John V. Tunney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John V. Tunney
Tunney in 1964
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 2, 1971 – January 1, 1977
Preceded byGeorge Murphy
Succeeded byS. I. Hayakawa
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th district
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 2, 1971
Preceded byPatrick M. Martin
Succeeded byVictor Veysey
Personal details
John Varick Tunney

(1934-06-26)June 26, 1934
New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 12, 2018(2018-01-12) (aged 83)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Mieke Sprengers
(m. 1959; div. 1973)
Kathinka Osborne
(m. 1977)
Parent(s)Gene Tunney
Polly Lauder
RelativesLauder Greenway Family
EducationYale University (BA)
University of Virginia (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Air Force
Years of service1960–1963
Rank Captain
UnitAir Force Judge Advocate General's Corps

John Varick Tunney (June 26, 1934 – January 12, 2018) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator and Representative from the state of California in the 1960s and 1970s. A Democrat, Tunney was known for his focus on anti-trust and environmental legislation, especially the Noise Pollution Control Act of 1972 and the anti-trust Tunney Act. Tunney also strongly supported civil rights and shepherded the 1975 expansion of the Voting Rights Act.[1]

He was the son of boxing champion Gene Tunney. A fellow Irish-American Catholic,[2] Tunney was a roommate of Edward Kennedy at the University of Virginia School of Law,[3] and became one of his best friends.[4] Tunney won the 1970 United States Senate election in California, but was narrowly defeated by a Republican S. I. Hayakawa in the 1976 United States Senate election in California. After his loss, Tunney became an environmental activist.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Tunney was born in New York City, the son of heavyweight boxing champion J. Joseph Tunney, widely known as "Gene", and Polly Lauder Tunney, a member of the Lauder Greenway Family. He grew up on the family's Star Meadow Farm in Stamford, Connecticut and attended New Canaan Country School and the Westminster School.[5]

Tunney graduated from Yale University in 1956 with a degree in anthropology, where he was a member of the St. Anthony Hall fraternity. He attended The Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1959, where he was a roommate[6][7] of future Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, who remained a close friend. Tunney was admitted to the Virginia and New York bars in 1959 and practiced law in New York City. He married his first wife, Mieke Sprengers, in 1959.[1]

Tunney joined the United States Air Force as a judge advocate and served until he was discharged as a captain in April 1963. He taught business law at the University of California, Riverside in 1961 and 1962. In 1963, he was admitted to practice law in California. He was a special adviser to the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime from 1963 until 1968.

In 1964, Tunney was elected as a Democrat in the United States House of Representatives from California's 38th congressional district (Riverside and Imperial counties). He served from January 3, 1965, until his resignation on January 2, 1971, when he became a senator. Members of the Kennedy family such as Patricia Kennedy Lawford campaigned for Tunney.[8]

In July 1969, while serving as a congressman, Tunney was called to Hyannisport, Massachusetts by Senator Kennedy, a friend and former college roommate,[9] to assist in dealing with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne following the Chappaquiddick incident. Noting his "service to the state," Tunney was made an honorary member of Phi Sigma Kappa by the fraternity's Cal State Northridge chapter in 1970.[10][11]

Rep. John Tunney (D-California) poses for his official congressional portrait photograph, c. 1966-67

United States Senator[edit]

In early 1970, Representative Tunney announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for the Senate. His announcement was followed by that of fellow congressman George Brown, Jr. Their primary battle turned into one of the most bitter in California history. One of the key issues was the military draft. While Brown and Tunney both questioned expanding U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Brown opposed a continuation of the military draft while Tunney favored it. This conflict gave incumbent Republican George Murphy an early lead in the polls. Murphy's staunch support for the Vietnam War hurt his campaign and as the general election approached, Tunney overtook him in the polls. The Murphy campaign suffered another setback when he underwent surgery for throat cancer, weakening his voice to a whisper. The Tunney campaign used his youthful appearance and high energy to contrast with the aging Murphy. His hairstyle and mannerisms drew comparisons to Robert F. Kennedy; New York Times praised Tunney for his "Kennedyesque, prize-fighter glamour" and "Kennedy-like accent and mannerisms", calling him "a swinger who wears his hair styled like a tight, furry helmet".[12] Ultimately, Californians split their ticket in the 1970 midterm election, re-electing Republican governor Ronald Reagan and electing Democrat Tunney to the Senate.

