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Standing before an audience, Dan Lungren cuts a congenial figure. Wavy-haired, twinkle-eyed, the veteran attorney general of California is unfailingly described by friend and foe alike as “amiable.” Though he's 52, his racquetball game and his strict devotion to tae kwon do have maintained his 6-foot-2 frame well enough to have caused the right-wing pundit George Will to gush over his “almost alarming robustness.”

Will, of course, is a fan of more than Lungren's physique. Along with Robert Novak and other members of the Beltway conservative establishment, Will has long touted Lungren as a luminous star of contemporary conservatism, the first true Ronald Reagan Republican from California who could well become president of the United States. (The movement conservatives have never had any use for Pete Wilson.) And Will's done the electoral math: A Californian's been on the GOP national ticket eight times in the last 13 presidential elections.

But first, Dan Lungren has to be elected governor, and he's certainly starting out from what has historically been a position of strength. Earl Warren, Pat Brown and George Deukmejian have all used the high-profile position of attorney general to catapult themselves into the Governor's Office. As the head of a law-enforcement colossus with an annual budget of $462 million, 1,000 lawyers, 927 employees and over 600 sworn peace officers, Lungren has taken every opportunity to spotlight himself as a driven man whose mission is to place California at the forefront of the most hard-line law-and-order states in the nation – an extremely popular stance over the past two decades.

Whether this will play as big in 1998 as it has over the past 20 years, however, is not at all clear. Polls have shown education supplanting crime as the chief concern of Californians, other polls have shown California voters wearying of Republican governors, and not a single poll has yet shown Dan Lungren leading his Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Gray Davis. And when Lungren self-righteously tried to turn the Clinton scandal to his advantage by insisting in a recent round of commercials that “character” is the issue, voters, if the polls are to be believed, apparently failed to see why Lungren's character was any more exemplary than Davis'.

But it's the rise of education as Public Concern Number One that has most befuddled the attorney general. Lungren is better speaking about crime than schooling. Crime is an issue where complex solutions are scorned, where the statistics are easily manipulated, where polemical conclusions are challenged infrequently if at all. When it comes to education, though, people know that the answers are not so simple, and that real improvements require real investments in time and money. And Lungren differentiates himself from Davis precisely by his unwillingness to make such investments – dismissing, for example, the notion that starting salaries for teachers may be so low that they discourage many young college grads from entering the field, while focusing his energies less on improving public schools than on creating voucher programs for private schools. It's a perspective that has left a lot of his listeners distinctly unpersuaded.

On a sweltering Valley day late this summer, about 65 members of the Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Business Association are sitting under an open-air white plastic tent, watching Lungren sweat. The topic is education, and Dan Lungren is meeting some resistance.

“Some people say that if you're a Republican you certainly can't be concerned about education,” Lungren tells the crowd. “I thought about that for a while . . . and I realized I've been a parent longer than I've been a politician . . . And to me, that is more important in getting insight about our schools than any meeting I could have with a teachers union . . .”

What schools need, Lungren declares, is more local control, higher standards and an end to “social promotion.” And after that – for those who need a second chance – a community college, where “If they get a 'B' or better average, they will be guaranteed a spot in the UC system or the highest levels of Cal State. That's my pledge,” he concludes. He fails to mention, however, that this has been the state master plan for education since Pat Brown was governor almost 40 years ago.

A brief question period follows. One tall, earnest woman says she wants an “automatic flag put up” when kids fall behind their grade level in testing, so that they can be given additional tutoring and education. “So I challenge you, sir,” she says, “to do something about that.”

Lungren repeats that Governor Wilson is about to sign a bill “getting rid of social promotion,” and that the bill provides for money for schools not able to teach technology skills.

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“Arts and sports, arts and sports please,” says the woman, interrupting Lungren. “I got away from the gangs and drugs because of arts and sports, but funding has diminished, and now these kids have nothing to do. Arts and sports take you away from the streets . . .”

“I believe in arts and sports,” says Lungren, sounding and looking annoyed, “but I also believe in academics.”

