Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Younger’s Gubernatorial Loss Attributed to Hawaii Trip, Kidney Stone, Marijuana Stance
By ROGER M. GRACE
Eightieth in a Series
EVELLE J. YOUNGER’s political career ended after he lost the race for the governorship on Nov. 7, 1978. It was a contest in which, in my view, the better man did not win. Instead, Jerry Brown was reelected.
The victory by the incumbent came as no surprise. Time Magazine’s Oct. 23, 1978 issue says:
“Up to primary day, Jerry Brown opposed Proposition 13; when it was approved, he became an overnight convert and began to talk as if the whole thing had been his idea in the first place. People laughed and scoffed, but Brown seems to have survived the flip-flop with votes to spare. The latest survey shows him 25 points ahead of his lackluster Republican opponent, State Attorney General Evelle Younger, whose campaign style is unkindly compared to a mashed-potato sandwich.”
The analogy to a “mashed-potato sandwich” was conjured up by Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis, Younger’s chief competitor for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Well in advance of the June, 1978 primary, it was uttered to Los Angeles Times political writer Kenneth Reich during a car ride back to Los Angeles from Costa Mesa, where Davis had delivered an address. Reich’s write-up of his to-and-fro interviews appears in the Aug 7, 1977 issue of the Times. The precise phrase, as recited by Reich, was that Younger was “as exciting as a mashed-potato sandwich.”
Reich included the quote in several subsequent articles on the race, and others picked up on it, some versions referring to a “cold” mashed potato sandwich, some saying it was “on white bread.”
Younger was whisked to six cities on Feb. 1, 1978, to formally announce his candidacy, his stops including San Diego. The next day’s issue of the San Diego Union quotes him as saying:
“My wife has a very thick book—about 1,200 pages—called Larousse Gastronomique which is the world’s foremost cooking reference book and that book lists a number of very exciting sandwiches the main ingredient of which is mashed potatoes.”
But humor could not eradicate the imagery, which was to haunt Younger throughout the campaign, and beyond.
A piece by reporter Bill Farr in the May 27, 1978 issue of the Times recalls the mashed-potato sandwich line and quotes a member of the audience at a Rotary Club lunch at which Younger spoke as saying of the talk: “It was like listening to Pa Kettle on Valium.”
The article attributes to Younger a rejoinder to those who saw him as ho-hum:
“First, as to color, I don’t think I am dull but I suppose I may not be the best judge of that. Whatever I am, the public has confidence in me, and Californians have voted for me about 15 million times. I don’t think they consider me colorless, but if they do, they consider my virtues as overcoming that.”
After the primary, in which Younger beat out Davis, George Will’s nationally syndicated column of July 1, 1978 observes:
“In this year’s primary, Mashed Potatoes beat the man who joked about mashed potatoes.”
The column expresses admiration for Younger, disdain for Brown as a flake, but terms the incumbent “an exotic condiment—like strong chutney” who would probably win.
(Younger also prevailed in the primary over Assemblyman Ken Maddy and San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who later did become governor.)
Younger did some TV commercials close to the November run-off in which—in all probability affected by the cracks about his personality—he came off poorly, exhibiting forced buoyancy.
Personally, I didn’t view Younger as dull. He was staid, but exuded strength of character and purpose. He was a definite contrast to the incumbent who strained to attract attention by being odd.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the race was Brown’s feat in turning voter approval of Proposition 13 to his advantage, as alluded to by Time Magazine. (That measure bore the label, “People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation,” and it did just that.)
Will’s column describes Brown’s exploitation of the passage thusly:
“…Brown does have the fastest feet in the West. He ardently opposed Proposition 13. But when the voters embraced it he praised them for ratifying his philosophy. That philosophy is a labyrinth and has, to prosaic minds, the occasional appearance of inconsistency.”
In plain terms, Brown was a hypocrite and a phony.
How was Brown able to get by with it? District Attorney Steve Cooley tells me:
“Remember the big Hawaii trip?
“Prop. 13 passed in the primary, overwhelmingly. Evelle wins the Republican primary. Jerry Brown wins the Democratic primary. Younger had more or less quietly supported Prop. 13, and should have been in the forefront of talking about it.
“Brown had opposed Prop. 13 but immediately seized on the issue and while Evelle’s off in Hawaii, celebrating his primary victory, Brown seized the initiative on Prop. 13, captured the public’s imagination, and showed a real leadership role in that area. Evelle came back and he had surgery for kidney stones and he just sort of never got off the dime, never really got his campaign going.”
(Younger checked into Cedar-Sinai June 25; it was determined the stone could not be dislodged without surgery; a two-hour operation was performed June 30; Younger was discharged July 7, and required rest at home following that.)
“It was just almost a lost cause, just could never get up any enthusiasm for him, and he lost it, really, during the summer, between the June primary to Labor Day. Just nothing much happened and then Brown just killed him.
“It was probably the only time…in recent history that a Republican got less votes than a Democrat in Orange County.”
An Associated Press dispatch the day after the election says that Younger “had hoped to make political hay of Brown’s onetime opposition to Proposition 13, but Brown pronounced himself a ‘born-again tax cutter’ and the AP-NBC News poll found the voters thought the governor was the better man to implement that mandate.”
The voters were flimflammed.
One week after the primary election, Younger’s campaign manager, Ken Reitz, said at a forum that the loss was attributable to the Hawaii vacation, the late start of the run-off campaign, and Younger’s statement that, if elected governor, he would sign a bill legalizing marijuana.