In the 1972 Democratic Party presidential primaries, John Tunney, described by New York Times as one of the best friends of Edward Kennedy, endorsed Edmund Muskie. This endorsement was a part of a larger effort by Kennedy to aid Muskie - K. Dun Gifford, a former member of Kennedy's Senate staff, agreed to join the Muskie organization in Massachusetts. Kennedy's decision to support Muskie was considered surprising, as George McGovern was considered to be ideologically closer to Ted Kennedy's views than Muskie. Media hinted that the vote of Kennedy could then be personal rather than idelogical - Muskie was a Roman Catholic just like Kennedy and Tunney.[4] The New York Times stated that "Mr. Tunney's endorsement is one of the most important Mr. Muskie has received since his Presidential campaign began";[13] Tunney was also considered as a possible running mate for Muskie in the event of Muskie's presidential nomination.[14]

During his Senate term, Tunney produced a weekly radio report to California, in which he often interviewed other legislators. In 1974, he authored an antitrust bill known as the Tunney Act. Antitrust legislation was central to Tunney's politics, along with his focus on environmental protection and civil rights - Tunney's most important bills were the Noise Pollution Control Act of 1972, as well as the 1975 expansion of the landmark Voting Rights Act.[1] Tunney would later write a book, The Changing Dream, about what he saw as a looming resource crisis.[1][15]

In December 1975, Tunney advocated for using American diplomacy in dealing with the Angolan Civil War. American covert and military support for pro-US rebels there suggested a return to the policies that had led up toward the highly unpopular Vietnam War. The Senate had postponed passage of the annual defense budget because of concerns that the bill contained funds for covert operations against Soviet-backed Angolan rebels. The CIA conducted highly classified briefings for senators, including Tunney, providing an accounting of where money was being spent. However, they failed to persuade him of the policy's usefulness. It was at this time that Tunney introduced an amendment that would cut $33 million from the defense budget that was to be allocated to pro-US rebels for covert operations. That effectively ended current and future covert funding from defense appropriations for Angola. Aid supporters filibustered the cutoff, offered counter-amendments and tried to shelve the amendment in committee.

The Ford administration, which strongly supported the covert operations, asserted that the amendment was a threat to both US-Soviet and US-Cuban relations. Cuba had deployed combat troops to Angola a month earlier. On December 20, 1975, Tunney's amendment passed 54–22 with the support of 16 Republicans. Its passage also increased the power of the Congress in foreign affairs at the expense of the executive branch.

As a prominent Democrat politician in the populous and electorally pivotal state of California, Tunney was considered a potential "national leader in the making", but "instead he seemed mired in indecision about both the issues and his own future". Jeremy Larner, a former speechwriter often hired by Democratic politicians, provided a fictionalized story of John Tunney in the 1972 film The Candidate. In it, Tunney was portrayed as a well-intentioned but aimless young Democrat who was preyed upon by his domineering father. In real life, Tunney was accused of being unfaithful to his wife and underwent a divorce, which further complicated his 1976 re-election run. The film and divorce tarnished John Tunney's image as a Kennedy-like figure, and made his 1970 electoral campaign backfire, given his image as a youthful, relaxed and aspiring politician - one ad showed him walking on the beach with a suit jacket slung over his shoulder. Tunney now faced accusations of being an adulterous divorcee and dating teenage girls.[16] However, these claims were never substantiated, and friends and colleagues described Tunney's "playboy" label as completely false.[1]