“But they should be all together . . .”

Lungren ignores her reply. “Social promotion,” he says again, “social promotion must be done away with . . .”

Another questioner, a large man with wire-rim glasses and a goatee, urges Lungren to get a large settlement for the state in the omnibus suit that attorneys general have filed against the tobacco industry. (Lungren was among the last to file.) “You're battling the evil empire,” the man concludes.

“They're not nearly as bad as the drug lords,” Lungren replies, head down now and face slightly flushed as he plunges fully into his non sequitur. “I just wish,” he says, “I devoutly wish that we were spending one-tenth the time and energy on defeating drugs that we're spending on tobacco . . . People can say what they want about using marijuana for medicinal purposes . . . but it sends a [wrong] message to our kids, and I am not going to stop the fight against drugs,” he concludes, on familiar turf at last.

For the most part, though, Lungren preserves the amiable facade. But after decades in public office, the man behind the image remains largely unknown to all but a handful of longtime advisers. And beneath the amiability, there lurks some of the certitude, and some of the judgmental wrath, of the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, some of the anti-cosmopolitan resentment of Richard Nixon, and a bit of the smug intellectualism of the New Right. They're all part of the world Dan Lungren wants to re-create – a world where a young man could meet Ronald Reagan at fund-raisers at the Lakewood Country Club and go to parties with the Nixon girls. Ike's world: Main Street, Long Beach, 1955.

Dan Lungren grew up in an affluent enclave of Long Beach called Bixby Knolls, on a quiet, winding street of magnificent English Tudor-, Spanish Colonial- and colonnaded Southern plantation-style homes, interspersed with more modest cottages. In this ordered Republican world, he got his introduction to politics.

His father, Dr. John Lungren, was a local cardiologist, and in 1952, he became the personal physician to Republican vice-presidential nominee Richard Nixon. Over the next several decades, John Lungren would serve Nixon on the campaign trail five times.

The elder Lungren was a quiet man, recalls Jim Serles, a Republican activist and onetime candidate for the Long Beach City Council, “who became prominent in Long Beach's Republican Party due to his relationship with Nixon – which everyone knew about.” According to longtime Lungren family friend Monsignor Ernest Gualderon, “Nixon loved John Lungren. When Nixon had that leg problem – phlebitis – he came here to Long Beach Memorial because John Lungren was there.”

Long Beach in the '50s had the only full-time Republican headquarters in L.A. County, and John Lungren's wife, Lorraine, was perhaps even more visible than he in party circles. Lorraine Lungren, recalls Monsignor Gualderon, was an ardent Catholic whose husband converted to the church when he married her, a mother who bore seven children and made sure that “every one . . . got a terrific religious, Christian education.”

But the biggest force in Dan Lungren's life, “his strongest feelings,” as Serles puts it, “relate to his father, and seeing political life through his father.” (To this day, according to a Republican consultant, his father and his brother Brian, a former LAPD officer, remain Lungren's closest advisers.) Leaving his practice for up to six weeks to travel with Nixon, John Lungren would call home nightly to his three boys and four girls. And as the legend now goes, it was during his father's first campaign trip, in '52, that Dan Lungren displayed his first predilection for politics, passing out leaflets for the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket.

Long Beach in the '50s, and particularly Dan Lungren's Bixby Knolls neighborhood, was still a provincial place – a citadel of conservative Midwestern transplants. Jan Hall, a Republican consultant who grew up there with Lungren, recalls it as a world of small-town conventions, with all the artifacts of Americana: “Iowa picnics, the flag and fireworks over the ocean, beach parties, barn fires, Senior Day rides on the Great White Steamer to Catalina, church youth groups, school dances and proms at high school gyms, and barbecues with the Nixon girls. When I went to [college at] Berkeley, it was a vastly different world,” continues Hall, “and the mindset of the students very different than anything I'd ever encountered. Our world – Dan's world – was one of rules, consequences and personal responsibility. Drugs were terrible. There were no degrees of usage. They produced a devastation to society that demanded retribution.”

