Rep. Jerry Lewis (R)
Elected: 1978, 16th term.
Born: Oct. 21, 1934, Seattle, WA .
Education: U.C.L.A., B.A. 1956.
Family: Married (Arlene); 7 children.
Elected office: San Bernardino Sch. Bd., 1964-68; CA Assembly, 1968–78.
Professional Career: Insurance exec., 1959–78; Field rep., U.S. Rep. Jerry Pettis, 1968.
The congressman from the 41st District is Jerry Lewis, a Republican first elected in 1978 and a former chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Lewis grew up in San Bernardino, worked as a lifeguard and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles. (He maintains his swimming skills and once saved former Speaker Jim Wright off the shore of Hawaii.) He was an insurance agent in Redlands, where he joined civic groups and was elected to the school board in the early 1960s. He won a seat in the California Assembly in 1968, at age 34. A decade later, he was elected to the U.S. House after the incumbent congressman retired. In 1980, Lewis got a seat on the Appropriations Committee, where bipartisan cooperation was the norm, enabling even minority members to confer favors on their districts. With a small-city background and an accommodating attitude toward Democrats, he steadily won leadership positions: chairman of the Republican Research Committee in 1984, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in 1986, and Republican Conference chairman in 1988. Lewis seemed destined to rise to the minority leader post. But a small group of young conservatives, followers of Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, rebelled against the bipartisan cooperation that Lewis and other more senior Republicans practiced, believing that it would prevent the party from ever gaining a House majority. In March 1989, the minority whip position came open when Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming was appointed secretary of Defense. Lewis considered running, but aware of the growing unrest in the GOP conference, declined. Gingrich won on an 87-85 vote. In December 1992, Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, with support from Gingrich, challenged Lewis for the Conference chairmanship and won 88-84. Those two votes put in place the two top leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress in 1995, the first time in 40 years the party had had a House majority.
|Jerry Lewis (R)||159,486||(62%)||($1,192,618)|
|Tim Prince (D)||99,214||(38%)||($123,655)|
|Jerry Lewis (R)||36,663||(82%)|
|Eric Stone (R)||4,330||(10%)|
|Pamela Zander (R)||3,455||(8%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (83%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (80%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (65%), 1994 (71%), 1992 (63%), 1990 (61%), 1988 (70%), 1986 (77%), 1984 (85%), 1982 (68%), 1980 (72%), 1978 (61%)
Lewis recovered from that setback, and when Republicans won the majority in 1994, he became chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of veterans and housing programs. That made him a member of the so-called “college of cardinals,” as the appropriations subcommittee chairmen are known, for their collective power to control government spending. As part of the new majority’s call for tighter federal budgets, Lewis made deep cuts in agency spending, including in popular agencies like NASA. In 1999, Lewis became chairman of the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations, which has the largest share of the federal pie of any of the 13 subcommittees. Under his stewardship, the subcommittee voted unanimously to cut $1.8 billion from the Air Force’s costly F-22 program. Funds were restored by the Senate, but the program was cut by $500 million. (Lewis continued to promote the Predator unmanned air vehicle, which was tested in the Mojave Desert in his district; the craft proved to be of prime importance in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
The crafty Lewis, with a nose for a deal, led the subcommittee through several relatively uneventful years of making defense budgets. In November 2002, after the September 11 attacks, the subcommittee acted swiftly on a $317 billion defense appropriation, which was passed by the House. Lewis’s job got increasingly difficult during the Iraq War years, as the mounting bill for that protracted military campaign began to arouse opposition among Democrats and some Republicans. In 2003, the House accepted a $368 billion defense spending bill, but Iraq was to be dealt with separately in a supplemental spending bill. In 2004 Lewis warned Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that “people will be targeting our budget in a serious way.” But that year he managed to get through the House a $417 billion appropriation that included $25 billion for Iraq. However, Lewis insisted that only $1 billion of the money be available for “flexible” use; the Bush administration had wanted discretion over how the entire amount was spent.
As an appropriator, Lewis has been unapologetic about channeling funds into his district. One special beneficiary has been Loma Linda University, where he has promoted cancer treatment and NASA research. He played a role in converting the former George and Norton Air Force bases into successful airports. Some of his projects are sentimental. He got $1 million to rebuild the Perris Hill Plunge, a WPA-built pool where he had been a lifeguard and taught dozens of children to swim. He helped to get another $1 million for the Jerry Lewis Community Center in his hometown of Highland. But his long tenure as an appropriator also has had a downside. Lewis has been under investigation since 2006 by the U.S. Justice Department, which has looked into his work on earmarks that benefited a lobbying firm led by former Rep. Bill Lowery, R-Calif., a longtime Lewis friend who obtained abundant appropriations earmarks for the defense industry and California communities. Lewis has denied wrongdoing, but has piled up hundreds of thousands of dollars in defense lawyers’ bills.
In 2004, when Bill Young of Florida reached the end of his six-year term limit as chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, Lewis was third in seniority among committee Republicans. He sought the chairmanship anyway and had to compete with the more senior Ralph Regula of Ohio, who voted less often with the Republican leadership, and the less senior Hal Rogers of Kentucky. The contest turned on who among them had contributed the most money to fellow Republicans to help the party maintain its House majority, sums that were closely monitored by Republican leaders. Regula had contributed little. At a pivotal meeting in July 2004, Rogers came forward with a check for $300,000, at which point Lewis stepped forward with a check for $600,000. In all, Lewis contributed $1.35 million to Republicans that election season, and he secured the chairmanship.
Lewis had a rocky two years as chairman. He wanted to streamline the appropriations process and end the growing dependence on omnibus spending bills, which were taking the place of individual spending bills as the House grew more politically polarized and unable to conduct the basic business of funding the government. He failed to achieve either goal. The combination of Iraq War funding and Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction added more than $200 billion to the original budget in 2005. The next year, Lewis’s committee finished most of its work, but breakdowns in the Republican-controlled Senate meant that most spending decisions were deferred to the Democrats after they won majority control of Congress in 2006.
Once in the minority, Lewis became the ranking Republican on the committee. In 2007, he criticized Democrats for their defense bill that “ties the hands of our commander-in-chief during a time of war, places military decisions in the hands of politicians and attempts to buy votes for its passage, on the left and on the right, by literally promising something for everyone.” In 2008, he called the committee’s failure to handle most of its bills in the usual manner “an historic dereliction of duty.” Democrats blamed the inaction in part on Lewis for pushing votes on controversial proposals, like one to increase drilling off U.S. coasts. Still, like a savvy appropriator, Lewis continued to bring bounty to his district, securing more than $137 million in earmarks in 2007 alone, the fifth highest amount for House members.
Lewis remains popular in his district. In the 1990s, he took note of the rising Hispanic population in his district and took Spanish lessons. House Democrats thought Lewis might be vulnerable in 2008 because of the federal probe of his ties to lobbyists. But they miscalculated. Lewis was re-elected easily, 62%-38%, against Democrat Tim Prince, who had run unsuccessfully in 1997 for mayor of San Bernardino. Rumors of retirement continued to swirl around Lewis, not least because term limits will force him to give up his Appropriations post after 2010.