Leon Panetta

From Academic Kids

Leon Edward Panetta (born June 28, 1938) is a former White House Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, a former member of the United States House of Representatives, and the founder and director of the Panetta Institute.

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Early life & schooling

Panetta was born in Monterey, California, the son of Italian immigrants who owned a restaurant there. He was raised in the Monterey area, and attended Catholic schools St. Carlos Grammar School and Carmel Mission School. He continued his education at Monterey High School, a public school where he became involved in student politics. As a junior he was Vice President of the Student Body, and became President of the Student Body as a senior.

In 1956 he entered Santa Clara University, and in 1960 he graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. He also received a Juris Doctor in 1963 from the Santa Clara University Law School, and soon after began practicing law.

In 1964 he joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant. There he received the Army Commendation Medal, and was discharged in 1966 as a Captain.

Political career

Panetta started politics in 1966 as a legislative assistant to Republican Senator Thomas Kuchel, the United States Senate Minority Whip from California, whom Panetta has called "a tremendous role model" [1] (http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Panetta/panetta-con2.html).

In 1969 he became the assistant to Robert H. Finch, Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under the Nixon administration. Soon thereafter he was appointed Director of the Office for Civil Rights.

Panetta chose to enforce civil rights and equal education laws, even under political pressure not to from then-president Nixon, who was implementing his "Southern strategy". Robert Mardian, later indicted for conspiring to hinder the investigation into the Watergate scandal, said of Panetta: "Doesn't he understand Nixon promised the Southern delegates he would stop enforcing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts?" [2] (http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/12/19/ED66198.DTL). Secretary Finch and Assistant Secretary John Veneman refused to fire Panetta, threating to resign if forced to do so. A few weeks later in 1970, Panetta resigned and left Washington to work as Executive Assistant for John Lindsay, the Republican Mayor of New York City. He wrote about this experience in his 1971 book Bring Us Together: The Nixon Team and the Civil Rights Retreat.

He moved back to Monterey to practice law at Panetta, Thompson & Panetta from 1971 through to 1976.

Congressional work

Panetta switched to the Democratic Party in 1971, as he felt the Republican Party was moving away from the center and was working against civil rights legislation. In 1976 he was elected to Congress to represent California's 16th Congressional District (the 17th district after the 2000 census), where he was reelected for nine terms.

During his time in Congress, his work concentrated mostly on budget issues, civil rights, education, health, and environmental issues, particularly preventing oil drilling off the California coast. He wrote the Hunger Prevention Act (Public Law 100-435) of 1988 and the Fair Employment Practices Resolution. He was a major factor in establishing the Monterey Bay National Maritime Sanctuary.

His positions included:

  • Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the Budget
  • Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Domestic Marketing, Consumer Relations, and Nutrition
  • Chairman of the House Administration Committee's Subcommittee on Personnel and Police
  • Chairman of the Task Force on Domestic Hunger created by the House Select Committee on Hunger
  • Vice Chairman of the Caucus of Vietnam-Era Veterans in Congress
  • Member of the President's commission on Foreign Language and International Studies.

Budget work

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Panetta (right) meets with National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and President Clinton in 1994.

He was a key participant of the 1990 Budget Summit, and served on the U.S. House Committee on the Budget from 1979 to 1985, as well as being the chairman from 1989 to 1993.

In 1993, the beginning of his ninth term, he was chosen by then-President Bill Clinton to be Director of the United States Office of Management and Budget. He is credited with developing the budget package which would eventually result in the balanced budget of 1998. On July 17, 1994, he was appointed White House Chief of Staff by Clinton, a position he held until January 20, 1997. He was an important negotiator of the 1996 budget, which was another important step towards balancing the budget.

After politics

Panetta and his wife founded the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy in December 1998, where they serve as the Institute's directors. The Institute is located at California State University, Monterey Bay. Panetta was instrumental in creating CSU Monterey by converting Fort Ord, where he was chief of operations and planning of the intelligence section when he was in the army, into the university. Currently, Panetta serves as distinguished scholar to the chancellor of California State University and as Presidential Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz's Political Science department, with both universities allowing him to teach. He was urged to consider running for Governor of California during the recall election in 2003 but declined in part because of the short time available to raise money. He appears content with his current responsibilities but continues to be mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor in 2006 or perhaps even for President in 2008.


Pew Oceans Commission

  • Commissionor [3] (http://www.pewoceans.org/commissioners/)

Bread for the World

  • Board of Directors

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

  • Member of the Board of Directors [4] (http://www.nmsfocean.org/bio/leon_paneta.htm)

New York Stock Exchange

  • Co-chairman of the Corporate Accountabilty and Listing Standards Committee
  • Board of Directors since 1997

Close Up Foundation

  • Board of Directors, Member since 1999

Connetics Investor Relations

  • Board of Directors since March 2000 [5] (http://www.connetics.com/2002/about/leadership.html)

Fleishman-Hillard [6] (http://www.fleishman.com/capabilities/practice_groups/cca.html)

  • Co-chairman of the Corporate Accountability and Listing Standards Committee
  • Co-chairman of the Corporate Credibility Advisory practice
  • Member of the International Advisory Board.

In June of 2002 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put him on their National Review Board [7] (http://www.usccb.org/ocyp/nrb.htm), which was created to look into the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. This created controversy because of Panetta's pro-choice stands on abortion and other views seen as conflicting with those of the Church.

Personal life

Panetta married Sylvia Marie Varni, who administered his home district offices during his terms in Congress.

Currently, he lives on his family's 12 acre (49,000 m²) walnut farm in Carmel Valley with his wife. They have three sons: Christopher, Carmelo, and James, and three grandchildren.


  • 1969 - Abraham Lincoln Award, National Education Association
  • 1984 - A. Philip Randolph Award
  • 1988 - Golden Plow Award, American Farm Bureau Federation [8] (http://www.fb.com/issues/legact/goldplow.html)
  • 1991 - President's Award, American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
  • 1991 - Coastal and Ocean Management Award, Coastal Zone Foundation
  • 1993 - Peter Burnett Award for Distinguished Public Service
  • 1995 - Distinguished Public Service Medal, Center for the Study of the Presidency
  • 1997 - Special Achievement Award for Public Service, National Italian American Foundation
  • 2001 - John H. Chafee Coastal Stewardship Award, Costal America
  • 2002 - Law Alumni Special Achievement Award, Santa Clara University School of Law Alumni Association [9] (http://www.scu.edu/law/alumni/achievement_award.html)
  • 2003 - Julius A Stratton "Champion of the Coast" Award for Coastal Leadership

External links

Preceded by:
Mack McLarty
White House Chief of Staff Succeeded by:
Erskine Bowles

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