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During those years, Lungren attended St. Anthony's, then an overwhelmingly white, middle-class Catholic school of about 1,300 students that was sectioned off into separate boys' and girls' facilities. At St. Anthony's, as Monsignor Gualderon tells it, Lungren was “certainly an example of self-discipline” – a popular student with a near 4.0 average, an inordinately well-prepared member of the debating team, and an athlete who played on both the football and basketball squads.

Across the street in the rectory, Monsignor Gualderon still maintains a small, sparsely furnished office. “There's the high school,” he says, pointing. “The Holy Cross brothers from South Bend used to teach here – no lay teachers. That's why, graduation after graduation, students from St. Anthony's went to Notre Dame University. It was a sad blow when we lost the brothers, they were great teachers, and it was a strict order – they didn't keep themselves back, you know. For the brothers, like the Jesuits, there were just two things you must have in any successful school: discipline and character development. They stressed that here. If you did something wrong, you were in trouble.”

From St. Anthony's, Lungren went to Notre Dame – all male and then still a bastion of Catholic conservatism – graduating cum laude in English in 1968. Three years later he was awarded a law degree from Georgetown University. After Georgetown, Lungren received what he later described as a “postgraduate study in politics.” In the summer of '68, he worked for Richard Nixon's successful presidential campaign. Then, while attending Georgetown, he was hired as a staff assistant to Senator Bill Brock of Tennessee, as later to ex-Hollywood hoofer and California's conservative Republican Senator George Murphy. Following his Georgetown graduation, Lungren briefly worked for the Republican National Committee.

In short, Dan Lungren emerged into adulthood thoroughly marinated in the narrow vat of John Lungren's values – clinging to his status as a member of a small-town elite, still unexposed to and oblivious of the complexities of people's lives. From his religious training, he'd taken the dour, right-wing moral absolutes for which the American Catholic Church was famous in the '50s. The expansive post- Vatican II embrace of economic and social justice that succeeded it floated right by him. While tens of thousands of socially conscious priests, nuns and lay Catholics of his generation were marching, Lungren clung to a fervent opposition to abortion, even as he broke with the church's more liberal positions against the death penalty, in support of unionized labor and favoring immigrant rights.

Indeed, Lungren was moving well to the right of the centrist conservatism of his father's most celebrated patient. “Dan was very much influenced by George Will and that whole right-wing crowd that was starting to surface,” one Republican Party activist recalls. “They were different from Nixon. They wanted to get rid of all of Lyndon Johnson's social programs.”

Returning to Long Beach after law school, Lungren went to work at Ball, Hart, Brown and Baerwitz – a politically potent Long Beach law firm that specialized in defending insurance companies in personal-injury lawsuits. “He was a good but not great trial lawyer, who didn't get much of a chance to demonstrate it,” says Chuck Greenberg, then a fellow attorney at Ball, Hart. “His work required a paper blitz, and he was very well organized.”

Lungren was also a jock, “a very energetic guy who liked to play racquetball every morning,” according to Barry Thompson, who also worked with Lungren at the law firm; Jim Serles particularly admired Lungren's athletic ability and love of pickup basketball and handball. (In 1994, his Democratic opponent for A.G., Tom Umberg, would use that lifelong participation in strenuous sports to call Lungren's integrity into question – asking how someone so physically fit had managed to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. Lungren had been eligible for the draft and was a strong supporter of the war, but like so many other Republican hawks had never served in the military, attributing his 4-F status to football knee injuries and childhood kidney surgery.)

At Ball, Hart, recalls Greenberg, Lungren could be “very combative” when arguing politics. “We'd have knockdown fights sitting in the Baldwin Park library over the issue of choice,” recalls Greenberg. “And I'd get upset at Dan, not because of his pro-life stance, but because of his smug feeling of certainty that came out of his religious convictions. I'd tell him he had a hell of a nerve trying to impose his religious standards on my wife and daughters, and he'd reply with the same mantra: 'In this country we do not allow murder.' He'd come from this rarefied Republican background, divorced from reality. And he'd get mad because he was right.”

