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Deukmejian Drops Board Nomination : Politics: The governor faced overwhelming opposition to his plan to nominate a can industry retiree to a waste-management post reserved for an environmentalist.

August 16, 1990|RALPH FRAMMOLINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Faced with environmentalists' outrage and Senate rejection, Gov. George Deukmejian on Wednesday abandoned his nomination of an Orange County can industry retiree to a high-paying state post reserved by law for an environmentalist.

John E. Gallagher of Orange was scheduled to appear before the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday afternoon for a public hearing on his nomination to a $90,852-a-year "nonprofit environmental protection" slot on the new California Integrated Waste Management Board. The position, created by a law passed last year, requires confirmation by the committee and the Senate. But moments before the meeting, the 75-year-old nominee was absent, and Deukmejian's staff sent word that it wanted the matter removed from the agenda and dropped altogether--a move that spread glee though a cadre of environmentalists who had been poised to testify against the appointment.

"It's a victory, a great victory," said an exultant Sandra E. Jerabek, a lobbyist with Californians Against Waste. "In this year of environmental consciousness and Earth Day celebrations, this speaks directly to the power of the environmental community and the leadership of the Senate. The governor's action was a slap to both. . . ."

Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) attributed the withdrawal to a letter he wrote Tuesday advising the governor that there would not be enough votes in favor of confirming Gallagher. Roberti said Gallagher's confirmation chances were nil in light of the opposition from environmentalists, who argued that nominating a former member of the can industry was political betrayal and an insult.

Later in the day, Deukmejian's office confirmed that it was dropping the nomination. "We have agreed with Sen. Roberti not to pursue the Gallagher nomination at this time," gubernatorial spokesman Robert Gore said.

Gallagher was in Sacramento Wednesday, but he could not be reached for comment.

In withdrawing Gallagher's name, Deukmejian avoided a nasty public battle over a nomination that drew protests almost immediately after being announced June 27. Members of the Sierra Club, the Planning & Conservation League, and Californians Against Waste assailed the governor's selection, accusing Deukmejian of reneging on his promises and of possibly breaking the law that established the state board. Those organizations were later joined in their protests by public interest groups such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

Last year, Deukmejian, environmentalists and legislative leaders agreed to scrap the embattled part-time waste management board--of which Gallagher is chairman--and begin anew with a full-time board intended to reduce California's production of solid waste by 50% in 10 years.

The deal included a hard-fought provision, one that delighted environmentalists, to set aside one of the board seats for a representative from a nonprofit environmental group "whose principal purpose is to promote recycling and the protection of air and water quality."

Deukmejian's nominee for that position, Gallagher, is a former Continental Can Corp. executive who has also served as executive director of the Industry Environmental Council, a nonprofit consortium of bottle, can, beer and soft-drink manufacturers. As leader of that group, Gallagher spearheaded a $5.7-million industry campaign to defeat a 1982 ballot measure sponsored by recycling advocates to impose a nickel deposit for all containers.

Despite his opposition to that initiative, Gallagher has said his nomination was justified because he also led industry efforts to promote anti-litter campaigns and voluntary recycling. As chairman of the old waste board, Gallagher said, he tried to steer the panel toward recycling and becoming more receptive to environmentalists' demands.

At a press conference last week, Deukmejian cited Gallagher's background as the reason his nominee would be "eminently qualified" for the environmentalist slot.

Roberti said Wednesday that he saw it differently. Asked where he would agree with environmentalists' claims that Deukmejian had betrayed them, the Senate leader said: "Betray is a stronger word than I would use, because he (Gallagher) was involved in environmentalism, but under the aegis of the industry, and that's not what we contemplated when we put the statute together."

The response from environmentalists, however, was not so restrained. They jubilantly described the rejection was a well-deserved defeat for a governor who has been antagonistic toward the environmental movement.

"This was a real signal, even for future governors, that the Senate will not allow an abuse of appointments," said Gordon Hart, legislative coordinator for the Sierra Club. "We're not going to let a governor engage in cronyism and engage in an abuse of a statute."

Added Jerabek: "It's an affront by the governor to try to recycle the old chair of the waste board into the new board. He should be recycling bottles and cans, and not waste board chairs and industry people."

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