LIBERAL REPRESENTATIVE GEORGE BROWN JR. DIES.
Rep. George Brown Jr., a staunch liberal and dean of the California congressional delegation, died Thursday night at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington, D.C.
At 79, the San Bernardino Democrat was serving his 18th term and was the oldest member of the House.
Brown underwent heart surgery in May to replace a valve that had been damaged in childhood by rheumatic fever and was released after a few days. But he was hospitalized again in June for treatment of a ``stubborn postoperative infection,'' according to a spokeswoman for his office.
The cigar-chomping Brown, who was sometimes called Congress' oldest peacenik, was known for his opposition to the Vietnam War and using space for military purposes. He held a degree in industrial physics from the University of California, Los Angeles and chaired the Science Committee when his party controlled the House. He remained the committee's ranking member after the Republicans won a majority in 1994.
He also was the senior minority member of the Agricultural Committee and might have chaired the Intelligence Committee if he hadn't quit in 1987, saying he couldn't live with the committee's gag rules on national security topics that were being openly discussed in the nation's press.
Brown also was a strong supporter of long-range planning and investment in technology. He was promoting solar energy and talking about global warming long before those issues became mainstream.
In a statement Friday, President Clinton said, ``Our nation has lost a good man and an irreplaceable voice for science and justice. For almost 40 years, from his earliest days fighting racial inequality, George Brown challenged us to build a better world.''
California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said that at age 15 he met Brown, who was then mayor of Monterey Park.
``As I grew up in politics, George Brown was a mentor and a role model as an elected official who truly cared about the people and their needs,'' Torres said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted that Brown faced many stiff re-election challenges, but ``sustained the confidence of his constituents because he never lost sight of the issues that mattered most to them.''
Despite his Quaker background, Brown served in the Army as an infantry officer during World War II. He worked 17 years for the city of Los Angeles as a civil engineer and administrator, and spent four years in the California Assembly before being elected to Congress in 1962.
In 1970, he gave up his suburban Los Angeles district in an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, losing to John Tunney in the primary.
Two years later, Brown moved to a newly created district in San Bernardino (which is now the 42nd) and won easily. But Brown's campaign margins grew slimmer in the 1990s as the district became more conservative and Republicans spent heavily to defeat him. In 1996, he was returned to Congress by just 865 votes. But the last time out in 1998, he was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote.
As of February, registration in the increasingly urbanized district was 51.9 percent Democrat and 33.8 percent Republican. Before Brown's death, the GOP had an edge of only six seats in the House. That should make the special election to replace Brown a key battleground leading up to the 2000 campaigns.
Among officeholders who might be contenders are State Sens. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, and Jim Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga; and Assemblymen Bill Leonard, R-San Bernardino; Brett Granlund, R-Yucaipa; and John Longville, D-Rialto.
Brown was born in Holtville, Calif., on March 6, 1920. His wife, Marta Brown, worked on his congressional staff.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete Friday.
Photo: George Brown Jr.