California: Twenty-Eighth District|
Rep. David Dreier (R)
Last Updated June 9, 1999
It is the great route west to California: Passengers on the Santa Fe railroad's Super Chief or motorists on U.S. 66, after hours and days in barren desert, descended through the El Cajon Pass into the Los Angeles Basin, moving in a stately procession beneath the 10,000-foot snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains, marveling at orange groves and exotic plants. The railroad and highway ran through a line of towns, built by Midwestern Protestants as independent communities and now mostly high-income suburbs with their own civic institutions: Claremont, home of the academically strong Claremont Colleges; La Verne and Glendora; Azusa, named by a Chicago manufacturer for his wife; Duarte, with the City of Hope Medical Center; Monrovia and Arcadia, site of the Santa Anita race track and the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Today, the traveler arriving in Los Angeles can see the same sights--if the air is clear--as the jet glides down the flightpath to LAX.
The 28th Congressional District covers much of this territory, with the exception of Azusa, which is part of the Hispanic-majority 31st District. Its eastern end reaches south from Claremont and Glendora to include Covina and West Covina, classic 1950s suburbs now with many Mexican-Americans, where city ordinances require that lawns be kept watered: 1950s homeowner values continue to govern here. The District's western end reaches south from Monrovia and Arcadia to include Temple City, where many towns are trying to revive their old downtowns. It is far from mono-cultural: 24% Hispanic and 13% Asian in 1990. The 28th has a strong Republican heritage, but it has been trending Democratic lately; Bill Clinton, after losing it by 3% in 1992 carried it by 1% in 1996.
David Dreier, the congressman from the 28th, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, then spent a decade mostly on the Claremont McKenna campus, as a student and administrator, before he was elected to Congress in 1980. He personifies the intellectually rigorous conservatism and free market economics that thrived for years in this area and maintains a cheerfulness and good humor characteristic of California--even though he served for 14 years in the minority, chiefly on the Rules Committee, where Republicans were outnumbered 9-4 and lost almost every vote. Now the tables are turned: Dreier is on the long end of the 9-4 split, and, since Gerald Solomon retired in 1998, he has been chairman. He had already exerted influence in his first months in the majority when, as co-chairman of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, he worked to realign the House's committee structure: Three committees were abolished, almost half the other panels were renamed and saw some shifting of jurisdictional lines, committee staff was cut by one-third, and six-year term limits were established on committee and subcommittee chairmen. Dreier encouraged committees to establish websites on the Internet, and held the first interactive subcommittee hearing in May 1996; his reforms adopted in January 1997 include Internet access, allowing members to ask questions for more than five minutes and allowing committees to sit while the House is considering amendments.
The Rules chairman, once upon a time an independent operator, has become an operating member of the House leadership since Democrats instituted election of committee chairmen in 1974. Rules sets the terms for debate and limits the amendments that can be offered--an essential procedural function in a legislature with 435 members, and one which can be and often is used to shape substantive outcome. The 9-4 ratio and the careful selection of members guarantee the chairman control over committee votes, but over time it must be tempered by a sense of fairness: An outraged minority party can store up grievances and wait for a chance to overturn a rule on the floor (as Republicans did in 1994 and Democrats did in 1997). The strategy of Speaker Newt Gingrich and Solomon was to hold together the narrow Republican majority and make minimal concessions to Democrats. The strategy of Speaker Denny Hastert and Dreier in early 1999 seemed to be to shape legislation and rules so as to win over a sizable number of Democrats--a necessary response, perhaps, to the fact that their Republican majority is even narrower than Gingrich's.
With his youthful, photogenic demeanor, Dreier's skill and stubbornness can be underestimated. ''His ambition is masked by an easygoing style, an infectious grin, a charming spontaneity,'' wrote Nina Easton and Gebe Martinez in the Los Angeles Times. But he's often ''closed-lipped'' and plays his cards close to his chest, said Porter Goss, second-ranking Republican on Rules. In contrast to Rules Committee chairmen from both parties in recent years, Dreier also has a clear-cut policy agenda of his own, which he likely will continue to pursue. A strong backer of free trade, he was one of the leading Republicans rounding up votes for NAFTA in 1993, was chief Republican negotiator with the Clinton Administration in getting 1994 approval for the new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, has been a leader in normalizing trade relations with China and in 1997 unsuccessfully urged fast-track trade authority for Clinton. Dreier is an aggressive advocate of reducing capital-gains taxes and other tax burdens on business, and has been a leading sponsor of legislation to remove Depression-era regulations on banking. In May 1999 he became chief sponsor of legislation to limit liability in law suits stemming from the Y2K computer problem. Although he usually votes with conservatives, he prefers to avoid conflict on hot-button social issues like abortion.
Dreier lost his first race for Congress in 1978, at 25, against Democrat Jim Lloyd; but he beat Lloyd in 1980 and then fellow Republican Wayne Grisham after they were redistricted together in 1982. At that point, Dreier evidently decided never to be pressed for funds again; he raised plenty and spent little, which takes more self-discipline than one might think. After the 1998 campaign, in which he spent $893,000, he had $2.6 million cash on hand, the highest in the House. Although he has contemplated Senate races, Dreier's key position in the House and the relish he has for its work--plus California's recent Democratic trend--will probably keep him in the House. He doesn't deny interest in seeking the speakership at some point.
Dreier has not neglected the interests of his home state. Before chairing the Rules Committee, he led a Republican task force to respond to California's legislative priorities. He was the only Republican congressman named by California Journal as one of 25 Californians ''with the power, influence and ideas to shape the dream for generations to come.'' Janice Nelson, a Los Angeles County pathologist who was his Democratic opponent in 1998, criticized Dreier as a professional politician who is the poster child for what is wrong with the system. But he easily won re-election. Dreier joked that probably the most frightening race of my life happened earlier in 1998, when he crashed down an icy run on a sled at Lake Placid, New York and ended up with his arm in a sling. That incident may have been good preparation for his work in the closely-divided House.
Safe. Though Dreier's election percentages dropped in each of three non-Reagan Presidential elections, it certainly shouldn't be enough to jeopardize him. The district may be trending more Democratic but given that Dreier traditionally amasses one of the largest war chests in in Congress, it's unlikely that he will have too much difficulty winning in 2000.
- Pop. 1990: 572,189
- 0.1% rural;
11.4% age 65+;
- 71.1% White,
0.5% Amer. Indian,
23.6% Hispanic origin;
59.3% married couple families;
30.8% married couple fams. w. children;
59% college educ.;
median household income: $43,508;
per capita income: $18,064;
median gross rent: $639;
median house value: $233,700.
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