SACRAMENTO — Rep. Daniel Lungren, angry and combative, charged Tuesday that the Senate hearings into his appointment as state treasurer are following a "script for a political lynching."
Tossing aside his prepared remarks and his characteristic low-key style, the Long Beach Republican told the five-member Rules Committee, "I'm used to hardball politics. . . . I'm not, however, willing to be subjected to a situation where I am presumably a defendant in some sort of courtroom. I am not on trial here."
Lungren's emotional outburst came during the first of three days of Senate confirmation hearings and was primarily in response to an inflammatory memo prepared by an aide to Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who is chairing the hearings.
Suggestion for Format
The internal memo, written by Robert Forsyth, Roberti's press secretary, suggested that the committee adopt a format for its hearings that would "demonstrate that Lungren, despite all other characteristics, is an unyielding ideologue, a rigid person who hardly can represent all Californians."
Roberti, who has been critical of Lungren but has stopped short of saying he will oppose his confirmation, strongly disavowed the memo as the recommendation of a "partisan enthusiast."
While saying the memo's suggestions were quickly rejected, Roberti described his own role as that of a "devil's advocate" and pointedly told Lungren that he will have to abide hostile questioning by the Democratic-controlled committee.
"That's life in the big city," Roberti declared. "People are opposed to your confirmation, and you can't complain because people are opposed."
The contentiousness of the debate not only set the tone for the hearings but reflected the fact that a majority of Senate Democrats have been gunning for Lungren since November, when Gov. George Deukmejian nominated him to succeed the late Democrat Jesse M. Unruh.
Already 19 of the Senate's 24 Democrats have announced their opposition to his confirmation, only two shy of the 21 votes needed to reject him in the upper house.
Until recently, Lungren had been very careful not to antagonize lawmakers who have until Feb. 29 to block his nomination or he automatically assumes office. But Lungren has grown increasingly skeptical about the motives of Senate Democrats who have made it clear in recent weeks that he faces an uphill battle for confirmation.
Concern for Objectivity
Last week, Deukmejian told The Times that several witnesses called to testify on Lungren's behalf had been pressured into staying away from the hearings. Lungren repeated those charges during his opening statement, saying the allegations have left him with a "disquieting feeling" about the objectivity of the proceedings.
"The only thing on trial here is the process," Lungren charged in his opening statement.
Roberti has staunchly denied allegations of intimidation and once again on Tuesday pledged to give Lungren a "fair and thorough" review.
Despite that pledge, the hearing seemed to closely follow the course outlined in the controversial memo.
The strategy of Senate Democrats as it emerged Tuesday was to show that the treasurer's office, once considered mainly a ministerial post, has wide discretion over billions of dollars in bonding for a variety of programs.
By highlighting Lungren's conservative voting record, they hope to show that he is out of step with voters and would dismantle major programs of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
As opposition witnesses representing environmental, housing and health issues criticized Lungren's qualifications to be treasurer, top Democrats acted as "prosecutors" to emphasize that the congressman's conservative voting record is a precursor of things to come.
Democratic Floor Leader Barry Keene of Benicia, in the sharpest attack on Deukmejian's nominee, read a 10-page statement in which he called Lungren a "zealot, a dogmatic ultraconservative who promises to be the antithesis in every respect of the previous treasurer elected overwhelmingly by the people."
As chairman or a member of 44 boards and commissions, Keene said, Lungren can wield "substantial power" that could shape policy on housing, education, health and the environment.
"The exercise of these enormous powers is largely discretionary and not dictated by law and therefore will necessarily reflect the values and preferences of the officeholder," Keene added.
"The treasurer may use the incredible investment power we've bestowed on the office, as Jesse Unruh did, to finance the construction of hospitals for the indigent, of housing for the disadvantaged and to maximize returns for retirees."
On the other hand, Keene said, the treasurer may consider the office "just another playground for the usual gang of silk-stocking oligarchs that try to run things."