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The True Believer : Politics: Some call Rep. William Dannemeyer a bigot; others say he's a hero. All agree he never backs down, and enjoys a good fight.

July 11, 1990|ROBERT W. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I'm a lawyer by profession," he said. "I'm not intimidated by the adversarial process. I never have been. I've made my living in litigation. I sleep nights."

A Dannemeyer aide recalled the time his boss recounted to a group of lobbyists the story of how Dannemeyer, an avid fisherman, had landed a 45-pound grouper after a wrenching, hourlong tug of war.

"One of the lobbyists looked up and said, 'You must have been exhausted after that,' " recalled Michael G. Franc, Dannemeyer's legislative counsel. "And (Dannemeyer) looked at him, and he smiled, and he said, 'Sir, I was exhilarated.' "

Almost every public action he takes encourages the view that Dannemeyer gets a charge out of mixing it up with liberals who are out, in the words of one aide, to "ruin America."

Last summer, Dannemeyer shocked--and apparently titillated--many on Capitol Hill when he inserted into the Congressional Record, the official journal of congressional proceedings, a lengthy attack on the influence of homosexuals on federal policy.

The most controversial passage, titled "What Homosexuals Do," recited in clinical detail "the average homosexual's favorite activities." The passage was so graphic that it prompted Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.) to call for an ethics committee investigation of Dannemeyer for placing obscene material in the Record. The committee never took up the request.

Dannemeyer has written a book, published last fall, titled "Shadow in the Land." In it, he asserts that homosexuality "is not undeniably an inherited orientation, but is probably a bad habit acquired in early childhood or puberty." He also attacks gay rights activists for attempting the wholesale restructuring of American society by demanding "special rights," and says: "We must either defeat militant homosexuality or it will defeat us."

And there is more to come. Dannemeyer has vowed to push for a floor vote to expel from Congress Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who has admitted placing on his personal payroll a homosexual prostitute with whom he once had a sexual relationship.

One of the most liberal members of Congress, Frank also is one of two lawmakers who have publicly disclosed their homosexuality. (The other is Gerry Studds, also a Massachusetts Democrat.) The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct has struggled with the Frank case for nearly a year.

"Right field doesn't even begin to describe (Dannemeyer) in some respects," said Norman J. Ornstein, a Congress watcher and political scientist with the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. "He's really out in the bleachers."

According to those who watch his performance in Congress, Dannemeyer pays a price for his outspokenness--or outrageousness.

He clearly makes many Republicans uncomfortable. In 1988, when he sought the chairmanship of the House Republican Conference, he won only seven votes. A year earlier, he lost out to two freshmen congressmen in a bid for a seat on the House Budget Committee, despite his well-known interest in fiscal affairs.

Some local officials complain privately that Dannemeyer, because of his staunch fiscal conservatism, often has voted against spending bills that benefit Orange County. But he did work hard to win approval for funds to begin construction of the $1.5-billion Santa Ana River flood control project, they say.

In the legislative arena, Dannemeyer has a mixed record. His bills, like those of most members of the minority party, are routinely put on the back burner by Democratic committee chairmen. His annual alternate budget resolutions lose by wide margins.

"He becomes so inflexible . . . that it becomes difficult for him to accomplish much of anything of what he wants," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the liberal Los Angeles Democrat who is Dannemeyer's nemesis on the issues of AIDS and clean air.

Dannemeyer, Waxman said, "will seek opportunities to try to make his point even if it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. . . . It's almost an assault on people, that this is what he believes and everybody else must be confronted with it rather than persuaded."

Yet Dannemeyer has won some notable floor fights. In early 1989, he managed to turn a motion to adjourn the House into a symbolic vote on a Congressional pay raise that he opposed, and he prevailed. Last fall, he persuaded the House to accept strict guidelines on telephone "dial-a-porn" services.

More recently, three of his amendments to new AIDS legislation were adopted in committee or subcommittee. But he lost a 312-113 floor vote on the most significant amendment, which would have forced states to require doctors to report to public health agencies the identities of patients who test positive for the AIDS virus.

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