Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Younger Sees-Saws on Candidacy for Governor in 1974, Seeks Reelection as AG
By ROGER M. GRACE
Seventy-Sixth in a Series
EVELLE J. YOUNGER may well have made a strategic blunder in waiting until 1978 to run for governor. His initial inclination had been to seek the post in 1974.
Had he done so, he would have faced the Democratic nominee, Secretary of State Edmund Brown Jr., 36. The Democrat had the advantage of a familiar sounding name—Edmund G. Brown Sr., his father, having been a two-term governor, and one who had retained popularity. On the other hand, the name was not a guarantee of election; Brown Sr. was felled by actor Ronald Reagan in 1966.
And the name of “Evelle J. Younger” was itself well known throughout the state since the moniker belonged to the attorney general, and was especially well known in Southern California given Younger’s service for six years as Los Angeles County district attorney.
In 1978, however, Younger, 60, ran not against the secretary of state, Edmund Brown Jr., but against the incumbent governor, by then known as “Jerry Brown.” (Having attained the governorship, he no longer needed to rely on his father’s name, “Edmund G.,” for name recognition.)
It’s true that as governor, Jerry Brown had established himself as a goof and had sabotaged the state’s judiciary with many of his appointments, but he did have the advantage of incumbency, an advantage, among other plus-points, that Younger could not overcome.
Younger’s intention of running for governor in 1974 gained notice during his 1970 race for state attorney general. His Democratic adversary, Charles A. O’Brien, issued an assurance that, if elected, he, unlike Younger, would not seek that spot.
However, an Aug. 17, 1972 article in the Ventura Star-Free Press notes a hesitancy on Younger’s part to seek the state’s top office:
“CALIFORNIA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL, Evelle Younger, indicated last week he may not run for governor after all. He has no particular ambition to that office right now, he said; this was a surprise to a lot of people who figured he had his eye set on that office.
“Two days later a strange story surfaced. It would appear that Mr. Younger would be well advised to refrain from any further candidacy until his part in a complex oil speculation scheme is completely and satisfactorily explained.
“The story was developed by the Wall Street Journal, which does an excellent job of investigative reporting. Mr. Younger gets into it as little more than a footnote—but a footnote in which Californians ought to be interested.”
Younger had been an investor in an oil-drilling venture, Geotek, touted to him, and to many others, by Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. The promoter of the enterprise had been a classmate and chum of Chandler at Stanford, and the publisher blindly assumed that what was actually a scam was on the up-and-up. The fraudulent nature of the scheme had only recently come to light, but there were reports that Younger, as DA, had brushed aside suggestions by some co-investors that there was something smelly about the project. Not so, Younger insisted.
The footnote soon became a forgotten one…at least for the time being.
But Younger was still antsy about running for governor.
A Dec. 22, 1972 article in the Times says that Younger, “considered by some spokesmen of both political parties as the strongest Republican candidate to succeed Gov. Reagan in 1974, indicated strongly Thursday that he will seek reelection to his present post instead.”
The article quotes him as saying:
“Even though Gov. Ronald Reagan has, in my judgment, been an excellent governor, you pick up opposition each day, each week that builds up at the end of eight years and whoever runs for office on the Republican ticket is going to have the disadvantage of that incumbency.
“On the other hand, anybody who runs as a Democrat, having not had that responsibility in the last eight years can indulge in the great luxury of faulting everything.
“The ‘outs’ really have a better crack at it in an election like this than the ‘ins.’
“I’m not interested in winning a primary after a bloody fight, ending up broke with no money, just to lose a general election.”
The thought that the GOP lacked an appreciable chance of winning in 1974 simply because it had been in power for eight years was of doubtful validity...as would appear in future years. Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican, was in office for eight years (1983–1991), followed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, who served the next eight years.
In early 1973, Younger was again leaning toward entering the race. Newspapers on March 1, 1973, carried this dispatch from United Press International:
“Attorney General Evelle J. Younger says contrary to rumors, he is leaning toward running for governor and has concluded he would be the strongest Republican candidate.
“ ‘If I can finance a proper campaign I’m leaning to go,’ he told UPI Wednesday.”
Three weeks later, he unofficially entered the race. A March 22, 1973 UPI dispatch from Sacramento relates:
“Atty. Gen. Evelle J. Younger said Wednesday [March 21] he is ‘definitely’ running for the 1974 Republican gubernatorial nomination.
“ ‘I’m going,’ Younger said in a telephone interview, ‘I’m definitely in.’
“Younger, who earlier said he would be a gubernatorial candidate only if he could gain sufficient financial backing, remarked that the ‘only way’ to see if the money is available is to make a commitment for the race.”
But then, again, Younger vacillated.
A Jan. 9, 1974 article in the Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying he was “spending a good deal of time agonizing over what to do.”
At a Jan. 22 press conference, Younger announced he would run for reelection as attorney general. He said a major factor was the anti-Republican sentiment generated by Watergate.
Three others had been prominently mentioned as potential aspirants for the GOP gubernatorial nod. Former Lt. Gov. Robert H. Finch opted not to run. Lt. Gov. Reinecke got in the race but on April 3, was indicted by a federal grand jury for perjury in connection with testimony before the U.S. Senate. His campaign crippled, he nonetheless doggedly continued his fight for the nomination. State Controller Houston Flournoy won, almost by default, by a margin of more than 2-1. He lost to Brown in the general election.
Reinecke was convicted in the District of Columbia July 27 on a single count of perjury. He refused to resign until the day of his sentencing on Oct. 3. He drew an 18-month suspended sentence.
