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Senate Narrowly Rejects Lungren : Treasurer Nominee Is Backed by Assembly; Court Test a Possibility

February 26, 1988|GEORGE SKELTON and LEO C. WOLINSKY | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — In a staggering defeat for Gov. George Deukmejian, the state Senate on Thursday narrowly rejected his nomination of Rep. Daniel E. Lungren as California treasurer even as the Assembly was voting to confirm the Long Beach Republican.

Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, pronounced the nomination dead. But Deukmejian and Lungren still faced a tough decision about whether the congressman should be sworn in anyway, thereby forcing a state Supreme Court ruling on the legal requirements for confirmation.

Deukmejian for weeks has insisted that confirmation would require only the majority vote of one house. But Democratic Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and the Legislature's lawyer have disagreed, asserting that confirmation of both houses would be necessary.

Question of Pressing Ahead

Complicating the decision of Deukmejian and Lungren about whether to press the issue in court was Lungren's desire to run for reelection to the House of Representatives this year if he cannot become treasurer. He has until March 11 to file for reelection. Also, there could be a serious question about the validity of any state bonds sold by Lungren as treasurer until his legal status was resolved.

Deukmejian and Lungren were purposely vague about their future actions. In a prepared statement issued by the governor's office following the legislative votes, Lungren made it clear that he feels he has the legal right to take office if he wants to.

"I'm delighted with this new opportunity to serve my state," he said. Deukmejian said he will consult with Lungren and his lawyer "in the coming days . . . to determine the most appropriate way to resolve the legal questions."

Although the constitutional deadline for confirming Lungren is not until Monday, Administration forces appeared by late Thursday to have exhausted all their parliamentary options in the Legislature.

Lungren fell two votes short in the Senate after nearly four hours of intense debate during which opponents touched on everything from Lungren's conservative voting record in Congress, to his father's service as former President Richard M. Nixon's doctor, to the U.S. Senate's rejection of Robert Bork as a Supreme Court justice and Deukmejian's aloof relationship with the Legislature. The final vote was 19 to 21.

Assembly Vote

The Assembly, which spent more time in private party caucuses than in actual debate, voted 43 to 32, giving Lungren two more votes than he actually needed.

The votes in both houses were cast pretty much along party lines, with four Democrats in the Senate and seven in the Assembly joining the Republicans who voted unanimously for the GOP governor's nominee.

The defeat in the Senate reflected, in large part, the Legislature's deep resentment of Deukmejian for not nominating one of its own after Democratic Treasurer Jesse M. Unruh died in August. Several Republican senators had asked for the job, including GOP leader Ken Maddy of Fresno who was the runner-up for the post. Other senators in the running were Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach, Robert G. Beverly of Manhattan Beach and William Campbell of Hacienda Heights.

"I could walk five steps and touch three or four or five Republicans who would not have had a single vote against them," veteran Democratic Sen. Ralph C. Dills of Gardena said during the debate. Turning to GOP members, he added: "Is he (Deukmejian) saying to all of you that you aren't persons who can be depended upon to carry out the duties of the office? . . . He provoked the confrontation. He expected it, and he got it."

During the long confirmation process, which began with Deukmejian's nomination of Lungren shortly before Thanksgiving, liberal Democrats clearly were inspired by the U.S. Senate's rejection last year of President Reagan's nomination of Bork. And this attitude--that if the U.S. Senate could do it, so could the state Senate--surfaced several times during Thursday's debate.

Referring to Reagan's ultimate, successful nomination of Sacramento appellate justice Anthony M. Kennedy to the Supreme Court, Senate Democratic Floor Leader Barry Keene of Benicia said:

"When we ask (Deukmejian) for someone of the caliber of Tony Kennedy and he gives us someone of the caliber of Robert Bork, we're supposed to roll over or we're too partisan! Well, governor, that's not what the (state) Constitution provides. It gives us not just power, but the duty to evaluate your nominee."

Democrats contended--as did several Republicans privately--that Deukmejian should have consulted legislative leaders last fall in a serious effort to choose a politically mainstream nominee who was acceptable to both parties. Several opponents during the debate branded Lungren an "ultraconservative, right-winger."

"He made this appointment as if there was no advice and consent process at all," charged Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). "We're asking the governor to try again in the spirit of cooperation. . . .

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