John V. Tunney

John V. Tunney
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 2, 1971  January 2, 1977
Preceded by George Murphy
Succeeded by S. I. Hayakawa
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th district
In office
January 3, 1965  January 2, 1971
Preceded by Patrick M. Martin
Succeeded by Victor Veysey
Personal details
Born John Varick Tunney
(1934-06-26) June 26, 1934
New York City, New York
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mieke Sprengers (1959–1973)
Kathinka Osborne Tunney (1977–present)
Children Edward (Teddy), Mark, and Arianne
Alma mater Yale University
Hague Academy of International Law
University of Virginia
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service 1960–1963
Rank Captain
Unit Judge Advocate General's Corps

John Varick Tunney (born June 26, 1934) is a former United States Senator and Representative from the state of California.

Early life and career

He is the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and Connecticut socialite Polly Lauder Tunney. He grew up on the family's Star Meadow Farm in Stamford, Connecticut and attended New Canaan Country School and the Westminister prep school.

Tunney graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of St. Anthony Hall, 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 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.

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 U.S. 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. 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. [1][2]

United States Senator

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 with Robert F. Kennedy, largely through haircuts and poses. Ultimately, Californians split their ticket in the 1970 mid-term 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-U.S. rebels there suggested a return to the policies that lead 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. These 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-U.S. rebels for covert operations. This effectively ended current and future covert funding from defense appropriations for Angola. Efforts by aid supporters filibustered the cutoff, offered counter amendments and tried to shelve it in committee. The Ford administration who 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 before. 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. "Sam" 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 was to officially expire, to allow Hayakawa to have seniority over other incoming Senators.

Personal life

After his Senate defeat he resumed practicing law. Tunney was a named partner of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Tunney from 1976 until leaving in 1987. He continues to serve on several corporate boards. In February 2003, Tunney joined former Senate colleagues, George McGovern and Fred Harris, in opposing the Iraq War.

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. Washington, equally surprised, prepared to get along without one of its most glamorous couples.

On the 23rd of April 1977, John V. Tunney married Kathinka Osborne, a 1964 member of the Swedish Olympic ski team, with U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy serving as the best man.[3]

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.[4] Tunney retired as chair of the Hammer board at the end of 2013,[5] and a new pedestrian bridge at the museum, designed by architect Michael Maltzan and completed in February 2015, is named in Tunney's honor.[6]

Writer Jeremy Larner and director Michael Ritchie reportedly based the film The Candidate, starring Robert Redford, on Tunney's successful Senate race in 1970.[7]


  1. Phi Sigma Kappa, ed. (1992). Hills and a Star (10th ed.). Indianapolis, Indiana: Phi Sigma Kappa Fraternity. pp. 74–76.
  2. 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.
  3. "Tunney weds former skier", Boca Raton News, April 25, 1977.
  4. Jean Merl, "The Times catches up with former Sen. John Tunney", Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2013.
  5. Rebecca Sun, "Producer Marcy Carsey to Chair UCLA's Hammer Museum", The Hollywood Reporter, November 6, 2013.
  6. Jessica Gelt, "Courtyard bridge by Michael Maltzan to open at Hammer in February", Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2015.
  7. Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films by Terry Christensen and Peter Hass, page 146
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Patrick M. Martin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th congressional district

1965 1971
Succeeded by
Victor V. Veysey
United States Senate
Preceded by
George Murphy
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
1971 1977
Served alongside: Alan Cranston
Succeeded by
S.I. Hayakawa
Party political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Salinger
Democratic nominee for Senator from California
(Class 1)

1970, 1976
Succeeded by
Jerry Brown
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Bob Packwood
Youngest Member of the United States Senate
Succeeded by
Joe Biden
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 9/10/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.