November 21, 2018

Anthony Beilenson, Maverick State Legislator, Congressman, 84

Anthony C. Beilenson, a state legislator and 10-term congressman who fought for abortion rights, environmental protection and gun control, died March 5 in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Beilenson had been recovering from a heart attack last month and died at his home in Westwood, according to his son, Adam, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In 20 years of representing congressional districts that included the San Fernando Valley, Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills, Beilenson, a Democrat, championed affordable health care, environmental safeguards such as the Clean Air Act, and cuts to defense spending, the L.A. Times reported. He also persuaded fellow California legislators and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan 50 years ago to approve what was then one of the nation’s most permissive abortion rights bills, The New York Times wrote.

Anthony Charles Beilenson was born Oct. 26, 1932, in New Rochelle, N.Y. His parents owned a small book publishing company, and he grew up in an affluent suburb outside New York City. After graduating from Phillips Academy in Andover, Md., he attended Harvard University, where he earned a degree in American government. After earning a law degree from Harvard in 1957, he moved to Southern California to work in his cousin’s entertainment law firm.

He served in the State Assembly from 1963 to 1966 and the State Senate from 1967 to 1976. He was credited with writing more than 200 state laws, including major consumer and environmental legislation, The Washington Post wrote.

He attributed his ambition to enter politics to a lecture at Harvard, where then-Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas (D-Calif.) spoke about the plight of migrant farm workers.

“You are in a position to help a lot of people when you are in public office,” he said.

In 1976, after Democratic Rep. Thomas Rees announced his retirement and said “the Watergate mess” had cast a pall over public service, Beilenson joined the race to succeed him, the L.A. Times reported.

Once in Congress, Beilenson proved fiercely independent. For instance, he opposed the creation of a federal Department of Education; education, he argued, was a state responsibility, The New York Times reported. He was against making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday; he said federal government employees already had enough days off. He opposed officially celebrating Grandparents’ Day; it was a concession to the greeting card industry, he said.

He also supported the death penalty for drug lords and limits on legal immigration (to reduce competition with citizens for jobs), The New York Times wrote.

Former county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who also served on the L.A. City Council, praised Beilenson in the L.A. Times obituary for staying focused on progressive priorities after redistricting altered the legislative map and removed a chunk of reliably liberal Westside constituents. Beilenson’s new district was more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans and had more conservative enclaves such as Thousand Oaks, the Times said.

“It took a lot of courage,” Yaroslavsky said. “It’s easy to have courage when you represent the Westside as a progressive. It’s another thing when part of your district is in eastern Ventura County.”

The Times also noted that Beilenson helped secure federal funding that created Lake Balboa Park, which now bears his name, and the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.

Besides his son Adam, Beilenson is survived by his wife, the former Dolores Martin; daughter Dayna; son Peter; nine grandchildren; sister Elizabeth Beilenson Schildkraut; and brother Roger.