Jerry Lewis, Master of the Congressional Earmark, Dies at 86

“Exactly what will a politician have to do for the Department of Justice to sit up and take notice?” Melanie Sloan, then the group’s executive director, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Looking back on the investigation in 2012, shortly before he retired from the House, Mr. Lewis told the Southern California public radio station KPCC, “It’ll always be there, and the reality is that we have attempted to be a positive impact in public service.”

Charles Jeremy Lewis was born on Oct. 21, 1934, in Seattle and moved with his family to San Bernardino, Calif., as a child. His father, Edward, was a civil engineer who worked on the construction of New Deal projects. His mother, Ruth, was a homemaker.

After studying veterinary science at the University of California, Berkeley, he transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received a bachelor’s degree in political science.

After working in the insurance business, Mr. Lewis served on the San Bernardino Board of Education and then was elected to the California State Assembly. He served there for a decade. During his tenure, he pushed for voter approval to make a reporter shield law — to protect the confidentiality of sources — an amendment to the state constitution and wrote legislation that established an air pollution control agency in Southern California.

Once elected to the House, he was named to the Appropriations Committee in his second term and became chairman of the subcommittee that funds the Department of Veterans Affairs, NASA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Four years later he took over the defense subcommittee. His two years as Appropriations Committee chairman ended in 2007, after Democrats won the House majority.

In addition to his son Dan, Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Arlene (Willis) Lewis; a daughter, Jenifer Engler; two other sons, Jerry Jr., and Jeff; a stepdaughter, Julie Willis Leon; two stepsons, Jimmy and Marty Willis; six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and two brothers, Ray and John. His marriage to Sally Lord ended in divorce.

Having the same name as a famous comedian was something that trailed Mr. Lewis throughout his career.

“He had a good sense of humor” about it, Dan Lewis said. He recalled his father campaigning at a parade in Apple Valley, Calif., where people were eager to see the funnyman, not the lawmaker. The crowd might have been disappointed, he said, but the congressman “wasn’t annoyed.”



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