ENCINITAS, Calif. -- Clair Burgener, who served the San Diego area in the US House of Representatives for five terms, died Saturday of complications from Alzheimer's disease, said officials at a care facility where he lived. He was 84.
A friend of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Burgener served the staunchly Republican former 43d Congressional District from 1973 to 1983.
His political career included stints on the San Diego City Council and in the California State Legislature .
Usually a conservative voter, Mr. Burgener broke ranks with his party in the late 1970s to support the Equal Rights Amendment.
But Mr. Burgener was best known for defeating Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Metzger, the Democratic candidate, for election to his final term in Congress in 1980.
Mr. Burgener called it ``the low point in my career, the worst thing I've ever been through in my life."
The race was never close -- Metzger had little money, few volunteers, and virtually no support among Democrats. But it received national media attention and caused many sleepless nights for Mr. Burgener, who later expressed worries that he might have somehow lost to the white supremacist.
Mr. Burgener won 86 percent of the vote.
A genteel, modest statesman, he was known among colleagues of both parties for his honesty.
``With a few more like Clair Burgener, you wouldn't need any campaign laws," said Lionel Van Deerlin, a former San Diego Democratic congressman who served across the aisle from Mr. Burgener for eight years and was a friend. ``He was just a straight arrow."
Mr. Burgener's oldest son, Rod, was severely mentally retarded, and Mr. Burgener made the welfare of people with mental disabilities his central aim as a legislator. In 1963, he pushed a law through the California assembly that mandated classroom training for the mentally retarded.
Mr. Burgener did not seek a sixth congressional term in 1982, keeping a promise to his wife, Marvia, that they would spend only a decade in Washington.