Tunney was renominated for a second term in 1976 despite a high-profile challenge from his left in the form of Tom Hayden. Tunney was attacked by Hayden's wife Jane Fonda, who accused Tunney of being a "playboy dilettante who dates teenage girls".[12] Hayden also criticized Tunney, mentioning his friendship with Edward Kennedy and calling Tunney "a Chappaquiddick waiting to happen" - a reference to the Chappaquiddick incident, which tarnished Kennedy's reputation; Hayden later apologized for the accusation.[14] That fall, Tunney was defeated in his reelection bid by Republican S. I. Hayakawa, the former president of San Francisco State University, who had never held elected office. Hayakawa ran as an outsider and highlighted Tunney's numerous travels, missed Senate votes, and poor Senate attendance record during the campaign. He also painted Tunney as a flip-flopper.[17]

Still, Tunney led in the polls right up to election night, despite a steadily shrinking lead as the campaign wore on. Despite Democrat Jimmy Carter's victory in the presidential election, Tunney lost to Hayakawa in a mild upset, though Republican Gerald Ford carried California in the presidential election. Tunney resigned his Senate seat on January 1, 1977, two days before his term would officially expire, to allow Hayakawa to have seniority over other incoming senators.

Throughout Tunney's term as a senator, he served as California's junior senator and served with Alan Cranston.

After his 1976 Senate defeat, Tunney resumed practicing law and was a named partner at Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney (1976–1987). He also served on several corporate boards.

Interest in constitutional rights and government surveillance[edit]

In early 1975, soon after becoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Tunney asked the subcommittee staff to initiate a long-term comprehensive investigation into the technological aspects of surveillance. The Surveillance Technology Report of 1976 stated that "This investigation of surveillance was the first attempt to organize an immense amount of data in a comprehensive and usable format and to provide a framework for future analyses and, ultimately, for the creation of institutional mechanisms that will diminish the threats posted by surveillance technology." In the preface of the report Tunney stated, "If knowledge is power, then certainly the secret and unlimited acquisition of the most detailed knowledge about the most intimate aspects of a person's thoughts and actions conveys extraordinary power over that person's life and reputation to the snooper who possesses the highly personal information."

Tunney also served as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Science and Technology, and as a member of the Joint Atomic Energy Committee.

Personal life[edit]

Born in an Irish-American family, Tunney was a Roman Catholic.[2] Originally, Tunney's parents wanted him to become a priest, which was a common desire for immigrant Irish parents at the time.[18]

On May 22, 1972, Tunney's Dutch-born wife Mieke sued for dissolution of their 13-year marriage on the basis of irreconcilable differences. In addition to alimony, child support and half of the community property, she requested custody of the couple's three children.

On April 23, 1977, Tunney married Kathinka Osborne, a member of the 1964 Swedish Olympic ski team, with longtime friend Senator Kennedy serving as the best man.[19]

In February 2003, Tunney joined former Senate colleagues George McGovern and Fred Harris in opposing the Iraq War.

John and Kathinka Tunney lived primarily in Sun Valley, Idaho (with homes also in New York and Los Angeles). He was chairman of the board of the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center at UCLA and remained active in environmental causes.[20] Tunney retired from the Hammer Museum board at the end of 2013.[21] In February 2015, a pedestrian bridge at the museum designed by architect Michael Maltzan was named in Tunney's honor.[22]

Writer Jeremy Larner and director Michael Ritchie reportedly based the 1972 film The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, on Tunney's successful Senate race in 1970.[23]

Following his narrow defeat in 1976, Tunney largely stayed out of politics and committed himself to environmental causes, including serving on the board of Living with Wolves, an organization dedicated to raising consciousness of the animals’ importance.[1]

In The Ted Kennedy Jr. Story, a 1986 NBC-TV movie based on Ted Kennedy Jr. losing one of his legs to cancer, Tunney was portrayed by Michael J. Shannon.[24]

