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A Big Question Is 'What If?' as Senate Weighs Lungren's Fate

February 22, 1988|CLAUDIA LUTHER | Times Political Writer

Under the you-think-you've-got-problems heading:

While the state Senate ponders the fate of Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), Gov. George Deukmejian's nominee for state treasurer, election officials are spinning in a sea of what-if scenarios that are mind-boggling.

What they come up with is of interest to Orange County Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder, who plans to run for Lungren's seat if he becomes treasurer. "It's a circus," she said. "It just isn't fair to lots of people."

Wieder so far is the most visible potential candidate in Lungren's district, which is predominantly Republican. But she has said that if she and Lungren were to wind up on the same ballot somehow--and he is not confirmed as treasurer--she would support him.

A Variety of Scenarios Possible

Orange and Los Angeles County election officials as well as legislative aides are sorting through election codes to try to figure out the implications of a variety of scenarios if Lungren's confirmation is delayed.

First, there is disagreement over whether an appointed state treasurer must be confirmed by both the Assembly and Senate or whether the confirmation of only one house of the Legislature is enough. In Lungren's case, it is the Assembly that seems likely to vote for confirmation. But the Democrat-controlled Senate Rules Committee last week recommended that the full Senate reject him.

For example: What if Lungren's nomination is not approved by the Senate by the Feb. 29 confirmation deadline, and a lawsuit is filed over whether confirmation by both houses of the Legislature is required? And what if there is no court decision before the March 11 filing deadline facing congressional candidates?

That would put Lungren in the position of having to preserve his current post by filing for the 42nd Congressional District race. (As of Friday, he had not taken out declaration-of-intent papers indicating that he will run, Orange County officials said.)

And if Lungren met that filing deadline, it appears that he would be on the June primary ballot even if he were to become treasurer in the meantime.

"The difficulty is that the law does not allow a candidate to simply withdraw his name from the ballot," said Senate consultant Tim Hodgson.

"If he died, he could," said Rosalyn Lever, Orange County's assistant registrar of voters. But even if a candidate dies, she said, his name will be on the ballot unless he dies 59 or more days before the primary.

So Lungren, who is a popular incumbent, might well win his party's nomination in June and, therefore, be on the ballot in November to be elected to a seat that he already would have vacated to become treasurer.

In the meantime, Gov. Deukmejian could have called a special election to complete the remaining few months of Lungren's 1986 term of office. Given the current timing, that would probably happen in July.

2 Special Elections Unlikely

Whoever was elected in the special election would fill the seat from the time of that election to Jan. 3, 1989, at which time there would have to be another special election to fill the new term.

But this set of events is unlikely to happen because the governor, a fiscal conservative, would be unlikely to authorize two costly special elections.

Therefore, if Lungren were to resign, it would be more likely that the seat would be left vacant until the end of his current term. And the special election would not be called until Lungren had to resign from Congress--after being reelected--to take office belatedly as state treasurer.

Unless, of course, there were fears within the GOP establishment that a Democrat could position himself or herself to win the election next year. Then Deukmejian might be pressured to go ahead with the earlier special election in order to put a Republican in a stronger position as an incumbent the following year.

And on and on.

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