What? A law-and-order Republican embracing the legalization of a theretofore illicit drug?
After being sworn into office as attorney general on Jan. 4, 1971, Younger told of his legislative goals, one of which was opposing bills that would legalize marijuana. In 1976, Younger predicted in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that the next year, the Legislature would decriminalize use of marijuana—a move he said would be a blunder.
On Sept. 12, 1978—less than two months before the general election—Younger said at a press conference that lifting the ban on use of marijuana was “inevitable in California, given the current attitude of the Legislature,” and added: “I’m not going to fight the inevitable.”
Later that day, following a speech, Younger was asked whether, as governor, he would sign a bill into law permitting use of the drug. With characteristic candor, he responded:
“I would probably sign it—it’s inevitable and I have recognized its inevitability for years.”
(He was wrong about the imminence of legalization. Now, almost three decades later, legalization still hasn’t occurred, except for medicinal purposes.)
Younger tried to clarify that signing the bill wasn’t what he would really do—rather, he’d let it become law without a signature (by not timely vetoing it). This was a distinction probably not grasped by the electorate, and to the extent that it was…how could it have made a difference to those disfavoring marijuana use?
A Sept. 22, 1978, Herald-Examiner editorial scoffs, with regard to the clarification: “Now Younger has backpedalled furiously into that secure—and for the voters, frustrating—political limbo of second thoughts and indecision.”
The former FBI agent, ex-DA, and current attorney general would no more have puffed on a stick of marijuana than Brown would have put his mattress on bed springs or carried a credit card. Yet, he was perceived as soft on “pot smoking.” Brown—who in his first year in office signed a bill he had initiated that reduced the crime of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana to a misdemeanor with slim consequences—was seen as protecting the public from dope-puffing. He announced that he didn’t discern wide support for legalization, and would oppose it.
Ironically, Brown had recently appointed a close friend of his, state Public Defender Paul Halvonik, to the Court of Appeal. He knew Halvonik was a marijuana user. If he didn’t already know that about his former aide, he found out in May when Younger, as a member of the Commission on Judicial Appointments, stopped the confirmation hearing so that Brown could be queried as to whether he wanted to withdraw the nomination. Brown didn’t. What concerned Younger was that Halvonik had gone to San Quentin to see a client in 1974 while possessing a marijuana cigarette. The AG voted against confirmation, but Chief Justice Rose Bird and Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Wakefield Taylor voted in the affirmative. The following year, Halvonik…in line for elevation to the state Supreme Court…was arrested along with his wife when police saw 323 marijuana plants growing in their home. The jurist resigned as part of a plea bargain.
Public perception of the candidates was skewed. Younger’s image was wedded to Davis’ crack about a “mashed potato sandwich” and Brown’s image was that of a champion of a ballot proposition he had opposed and a foe of marijuana.
Brown drew 3,835,205 votes and Younger received 2,490,796.
YOUNGER THE REFORMER—Younger was an innovator. Among his ideas for improving the criminal justice system was establishing separate criminal and civil grand juries, the topic of a previous column. That’s come about in this county and various other counties.
Some other major proposals by Younger weren’t adopted. Going back to his days as Los Angeles County district attorney, he wanted to abolish coroner’s juries. This was included in his 1968 legislative program. Those juries haven’t been abolished; on the other hand, in this county at least, they just aren’t used anymore.
During the Charles Manson murder trial, DA Younger attempted, unsuccessfully, to get the hippie cult leader’s attorney, Irving Kanarek, removed, rather than the prosecution facing the prospect of a retrial following a reversal based on incompetence of counsel. In the aftermath of the 9½-month trial, Younger, as attorney general, included in his 1971 legislative program a requirement that only attorneys certified by the State Bar as criminal law specialists could handle cases where the defendant faced the possibility of a death sentence. The State Bar opposed the measure. A Sept. 22, 1977 editorial in the Herald-Examiner remarks:
“His criticism of unqualified attorneys no doubt referred to some who have turned courtrooms into three-ringed circuses and created situations that conceivably could win reversals of verdicts or new trials.”
The proposal was then, and is now, one that appears to have striking merit.
It was on March 11, 1977, that Younger voted to confirm Bird as chief justice. On Oct. 26 of that year, after considering how long Bird, then 40, might lead the courts and the power she would amass over so lengthy a period, he announced a plan to seek a state constitutional change to alternate the chief justice role among the seven members of the high court.
The Nov. 1, 1977 issue of the Metropolitan News, a predecessor of the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, quotes feminist attorney (and tiresome publicity seeker) Gloria Allred as scoring Younger for his proposal, saying at a press conference: “Our present California chief justice…is the first woman who would be affected….It’s important today to unmask Younger’s true motive….[H]e feels threatened by a woman as boss.”
A Younger spokesperson questioned how the chief justice is the “boss” of the attorney general.
The rotation idea was a “lead balloon,” and Younger did not include it in his 1978 legislative program.
In these days, with Chief Justice Ronald George amassing power and constantly thirsting for more, Younger’s proposal, perhaps with some tweaking, might well be viewed as a sound one.
The attainments of Evelle Younger were substantial. He was a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, our county’s district attorney, and the state’s attorney general. It’s a shame he did not become governor or chief justice.
Younger died May 5, 1989.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company