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Meanwhile, Lungren had moved into a working-class neighborhood of modest homes with his wife, Barbara “Bobbi” Kolls, whom he'd married in 1969. (They now have three grown children and live about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento. Barbara Lungren is employed nearby as an administrator for the city of Folsom.)

In 1976, Lungren ran for a congressional seat from Long Beach. It was not a good year for Republicans, who still labored in the shadow of Watergate. Lungren attacked his opponent, a moderate Democrat, as a tax-and-spend liberal whose policies were an affront to the conservative, blue-collar district. He lost by a razor-thin margin. At a campaign rally, however, he'd caught the eye of George Deukmejian, who was then seeking re-election as Long Beach's state senator. Deukmejian, who six years later would become governor, was a popular fixture in Long Beach politics, and the two had a lot in common. Both identified with the politics of the more conservative wing of the Southern California country-club set, but were not country-club-set guys themselves – neither particularly enjoying that social milieu of golf, drinking, cards and bonhomie. (Today, Deukmejian serves as chair of Lungren's campaign for governor.)

Deukmejian was a skilled politician who early on saw that people's accelerating concerns about violent street crime, drugs and revolving-door justice – exacerbated by sensationalistic media coverage – would become the social issue of the '70s and '80s. Riots, gun crimes, soft judges, loose laws, the reinstitution of the death penalty – these were Deukmejian's ticket, first into the Attorney General's Office and then into two terms in the governor's mansion. Deukmejian was a true believer in the whole law-and-order agenda – as was his new protege.

Running again for Congress in 1978, aided by the surge that year of the Howard Jarvis anti-tax movement, Lungren won a decisive victory. Incumbency and reapportionment made his district safe, his vote increasing to a high of 73 percent in 1984. Lungren entered the House in the same year as Newt Gingrich. Together with other House newcomers, they formed the combative, unabashedly partisan Conservative Opportunity Society, which laid the groundwork for the subsequent Republican insurgency and the “Contract With America.”

Lungren won a seat on the House Judiciary Committee and set himself up as an anti-crime crusader. He played a key role in the passage of President Reagan's 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act – a “reform” of the nation's criminal-justice system that institutionalized mandatory sentencing, RICO statutes and property-seizure laws, vastly increasing the federal government's repressive power. Lungren, recalls Howard Berman, the veteran Los Angeles Democratic congressman, “was the chief implementer of the Republican strategy that ran over the Democratic leadership in the House, and got a [punitive] bill far more to the Republicans' liking.” Berman, who served with Lungren on Judiciary for a decade, recalls him as “an effective, articulate, prepared and stubbornly hard-nosed conservative.”

A devoted champion of such major California growers as the Gallos, Grimway Farms, Bakersfield Carrots and Dole Foods, in 1979 Lungren authored a bill restoring the notorious “guest worker” law that traditionally had allowed importation of workers during the picking season at substandard wages and then sent them back to Mexico. (The bill was not enacted.) Then, in 1986, as the pressure for immigration reform was boiling over, Lungren played a key role in the passage of the landmark 1986 “Simpson-Mazolle” bill – a law with weak employer sanctions for hiring illegals, coupled with amnesty for about 1.8 million immigrants. Many Republicans liked the weak sanctions but were fervently opposed to the amnesty provision. The growers, however, were in desperate need of cheap labor, and Lungren worked tirelessly for the bill's passage. But, as Berman points out, “He initially fought the farm workers' legalization provision tooth and nail, only very reluctantly turning around when he realized there would be no bill without it.”

In other areas, Lungren was all that the Christian Right and corporate America could have hoped for. He co-sponsored a constitutional amendment to make almost all abortions illegal, and likened silence on the subject to that of the Germans during the Holocaust. He opposed the South African sanctions that played such a crucial role in toppling its racist regime, and proposed a subminimum wage for teenagers. He backed Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics and supported his military buildup.

