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Remembering Onetime GOP Superstar Rep. Bobbi Fiedler

Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, R-Calif., faces reporters at the Dallas Convention Center on Aug. 13, 1984 in Dallas
The late Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, R-Calif., in 1984 (Carlos Osorio/AP)

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Monday, 11 November 2019 04:46 PM Current | Bio | Archive

"I live in Los Angeles; I read the news closely, but, obviously, I somehow missed that story," former Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., told Newsmax in August when we mentioned his House Republican classmate and fellow Southern Calif. GOP Rep. Bobbi Fiedler died March 3.

Dreier was not alone. When we recently talked about Fiedler's death to California's longtime Republican National Committeeman Shawn Steel, he replied: "I am embarrassed to say I didn't know or even recall that Bobbi passed away."

It is sad, but to those who knew Roberta Horowitz Fiedler, it is understandable her death at age 81 was not big news — even in her home turf of Los Angeles County.

The former congresswoman, in fact, had frequently described herself as a "very private person" who was "pushed into politics by necessity, not plan."

One of two daughters of onetime middleweight boxer Jack Horowitz, Bobbi attended Santa Monica City College and Santa Monica Technical School and worked as an interior designer. She married a pharmacist and handled the business end of her husband's pharmacy in Los Angeles.

Fiedler's life changed dramatically in 1976, when Los Angeles found itself under court order to integrate its public schools. Alarmed at the thought of her two teenaged children on a bus for hours to attend schools on the other side of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the young mother launched BUSTOP — a parents' committee to offer alternatives to busing to achieve integrated schools.

A year later, Fiedler became a candidate for the Los Angeles School Board. Veteran political consultant Arnold Steinberg recalled in his memoir "Whiplash! From JFK to Donald Trump, a Political Odyssey" how client Fiedler faced "a liberal icon, Robert Docter [known as 'Dr. Docter'], a bureaucrat with a doctorate in education, but limited substantive knowledge."

Fiedler campaigned hard against forced busing, but opponents could not label her "racist" because, as Steinberg pointed out, "Like many of her Jewish contemporaries, she had backed the civil rights movement."

Dr. Docter, he noted, "was unprepared for her alternatives to encourage racial integration such as adjusting school boundaries, developing magnet schools for art, music, math, and science."

Fiedler and fellow busing opponent Roberta Weintraub were elected handily.

After one term on the board, Fiedler made a bold move and challenged eight-term Rep. Jim Corman, D-Calif. As second-ranked Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Corman seemed invincible.

But Fiedler, well known from her anti-busing crusade, was able to match the veteran incumbent in campaign dollars. Her strategy was to "kill him with kindness": Corman, who went her TV and radio spots, "may seem to be a nice man and he probably is. But he's way out of touch" — and then she ticked off issues such as spending and crime in which he was her polar opposite.

In a tight contest race that was recounted, Fiedler edged Corman by 750 votes and went to Washington with her political hero and President-elect Ronald Reagan.

Fiedler firmly backed the Reagan agenda on taxes and foreign policy. But she differed from most other Republicans in Congress because of her pro-choice stand and support of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was also only the second Jewish woman to represent California in Congress after fellow Republican Florence Prag Kahn, R-Calif., who succeeded her late husband Julius as a U.S. Representative from the San Francisco area from 1924-36.

With the assistance of press secretary Tony Blankley (later a syndicated columnist and pundit on TV's "McLaughlin Report"), Fiedler fast became a political star. Having assumed a securely Republican district following redistricting in 1981, she seemingly had a long House career ahead of her.

But Fiedler wanted to do more, and in 1986, she entered the crowded Republican U.S. Senate primary. In a bizarre development, Fiedler and her campaign manager were indicted following charges by primary opponent and State Sen. Ed Davis that she had offered $100,000 to withdraw from the race in her favor. 

Fiedler's team cried "Foul!" and made a counter-charge that Davis' campaign manager solicited them for money to retire his debts if he withdrew in her favor. A judge finally tossed out the case before it went to court, but the damage was done. Fiedler and Davis both ended up in single digits in the primary.

Over the next three decades, Bobbi Fiedler did a variety things — from working at the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency under Mayor Richard Riordan to advising Donald Trump on real estate dealings with the Los Angeles School Board.

She gave few interviews, made only an occasional speech, and devoted herself to her children, grandchildren and second husband Paul Clarke, who had been her campaign press secretary and top aide in Congress.

Perhaps the best closing line on Bobbi Fiedler is that which she herself spoke about her hero Ronald Reagan in seconding his renomination for president at the 1984 Republican convention. Reagan was one, she said, "Who will encourage us to dream, to build those dreams and to dream on."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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Newsmax's John Gizzi laments Southern Calif. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler, D-Calif., died as she lived: under the radar.
bobbi fiedler, pro choice, california, conservative, obituary
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Monday, 11 November 2019 04:46 PM
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