Dixon, Julian C. 1934
Julian C. Dixon 1934
Congressman from California
An institution in California politics, Julian C. Dixon has been a consistent voice speaking out for minorities in the United States House of Representatives. Beyond that, as chairman of the House Ethics Committee during the high-profile scandal that led to the resignation of Speaker of the House Jim Wright in 1989, he was instrumental in maintaining the dignity of the House in the midst of intense partisan wrangling. An effective politician who has rarely been challenged at the polls, Dixon was emerging by the end of the twentieth century as one of the most powerful lawmakers in the United States.
Dixon was born in Washington, D.C., on August 8, 1934, but moved to California as a young man, graduating from Dorsey High School in Los Angeles in 1953. Serving in the Army from 1957 to 1960, he rose to the rank of sergeant, and, like many other ambitious young African Americans of his day, found in the newly integrated military the key to future advancement in civilian life. Following his discharge from the Army, Dixon attended Los Angeles State College (now California State University at Los Angeles), and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1962.
Dixon earned a law degree at Southwestern University in Los Angeles in 1967, and remained a practicing attorney in Los Angeles for several years. In 1972, he ran a successful campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly, serving three terms and rising to the post of chairman of the Assembly’s Democratic caucus. Dixon also developed a friendship with assemblyman Henry Waxman, a relationship that would prosper after both were elected to the U.S. Congress and Waxman emerged as a forceful Democratic party leader on a variety of domestic issues. In 1978, when incumbent Democratic Representative Yvonne Burke left Congress to run for the post of California Attorney General, Dixon was a natural choice to succeed her in what was then California’s 28th Congressional District.
As the Democratic leadership realized that Dixon was, in the words of the Almanac of American Politics, “a team player with high ethics and a discreet style,” he was tapped for a series of hot-seat political roles. Dixon performed brilliantly in each role, and by the time he emerged from his baptism in national government, he
At a Glance…
Born August 8, 1934, in Washington, DC; grew up in Los Angeles; married to Betty; one child. Education: Los Angeles State College, B.S., 1962; Southwestern University, Los Angeles, LL.B. law degree, 1967. Military service: U.S. Army, 1957–60. Politics: Democratic.
Career: United States Representative, 32nd District of California; practiced law in Los Angeles, late 1960s and early 1970s; elected to California State Assembly, 1972; elected to U.S. House of Representatives, 1978; chair, rules committee, Democratic National Convention, 1984; chair, House Ethics Committee, presided over hearings implicating House Speaker Jim Wright, late 1980s; oversaw District of Columbia finances, 1990s.
Addresses: Office —2252 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
had become a well-entrenched political veteran. Dixon’s first challenge occurred during the contentious 1984 Democratic National Convention, in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson mounted a series of widely publicized challenges to the party’s delegate-selection procedures. Dixon, appointed chairman of the convention’s rules committee, managed Jackson’s insurgency expertly, insuring that it never got out of hand before national television cameras.
More significant was Dixon’s assignment as chairman of the House Ethics Committee, just as the ethical quagmire that ensnared the powerful House Speaker Jim Wright ballooned from a single botched book deal to a barrage of 69 separate accusations of violating House rules. Chief among Wright’s pursuers was the man who would become House Speaker in the Republican landslide of 1994, Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich, an aggressive, highly partisan lawmaker with an eye cast firmly toward his own ambitions. In the midst of this rancorous atmosphere, which in Ebony’s words “thrust Dixon, almost as much as Wright, in the forefront of one of the most politically compelling controversies of the decade,” Dixon proved to be a stabilizing influence. He earned the trust of committee members on both sides of the aisle, and eventually permitted the orderly emergence of the evidence that sealed Wright’s political fate.
After he surmounted these challenges, Dixon began to receive coveted committee posts within the U.S. House of Representatives. He moved from the Ethics Committee to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, an important behind-the-scenes player in setting U.S. national security policy. By the end of the 20th century, with the Democrats in the minority, Dixon had become the ranking minority member of the committee. He also began to advance through the ranks of the Appropriations Committee, which was a coveted assignment because of the committee’s direct control over the federal government’s purse strings. As part of his duties for this committee, Dixon was given another sensitive and difficult task—he became chairman of the subcommittee overseeing the perennially mismanaged and fiscally crisis-ridden District of Columbia.
At first, Dixon was sympathetic to the District’s government, one of the largest in the country under African American administration. However, after the regime of flamboyant mayor Marion Barry ended with Barry’s imprisonment for several years on drug-related charges, Dixon changed his position. In 1995, he demanded the privatization or federal takeover of several of the city government’s functions. “He has tried to get the District to make the changes on its own,” explained a Dixon staffer quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “He wanted to give them every opportunity to get their own house in order. They didn’t, and it just pains him.”
By the late 1990s, Dixon was able to use his increasing influence to benefit his Los Angeles district (after the 1990 redistricting it became the 32nd District), a multicultural, predominantly middle-class section of the city’s west side with a small African American majority. He emerged as a chief backer of the city’s slowly coalescing subway system, and worked to mitigate the effects of 1990s defense spending cuts upon Southern California’s numerous defense contractors, making loan money available to the small businesses associated with them. Dixon has been in the forefront of efforts to reimburse local communities for the costs of imprisoning and processing undocumented aliens, a hot-button issue for many Californians.
On national issues, Dixon has generally been a reliably liberal voice over his two decades in Congress. He has supported President Bill Clinton on such issues as the failed Republican effort to override his veto of a law prohibiting so-called “partial birth” abortions. Firmly entrenched in his Congressional seat, Dixon refused pleas from Democratic movers and shakers to run for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and later for mayor of Los Angeles. As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, Dixon is part of the inner circle of national power and influence.
Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa. The Almanac of American Politics: 2000. National Journal, 1999.
Hawkins, Walter L., African American Biographies, McFarland&Co., 1992.
1997–1998 Congressional Directory: 105th Congress. United States Government Printing Office, 1997.
Ebony, December 1989, p. 144.
Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1995, p. A3.
Additional information for this profile was obtained at www.house.gov/dixon/bio.htm.
—James M. Manheim
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