Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale), who waited 22 years for the Republicans to control the House so that he could hold a key position, learned this week that he is being passed over for two powerful committee chairmanships because Speaker-designate Newt Gingrich does not consider him aggressive enough.
During his 11 terms in the House of Representatives, Moorhead became the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee and was the second-ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, behind retiring Rep. Hamilton Fish (R-New York).
Still, the 72-year-old dean of California's Republican congressional delegation had never held the gavel.
"For two years, we talked about his ranking position on these committees and how he might be chairman some day," said Peter Musurlian, Moorhead's district director. "On election night he was ecstatic. He was choosing between the two."
And while other Republicans returned to Washington immediately after Election Day to press their cases with Gingrich, Moorhead relied on the seniority system and went on vacation.
"He never doubted the traditions of the House, that seniority is not bypassed," Musurlian said. "You've been there, you've paid your dues and you get the chairmanship."
Some of Moorhead's colleagues apparently agree. Fearful that the leadership's decision to bypass Moorhead damages California's clout, some of the state's House Republicans protested the move Thursday in a closed-door meeting with Gingrich on Capitol Hill.
It is style rather than ideology that divides Moorhead from the incoming Speaker.
Considered a loyal Republican, Moorhead has been rated the most conservative lawmaker in the House. Yet he is also considered a soft-spoken, conciliator eager to reach compromise, a far cry from Gingrich's more combative style.
During the election campaign this year, Democratic challenger Doug Kahn criticized Moorhead as a tool of the gun lobby, a pro-choice opponent and so ineffectual that only one of his measures has been passed by Congress in 10 years--a resolution to proclaim July 13 to 19 of 1987 "Snow White Week."
Moorhead, a proven fund-raiser who easily outdistanced Kahn, responded that Republicans are lucky to push anything at all through the Democratically controlled Congress.
Grappling with his lack of ascension this week, Moorhead did receive some consolation: He likely will be named chairman of a subcommittee handling copyright and trademark issues, which are essential to the state's entertainment and high-tech industries.
Yet being bypassed for a top job means Moorhead--who represents Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena and Sunland-Tujunga--may end his long career in Washington without ever having reached his goal of chairing a committee. The perks that chairmanship brings will not come his way either--the expanded office space, the additional staffers and the control over the agenda.
Moorhead, returning to Southern California on Thursday, could not be reached for comment. But he put the best possible spin on the events in discussions with his staff, telling them that he is discouraged but still intent on accomplishing important work on the subcommittee and ready to work with the Republican leadership to push his party's agenda.
"Carlos is disappointed," said Moorhead's legislative assistant, David Joergenson. "I don't think he feels it was the right thing to do, but he recognizes that the young Turks have taken over and they have certain criteria that apparently he doesn't fit into. . . . He says, 'I'm disappointed, but I'm still a chairman of an important subcommittee.' "
After mulling over which post he preferred, Moorhead had decided on Energy and Commerce, a body that handles legislation affecting virtually every industry in America and one of the key House committees devising alternatives to President Clinton's health reform package.
Moorhead's appointment would have been an important plus for California, which has seen some of its senior Democratic lawmakers--including local Reps. Howard Berman (D-Panorama City), Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills)--stripped of their clout.
The Republican leadership tapped Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Illinois) to chair Judiciary, a move Moorhead supported. Then Gingrich and his aides stunned Moorhead by bypassing him for Energy and Commerce, instead choosing the second-ranking Republican, Rep. Thomas J. Bliley (R-Virginia).
"Carlos decided not to fight the issue in either case because, with Gingrich calling the shots, he didn't think he would win," Joergenson said.
* FERVENT PLEA: State's GOP delegation seeks to retain its House clout. A43