Whether Younger could have won the governorship in 1974 is, of course, unknowable. Pondering the imponderable, it’s seen that there were factors suggesting he would have had good chance.
It is true that Watergate (as well as inflation) rendered 1974 a “Democratic year” nationally. What hope there was that President Richard Nixon’s August resignation would spare the party from voters’ revenge was lost when President Gerald Ford granted his predecessor a pardon. In Nov. 4 balloting, the Democrats gained 48 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as five in the Senate. Five California congressional seats were shifted to the Democratic column.
No Republican nominee for a statewide constitutional office prevailed in California other than Younger.
Was it his incumbency that saved him? That can’t be gauged. The only other Republican incumbent running for one of the six partisan statewide constitutional offices was Lt. Gov. John Harmer…but he wasn’t identified on the ballot by his current office. Appointed by Gov. Ronald Reagan to replace Reinecke, Harmer was listed as a state senator. By the time the appointment took place, on Oct. 4, the ballots had been printed.
There are two reasons why I think Younger could have come out ahead of Brown in 1974:
●He was not closely associated in the public’s mind with the GOP. It’s true that he had been chairman of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee in 1950-51, but during his years as a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge (1953-58) and Los Angeles Superior Court judge (1958-64), he was estranged from partisan politics.
As district attorney of this county (1964-71), Younger was not ethically inhibited from evincing gung-ho Republicanism, as he had been as a judge, but chose not to do so. His office was non-partisan, and Younger generally conducted himself as a politically non-partisan official.
That attracted barbs from an opponent in the 1970 Republican primary for attorney general, state Sen. George Deukmejian of Long Beach (later AG, then governor), He questioned “how good a Republican” Younger was, having failed to support Ronald Reagan in his 1966 race for the governorship, or other party candidates.
Younger, as DA, did endorse Nixon for the presidency in 1968 (and was widely rumored following Nixon’s victory to be headed to the post of FBI director…which did not materialize), but still did not gain a partisan image.
Voters in 1974 knew, of course, that Younger was a Republican, but both he and his able predecessor, Thomas Lynch, a Democrat, were not seen so much as politicians as they were as lawyers heading up a state law office. In contrast to Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, who took stances on national and international issues unrelated to his job, Lynch and Younger busied themselves with pushing for state legislation aimed at betterment of the state criminal justice system.
Watergate, inflation, the pardon—all that—had seemingly little relevance in sizing up Younger.
●While a candidate for governor would have had an advantage that year merely by virtue of being a Democrat, the nominee was Brown Jr., a punk and a jerk. (He’s now an oldster and a jerk.) The more the public saw of him, the less it liked him.
A Nov. 18 piece in the Times by staff writer Doug Shuit contains this analysis:
“After enjoying a comfortable lead in the polls between 14% and 30%, depending on the poll, Brown won the Nov. 5 election by the relatively close margin of 176,805 votes out of 6 million votes cast statewide.
“All the momentum appeared to be with Flournoy at the end.”
The article points to Flournoy’s “media drive” at the end, and to his being eight years older than Brown with longer experience on government. It also notes:
“Another explanation of the strong Flournoy finish was a negative reaction to Brown. One Democratic Party official said: ‘I think the more Brown was on television the more he hurt himself. People vote by the gut and they vote personalities. Brown came across as too heavy—too arrogant.’”
Shuit’s article relates:
“Pollster [Mervin] Field. in analyzing the Flournoy trend at the finish, said: ‘The public didn’t start sizing up Jerry Brown until the remaining days of the campaign. If they had a few more days, the election might have gone the other way.’ ”
Younger was 10 years older than Brown, had considerably more experience in government, and was far better known to the public than Flournoy. If Flournoy was able to come within 176,805 votes of victory on Nov. 5, then Younger—the strongest potential candidate the Republicans had for the post—would, in all likelihood, have crossed the finish line ahead of Brown.
If that had happened, think how much better off the state would have been.
For one thing, Rose Bird would not have been appointed chief justice. The idea of appointing a woman as chief justice was fine. The appointment of one who was not qualified for the post was appalling. Bereft of prior judicial experience, she had been no more than a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County. Her 10-year tenure as chief justice was rocky—for her, for the state Supreme Court (which came to be investigated by the state Commission on Judicial Performance for alleged improprieties, the proceedings being televised for a time), and for the judiciary, in general.
While Younger, as attorney general (specifically, as a member of the three-person Commission on Judicial Appointments), did vote to confirm Bird, he made it clear at the time that she would not have been his choice.
Had Younger been governor, he would have appointed a woman to the state high court—and a capable one. The Valley News and Green Sheet’s edition of Jan. 10, 1974, tells of Younger’s announcement that he was forming of a task force on women’s rights, headed by then-Deputy Attorney General Judith Ashmann (now Court of Appeal Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst), and reports:
“The attorney general said he has told State Appellate Justice Mildred Lillie she would be his first appointee to the State Supreme Court.” (Lillie, then an associate justice in Div. One of the District Court of Appeals for this district, later served as presiding justice of Div. Seven in what is now known as the Court of Appeal.)
Did Younger, after losing the 1978 race for governor, rue his decision not to run for the post in 1974 when he wouldn’t have been bucking an incumbent? His son, mediator Eric E. Younger, a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge, responds:
“[H]e enjoyed being attorney general so very much that perhaps nothing would have made him leave office in 1974. He used to say, consistently, that he was the luckiest man in the world because he whistled every day on the way to work (as he loved his job so much). That’s probably the big answer.”
In the next column, I’ll discuss the assaults on Younger in the 1974 AG’s race.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company