And as a port-city Republican supported by big oil interests, Lungren became a leading advocate of drilling off the California coast. In 1983, in fact, he became the only California congressman from a coastal district to support the Reagan administration's proposal for a mammoth increase in offshore oil drilling and exploration, and in 1985 got into a battle with the U.S. Navy when he proposed drilling off the beaches of San Diego. Michael Paparian, senior regional representative of the Sierra Club, described Lungren's environmental record in the House as one of “consistently voting against . . . money for clean water, parks and wilderness, toxics control, and other programs.”

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Lungren also fiercely opposed a reparations bill for Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, even after President Reagan signaled he was going to sign it. “His view was, internment had been necessary,” says Berman, “and he just disregarded the injustice visited on the people interned. There's that touch of the true believer about Dan, the absence of doubt that there's merit to other positions.”

In 1987, Lungren abruptly resigned from Congress. The state treasurer, legendary Democrat Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh, had died in office, and George Deukmejian nominated Lungren to serve the balance of his term. The state Senate had to confirm Deukmejian's choice, however, and the Democratic majority didn't want to present Lungren with a statewide launching pad for his ambitions. Surprisingly, Lungren's support among Senate Republicans was also thin. “The guy was not liked then or now,” says one Republican official. “As a congressman, he always looked down on the Legislature, acting like a Mr. Clean – just a little bit better than them.” In the end, the state Senate refused to confirm him.

Whereupon Lungren turned his focus to the 1990 race for attorney general. He won a squeaker of a victory over San Francisco's Democratic D.A., Arlo Smith, in a hard-fought election. Four years later he'd solidified his position, winning re-election by 15 percent.

Today, of course, Lungren's record as A.G. is the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign. As in most states, major crimes have dropped in California – by almost 12 percent in 1996 and another 6.9 percent in 1997, Lungren tells his listeners at one campaign stop after another. He intends to see this decline continue – so goes the stump speech – until the state's crime rates are reduced to levels not seen since the glory days of the '50s, of “Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.” And the chief cause of the decline, he stresses, is the state's “three strikes” sentencing law.

The assertion is well-received at every campaign stop – despite the fact that it's highly debatable. As Peter Greenwood, who heads the Criminal Justice Program at the Rand Institute, puts it, “Nobody believes that 'three strikes' is having the impact Lungren claims. Crime is down everywhere, and 'three strikes' hasn't brought it down in all those states that don't have the law.” Other well-documented problems with the law include severe jail overcrowding as more and more suspects demand trials; the early release, due to jail overcrowding, of inmates convicted of violent misdemeanors or illegal gun possession; and the injustice of a law that has given 89 people second- and third-strike sentences for murder, rape and kidnapping, and 192 for possession of marijuana.

But Lungren will entertain no second thoughts on this of all issues, supporting “three strikes” in its most harsh, sweeping version, which includes life terms for small-time drug possession and the theft of a $10 pair of sunglasses. Condemning the state's recent $10 billion prison-construction boom as still inadequate, he's vowed to build yet more prisons and jails – despite a $3.6 billion corrections budget that's already risen from 2 percent to 8 percent of the state's expenditures. Promising to fight a “zero tolerance” drug war resembling “World War II, not Vietnam,” he's raided San Francisco medical-marijuana clubs, called on California newspapers to pull the “Doonesbury” comic strips that satirized the raids, and closed down a successful needle-exchange program in Santa Clara County.

He's also found the time to help draft the Republican contribution to the '96 federal Anti-Terrorism Bill – dramatically cutting the time and resources prisoners have to appeal, and limiting the grounds to only incompetence of counsel (new evidence proving a convicted prisoner's innocence can no longer be considered). Currently, he is trying to apply the same limits to the state's 156,000 prisoners. Following the passage of California's version of “Megan's Law,” he instituted what The New York Times described as “the most aggressive form of disclosure” of any state in the nation by having the sometimes outdated and inaccurate data on California's 64,000 “sex offenders” (a sweeping category that often has nothing to do with children) placed on a CD-ROM for public viewing. Later, his office invited people attending the Los Angeles County Fair to search the CD-ROM for offenders living in their neighborhoods, and then provided this information to the media – while neglecting to notify the affected local police departments.