Tunney died of prostate cancer on January 12, 2018, in Santa Monica, California, at the age of 83.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Merl, John (12 January 2018). "John Tunney, California senator who worked for environmental protection and civil rights, dies at 83". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ a b Jack Cavanaugh (2006). Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and his Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 393. ISBN 978-0-8129-6783-8.
  3. ^ Joseph Cerrell (13 June 1969). "Joseph Cerrell Oral History Interview—6/13/1969" (PDF). Los Angeles, California. p. 33.
  4. ^ a b R. W. Apple Jr. (14 December 1971). "Campaign Notes". The New York Times. Washington.
  5. ^ Leslie, Jacques (26 December 1971). "John Tunney, Kennedy's Friend In Muskie's Corner". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  6. ^ Boston, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate Columbia Point 210 Morrissey Blvd; Ma 02125. "Interview with John Tunney (2009)". Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ "John Tunney Oral History (2007), Senator, California". Miller Center. 27 October 2016.
  8. ^ Dennis McLellan (18 September 2006). "Patricia Kennedy Lawford, 82; Sister of John F. Kennedy and Wife of Actor Peter Lawford". Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ "John V. Tunney, Edward "Ted" Kennedy and unidentified man at press conference held before meeting of California Democrats". UCLA Library Digital Collections. Los Angeles Times. January 25, 1964. Retrieved 6 November 2021. John V. Tunney of Riverside, left, son of Gene Tunney, greeted friend and former college roommate, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
  10. ^ Phi Sigma Kappa, ed. (1992). Hills and a Star (10th ed.). Indianapolis, Indiana: Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. pp. 74–76.
  11. ^ Anson, Jack L.; Marchenasi, Robert F., eds. (1991) [1879]. Baird's Manual of American College Fraternities (20th ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Baird's Manual Foundation, Inc. p. A-65. ISBN 978-0963715906.
  12. ^ a b Burton W. Peretti (2012). The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image. Rutgers University Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780813554044.
  13. ^ R. W. Apple Jr. (7 December 1971). "Tunney Endorsement of Muskie In 1972 Race Is Reported Near". The New York Times. Washington.
  14. ^ a b David Stout (12 January 2018). "John V. Tunney, Boxer's Son Who Lasted One Term in the Senate, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Tunney, John V. (1975). The Changing Dream: The Truth About the Material and Energy Crisis and What We Must Do to Resolve It (1 ed.). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-04850-5. OCLC 1551283.
  16. ^ Burton W. Peretti (2012). The Leading Man: Hollywood and the Presidential Image. Rutgers University Press. p. 152-153. ISBN 9780813554044.
  17. ^ "ABC Commercial Breaks - October 18, 1976". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2020-04-13.
  18. ^ Jack Cavanaugh (2006). Tunney: Boxing's Brainiest Champ and his Upset of the Great Jack Dempsey. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8129-6783-8.
  19. ^ "Tunney weds former skier", Boca Raton News, April 25, 1977.
  20. ^ Jean Merl, "The Times catches up with former Sen. John Tunney", Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2013.
  21. ^ Rebecca Sun, "Producer Marcy Carsey to Chair UCLA's Hammer Museum", The Hollywood Reporter, November 6, 2013.
  22. ^ Jessica Gelt, "Courtyard bridge by Michael Maltzan to open at Hammer in February", Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2015.
  23. ^ Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films by Terry Christensen and Peter Hass, page 146
  24. ^ O'Connor, John J. (24 November 1986). "'TED KENNEDY JR. STORY,' A FAMILY BIOGRAPHY (Published 1986)". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 January 2021.
  25. ^ Schudel, Matt (2018-01-14). "John Tunney, ex-US Senator from California, dies at 83". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-01-15.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from California
(Class 1)

1970, 1976
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
Served alongside: Alan Cranston
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Baby of the Senate
Succeeded by