LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony C. Beilenson, a state legislator and 10-term congressman from Southern California who championed abortion rights and helped create the Santa Monica Mountains National Park, has died. He was 84.
Beilenson, who recently had a heart attack, died Sunday at his Los Angeles home, his son Adam Beilenson told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“He was a champion for our area and will be remembered for his ability to debate tough issues of the greatest controversy and importance with civility and respect,” his U.S. House successor, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-California, said in a statement.
A Harvard-trained lawyer, Beilenson worked at his cousin’s entertainment law firm before being elected to the California Assembly in 1962. Four years later, he joined the state Senate.
“I wanted to be useful in the world,” he told the Times in 1981. “Politics was the way you could acquire the most power to do good things.”
He wrote one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws, which decriminalized the procedure when there was grave risk to the mother’s mental or physical health or when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape. Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the measure in 1967.
In 1976, Beilenson won a U.S. House of Representatives race to represent a region that included Beverly Hills, Malibu and part of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley.
He served on the powerful House Rules Committee and was chairman of the Intelligence Committee.
Beilenson voted against oil drilling off the California coast and co-sponsored 1978 legislation that created the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which protects a swath of land that sweeps from the Hollywood Hills to the sea.
“Californians and people from across the country owe Tony a great deal – and they can literally see it every time they drive up the PCH,” Sherman said, referring to the Pacific Coast Highway. “He was essential to the creation of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is the most frequently visited national park in the country.”
Although a Democrat representing a general liberal area, Beilenson was known for his independence and for voting his conscience.
He backed environmental protections such as the Clean Air Act and other liberal causes but fought proposals that he felt were a waste of money. He advocated defense budget cuts and tax increases to deal with the deficit and opposed creation of a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday on grounds that federal employees didn’t need another paid holiday.
He opposed creation of the federal Department of Education and while generally disapproving of the death penalty, once said he might support it in the case of big-time drug dealers.
Beilenson also favored toughening immigration laws. Citing welfare costs, Beilenson at one point backed a proposal to deny granting automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to people who entered the country illegally.
Republicans seized control of the House in 1994, ending four decades of Democratic control, and the next year Newt Gingrich became speaker. Beilenson, who set great store by civility, felt the collegial atmosphere in the House had disintegrated into “mindless” ideology and partisan rancor.
In 1996, he decided against running for re-election, explaining to the Times: “Moderate, sensible, middle-of-the-road resolutions of issues seem no longer possible.”
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