Deukmejian because he did not nominate one of their colleagues for the coveted job. And they have little incentive to make the confirmation process easy either for the governor or the congressman, who has few personal relationships with the state lawmakers. Some opponents already are trying to portray Lungren as a right-wing extremist who is outside the mainstream of Republican politics, a charge the governor and his nominee vehemently deny.

Lungren's political connections go back well before he first encountered Deukmejian. He traces his start in politics to 1952, when his father first volunteered to go on the campaign trail as vice presidential candidate Nixon's physician.

The vice president became a family friend who occasionally visited the Lungren household. When Dan Lungren entered political life, Nixon gave him advice, encouragement and, when necessary, condolences.

"I remember when I ran for Congress the first time and lost," Lungren recalled, "and he called me up and said in that deep voice of his, 'Dan, I've won and I've lost, and believe me, it's better to win.' But he consoled me and suggested that I ought not to give up, and that I might figure out what I needed to do to win the next time."

Lungren won on his second try two years later.

Now, in the middle of his fifth term, Lungren, 41, has established himself as a highly ideological but skillful politician who can, when circumstances require it, compromise with his Democratic foes.

In the House of Representatives, he stands out as one of the most conservative members. His voting record wins high marks from the American Conservative Union and the United States Chamber of Commerce. Conversely, he gets low ratings from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, the American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO.

He favors drilling for oil off the coast of California and opposed tough sanctions against South Africa. He championed a $12,100 salary increase for members of Congress but consistently has voted against increased spending for social programs.

Lungren has developed a good working relationship with members of both parties and wins praise from liberals and conservatives alike for his integrity and direct approach to politics.

"I have fundamental disagreements with him on a whole variety of issues," said liberal Rep. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City). "We are far apart philosophically--and I like him. He is a good legislator. He does a good job for the conservative issues he believes in."

Energetic and outgoing, Lungren has the confident air of a man who knows his own mind and is not afraid to challenge others. He is straightforward, articulate and enjoys the sport of a lively debate. At times, he can be combative, even pugnacious, and once got into an altercation on the House floor with then-Majority Leader Jim Wright of Texas.

Six-foot-2 with wavy brown hair, Lungren lifts weights and practices the martial art of tae kwon do. He likes to drink milk and does not touch alcohol. He is a devout Catholic and, by all accounts, is devoted to his wife and three children. "He's a straight-arrow family man, which is why he and the governor are so close. They're really the same kind of people," said Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale, who first met Lungren in the 1970s and is now pushing for his confirmation.

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