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And when California was about to execute its first prisoner in 25 years, Lungren stood dramatically by at San Quentin overnight, ready to counter any bitter-end appeals.

But it is his unswerving support of “three strikes” that Lungren is making the cornerstone of his years as A.G. Yet even as he takes credit for the law, it's unclear why. The principal forces behind it were Mike Reynolds, a wedding photographer who, following the brutal murder of his daughter, authored and lobbied for the bill, and Pete Wilson and various members of the Legislature, who correctly saw it as an astoundingly potent political issue and ran with it. Lungren was a strong supporter, who gave technical advice to Reynolds during the drafting of the initiative. Now Lungren is running ads featuring Reynolds attacking Gray Davis as soft on “three strikes,” even though Davis actually supported a version of the legislation, one that restricted the third strike to violent crimes.

On the other hand, gun control – a potent law-and-order issue with women, which President Clinton has astutely captured for the Democrats – has clearly not been a passion of Lungren's. Last year, the L.A. Times ran a highly critical investigative story pointedly questioning Lungren's “commitment to enforcing the state's landmark assault-weapon restrictions law.” Over the past six years, reported the Times, Lungren has “put on hold a crucial provision [of the law] aimed at restricting newly marketed assault weapons,” allowing “arms manufacturers [to] flood the state with thousands of assault weapons that lawmakers anticipated would now be banned . . . some of which have repeatedly surfaced in horrific shootings.” He also “quietly waived” the provisions of the law mandating owners to register their assault weapons or face possible criminal penalties, and failed to add one single newly manufactured weapon to the list of those banned by the statute (as the A.G.'s Office is specifically entitled to).

In the area of civil law, Lungren has narrowed the responsibilities of the environmental and consumer units of the A.G.'s Office, and used them to break little new ground. In the '70s, Republican A.G. Evelle Younger expanded the state's environmental oversight enormously, applying environmental regulation to private as well as public projects. In the '80s, Democratic A.G. John Van De Kamp won landmark cases in consumer rights and worked closely with the Coastal Commission to protect the state's beachfront.

Lungren, on the other hand, has rarely gone beyond giving technical advice to the commission, and has filed few significant cases under the California Environmental Quality Act – which allows the state to protect critical wilderness or farmland from subdivision or unsafe development. His environmental division, however, has filed cases under Proposition 65, the popular toxic-labeling and clean-water act. “We made an assessment of Lungren in '94,” says Sam Schuchat of the California League of Conservation Voters. “And we found that Lungren had done fairly well on high-profile Proposition 65 lawsuits involving lead contamination in china glazing, crystal, faucets and the water supply.”

But recently, as Al Meyerhoff, a former senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells it, Lungren “broke ranks with us, reaching a private settlement with the drug companies that allows lead in pharmaceutical products, antacids and dietary supplements heavily marketed to women during pregnancy that's nearly 20 times the amount that Prop. 65 permits.”

Lungren approaches the November election with a clear handicap: He is burdened with Republican wedge issues of past campaign years. Just as Latinos are becoming a real political force in the state, he must deal with the bitter legacy of 1994's Proposition 187 and the hatred it engendered among Latinos for Republicans like Pete Wilson who so ardently supported it. Throughout his '94 re-election campaign, Lungren waffled on the issue, maintaining he was too busy to read the explosive four-page initiative that denied schooling, social services and nonemergency health care to illegals. It wasn't until the day before the election that he finally declared himself – in favor. This spring, in a desperate attempt to win back disaffected Latinos, Lungren opposed Proposition 227, the initiative banning bilingual education.

If Republican calculations of yesteryear pose a problem for Lungren in '98, so do his own deeply held beliefs. In a state that overwhelmingly supports a woman's right to an abortion, Gray Davis has attacked Lungren for equating abortion with murder. As A.G., Lungren has honored a pledge not to tamper with the popular right, which is protected under the California Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court in any case. But as a member of Congress, Lungren voted for bills restricting abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

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