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John Varick Tunney (June 26, 1934 – January 12, 2018) was a United States Senator and Representative from the state of California.

John V. Tunney
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, New York, 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)
MotherPolly Lauder
FatherGene Tunney
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
RankUS Air Force O3 shoulderboard rotated.svg Captain
UnitAir Force Judge Advocate General's Corps

Early life and careerEdit

Tunney was born in New York City, the son of heavyweight boxing champion J. Joseph Tunney and Connecticut socialite 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 Westminister School[1].

Tunney graduated from Yale University with a degree in anthropology, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall fraternity, in 1956. 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[2][3] 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. Tunney married his first wife, Mieke Sprengers, on February 5, 1959.[citation needed]

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. While serving as a Congressman, Tunney was called to Hyannis Port, MA by his former roommate and close personal friend, Senator Edward M. Kennedy to assist in dealing with the death of Mary Jo Kopechne due to the car accident at Chappaquiddick. Noting his "service to the state," Tunney was made an honorary member of Phi Sigma Kappa by that fraternity's Cal State Northridge chapter in 1970.[4][5]

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

United States SenatorEdit

In early 1970, Representative Tunney announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Senate. His announcement was followed by 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. He blatantly compared himself to Robert F. Kennedy, largely through haircuts and poses. Ultimately, Californians split their ticket in the 1970 midterm election, re-electing Republican governor Ronald Reagan and electing Democrat Tunney to the Senate.

During his Senate term, Tunney produced a weekly radio report to California, in which he often interviewed other legislators. In 1974, he also authored an antitrust bill known as the Tunney Act. Tunney would later write a book, The Changing Dream.

In December 1975, Tunney was an advocate 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 led up toward the highly unpopular Vietnam War. The Senate had postponed passage of the annual defense budget because of concerns the bill contained funds for covert operations against Soviet-backed Angolan rebels. The CIA conducted highly-classified briefings for senators, including Tunney, showing an account of where money was being spent. They failed to persuade him of the policy's usefulness. It was at this time that Tunney introduced an amendment that would cutoff $33 million from the defense budget that were to be allocated to pro-US rebels for covert operations. That effetively ended current and future covert funding from defense appropriations for Angola. Efforts by aid supporters filibustered the cutoff, offered counteramendments, and tried to shelve it 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 having the support of 16 Republicans. Its passage also increased the power of the Congress in foreign affairs at the expense of the executive branch.

He was renominated for a second term in 1976 despite a high-profile challenge from his left in the form of Tom Hayden. That fall, Tunney was defeated for re-election by Republican S. I. Hayakawa, the 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.

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 (it is to be noted that 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 the junior senator and served with Alan Cranston.

Interest in constitutional rights and government surveillanceEdit

In early 1975, soon after becoming Chairman of the Senate's Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, Tunney asked the subcommittee staff to initiate a long-term comprehensive investigation of the technological aspects of surveillance. As noted in the Surveillance Technology Report of 1976 "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 this 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 lifeEdit

On May 22, 1972, Dutch-born Mieke Tunney, 35, sued for dissolution of her 13-year marriage to the California Democratic Senator, on the basis of irreconcilable differences. In addition to alimony, child support and half the community property, she requested custody of their three children. Tunney, claiming surprise, hurried back from California to see Mieke in Washington.

On April 23, 1977, John V. Tunney married Kathinka Osborne, a member of the 1964 Swedish Olympic ski team, with U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy serving as the Best Man.[6]

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

As of 2013, Tunney and his wife were living primarily in Sun Valley, Idaho, (with homes also in New York and Los Angeles), and he was Chair of the Board of the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Culture Center at UCLA, as well as remaining active in environmental causes.[7] Tunney retired from the Hammer Museum Board at the end of 2013,[8] and a new pedestrian bridge at the museum, designed by architect Michael Maltzan and completed in February 2015, is named in Tunney's honor.[9]

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.[10]

Tunney died of prostate cancer on January 12, 2018, in Santa Monica, California.[11] He was 83.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Leslie, Jacques. "John Tunney, Kennedy's Friend In Muskie's Corner". Retrieved 2018-11-22.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "John Tunney Oral History (2007), Senator, California". Miller Center. 27 October 2016.
  4. ^ Phi Sigma Kappa, ed. (1992). Hills and a Star (10th ed.). Indianapolis, Indiana: Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. pp. 74–76.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Tunney weds former skier", Boca Raton News, April 25, 1977.
  7. ^ Jean Merl, "The Times catches up with former Sen. John Tunney", Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2013.
  8. ^ Rebecca Sun, "Producer Marcy Carsey to Chair UCLA's Hammer Museum", The Hollywood Reporter, November 6, 2013.
  9. ^ Jessica Gelt, "Courtyard bridge by Michael Maltzan to open at Hammer in February", Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2015.
  10. ^ Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films by Terry Christensen and Peter Hass, page 146
  11. ^ Schudel, Matt (2018-01-14). "John Tunney, ex-US Senator from California, dies at 83". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2018-01-15.

External linksEdit