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UCLA Magazine Winter 2003
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Winter 2003
The Cardinal of Westwood
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Congressman Lewis and  President Bush
Lewis meets with President George W. Bush.

Lewis began his public-service career in 1964 when he was elected to the San Bernardino Board of Education, on which he served for five years. He was then elected to the California State Assembly and served for a decade prior to winning a seat in Congress in 1978.

Since his early days in Congress, Lewis has been known as a consensus builder, and at times his bipartisan ways have led him down some difficult paths. "As a freshman, I developed an early frustration with the existence of too much partisanship," he says. "It was clear that if we develop effective partnerships, we can bring about long-range change."

One of Lewis' greatest strengths has been his ability to look at every side of an argument and recognize why others might come to different conclusions, colleagues say.

"He has always known, even though you have strong opinions, you never demonize or vilify those who hold different views," says former Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), who served with Lewis in the California Assembly and in Congress. "We were on the moderate side of our respective parties, and we found a way to work together for the betterment of the nation and of our home state of California."

Lewis climbed the ranks of the House Republican leadership, and in 1996 he became the senior Republican in the California House delegation and was elected chair of the state's 22-member Republican caucus. He is credited with establishing new lines of communication among the members, as well as with the Democratic caucus, and producing a newfound sense of collaboration and cooperation among the state's 52-member delegation.

"I emphasized Californians working together on California issues," says Lewis. "I pushed for bipartisanship and for seeking alternative avenues to solutions."

Lewis laments how times have changed. "More than half of the new members of my caucus have been in the majority since they arrived in Congress," he says. "They don't know what compromise is, and they carry ideology to the point where it can interrupt working together."

During his 30-year career, former Rep. Lou Stokes (D-Ohio) worked closely with Lewis and knows firsthand how strongly Lewis embraces the notion of bipartisanship. "The bills Jerry and I worked on were never in trouble," says Stokes. "We worked out our individual problems. The system can work if more members of Congress would be willing to work together."

Stokes notes that working together across parties is even more important today. "We are seeing the abandonment of traditions of Congress in terms of civility, and it really has the public perplexed," says Stokes. "Jerry Lewis is one person who has always sacrificed partisanship in the interest of the American people and on behalf of the institution itself."

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