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Gingrich Asked to Retain State's Clout in House : Politics: California's GOP delegation meets with incoming Speaker. His spokesman says state will be well-represented in new leadership.

November 18, 1994|MELISSA HEALY and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Republican House members from California, disturbed that the state's traditional clout could be undermined in the GOP takeover of Capitol Hill, Thursday appealed to incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to make sure that their influence is not diminished in the 104th Congress.

In a hastily arranged meeting Thursday, California Republicans worried among themselves about plans to deny Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) the chairmanship of either of two committees for which he appeared to be in line, according to one of the participants. Also sparking concerns is a proposed new system of apportioning committee assignments that could concentrate more power in Gingrich's hands and weaken California legislators' claim on plum committee assignments.

Gingrich sought quickly to blunt those concerns Thursday night as he met with Gov. Pete Wilson. Gingrich said he promised the California governor that he would "do all I can within the framework of my office to be helpful to California . . . on a wide range of issues."

The state's GOP delegation anticipates at least one significant gain when Republicans take control of Congress for the first time in 40 years: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego) is expected to be elevated to one of a handful of senior leadership positions.

"It looks like--with the exception of Hunter in the leadership--most of our leadership is from the Mississippi (River) east," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-San Diego) on Thursday. "And that concerns us."

Cunningham added that he and other California Republicans would ask Gingrich "to consider that, since we're losing some of that prestige," at least one and maybe two Californians win seats on a key panel that dispenses committee assignments. He added that Gingrich could compensate the delegation for its loss of Moorhead's chairmanship by naming a Californian to a deputy whip position, a relatively low-ranking leadership slot.

By Thursday evening, Gingrich spokesman Tony Blankley said several California legislators had brought their concerns to the incoming Speaker. "I think in the end California is going to be dramatically well-represented," Blankley said.

Wilson, in the nation's capital on his way to the Republican Governors' Conference in Virginia this weekend, indicated that he was seeking assurances that the new GOP-controlled Congress would relieve California and other states of the burden of complying with "unfunded mandates"--federal directives for which Congress appropriates no federal money.

Based on assurances that Gingrich and other GOP leaders have given him, Wilson said, he expects Congress to "have more sympathy for our position." But it remains unclear, he added, whether Congress will pay for the implementation of such directives or withdraw the mandates.

On another matter of special concern to California, Gingrich said after his meeting with Wilson that he asked the governor to take the lead, along with governors of other border states, in proposing an effective plan for the federal government to seal off their frontiers to illegal immigration. But Gingrich made no commitment when asked if California would receive all of the $2.3 billion in federal funds it has requested as compensation for federally mandated assistance to illegal immigrants.

While Moorhead's apparent ouster from an expected chairman's berth prompted worries among some California Republicans, the 72-year-old Glendale native appeared to be taking the political blow in stride.

"Sometimes you're chosen to carry the ball; sometimes you're chosen to block for those who are given the ball," Moorhead said philosophically Thursday after being passed over for the chairmanships of both the Judiciary and the Energy and Commerce committees, two traditionally powerful posts.

Gingrich named Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.) to head the Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) to head the Judiciary panel.

"They tell me that I'm not mean enough," Moorhead said.

Moorhead added quickly that he will happily soldier on as chairman of the Judiciary's subcommittee on intellectual property.

"That is very important to our area because of all our (entertainment) industries that depend on patents and trademarks," said Moorhead, dean of California House Republicans, who was first elected in 1972.

Analysts and even Moorhead's friends and colleagues in the House said his mild-mannered, low-key style became a detriment with the ascension of Gingrich and a like-minded band of GOP activists eager to press their conservative agenda.

More subtle than the apparent passing over of Moorhead are changes that would loosen California lawmakers' historic grip on sought-after committee assignments.

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