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John Rousselot, 75; Congressman for 14 Years, John Birch Society Official

May 12, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

John H. Rousselot, the conservative Republican who represented part of the San Gabriel Valley in Congress for 14 years, was an officer of the John Birch Society and who tried to buy Charles H. Keating Jr.'s failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Assn., died Sunday. He was 75.

Rousselot, of Mission Viejo, died at Irvine Medical Center of congestive heart failure, said his son, Craig. He said his father had suffered a heart attack a year ago.

A glad-hander and energetic campaigner, Rousselot was controversial and colorful as he surfed the changing waves of political power as public relations expert, legislator or lobbyist.

He first gained office in 1960 when he ousted incumbent Democratic Rep. George Kasem in the 25th District. But he was so outspoken in defending the right-wing Birch Society, which he had just joined, that he failed to win reelection. In 1970, he was returned to Washington for half a dozen two-year terms in the 26th District, which included his native San Marino.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 21, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 62 words Type of Material: Correction
Rousselot obituary -- An obituary of John Rousselot and an accompanying caption in the May 12 California section implied that Rousselot left the John Birch Society after its founder called President Eisenhower a communist agent in 1979. Rousselot left the organization in 1979, but the comment about Eisenhower that he attributed to Birch Society founder John Welch had been made years earlier.

The congressman's elective status ended in 1982 after redistricting threw him into a new 30th District, stretching from Bell Gardens to Azusa. Too long out of office and tainted by his association with Keating, Rousselot failed in a 1992 comeback campaign for the 25th District.

In Congress, Rousselot became active on the Banking and Currency Committee, and later the Economic and Budget and Ways and Means committees, where he staunchly opposed spending and tax increases, proposed cuts in the food stamp program, and worked for deregulation of the savings and loan industry. He also advocated U.S. military occupation of Cuba two years before the Cuban missile crisis.

As then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy and others criticized the Birch Society in the early 1960s, freshman Congressman Rousselot defended the group: "They are calm, firm, dedicated people who are merely trying to inform themselves about communism."

If Kennedy read the group's "blue book," Rousselot told The Times in 1961, he'd know that "one of the main purposes of each chapter is to keep its members and guests who attend fully informed as to the nature, purpose and intent of the Communist conspiracy in this country."

First turned out of Congress in 1963, Rousselot was named regional director of the Birch Society -- heading the group in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada and Idaho from an office in San Marino. He also served as national Birch Society public relations chairman. In both positions, he continued to insist that the organization's purpose was to educate rather than advocate or indoctrinate.

But Rousselot resigned from the Birch Society with characteristic drama on April 17, 1979, when he was contemplating running for the U.S. Senate [he didn't], "to demonstrate to the citizens of California that I am my own man, controlled by no organization or individual." He also said that he had become disillusioned because Birch Society founder Robert Welch had besmirched President Eisenhower as a Communist agent and Winston Churchill as a traitor.

After Rousselot left Congress, he was in the Reagan White House as special assistant for business matters, then served as Western states coordinator for Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign.

From 1985 to 1988, Rousselot was president of the National Council of Savings Institutions, a Washington-based lobbying group for banks and savings and loans. In addition to deregulation he worked to enable savings institutions to expand their business beyond mortgage lending.

In 1989, after lobbying for Keating, Rousselot was named the final chairman and chief executive of Lincoln Savings and Loan. With four others, he tried to buy the institution shortly before it was shut down by federal regulators who said that its assets were dissipated. Critics alleged that the attempted purchase was a scheme to delay the federal shutdown in the largest thrift collapse in U.S. history.

"I did nothing illegal, improper or unwarranted," Rousselot told The Times a few years later.

Nevertheless, in 1993 his former association with the scandal-plagued thrift forced Gov. Pete Wilson to withdraw his appointment to the California Board of Prison Terms when legislators refused to confirm him.

John Harbin Rousselot was born Nov. 1, 1927, in San Marino and majored in political science and business administration at Principia College in Elsah, Ill.

In the 1950s, he established a public relations firm in Los Angeles and became president of the California Young Republicans.

From 1958 to 1960, when he resigned to run for Congress, he was national director of public information for the Federal Housing Administration.

Twice divorced, Rousselot is survived by his son, Craig of Irvine; two daughters, Robin Edwards of Lake Forest and Wendy Sirugo of San Dimas; a brother, Norman of Sonora, Texas; and five granddaughters.

A public memorial service will be planned at a later date.

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