Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Scott Takes Staunch Stand Behind Governor Knight
By ROGER M. GRACE
It was on Oct. 5, 1953, that Goodwin J. Knight was sworn in as the 31st governor of the 31st state. Los Angeles attorney Joseph Scott—the man who had handed Knight his elementary school diploma and became a political supporter and friend—was among the speakers at the hour-long ceremony at the State Building on First Street in downtown Los Angeles.
The next day’s issue of the Los Angeles Times reports that Scott—whom it described as “a Republican wheelhorse from away back”—quoted a line of a poem which he said might be California’s cry: “Give me men to match my mountains.” Scott’s comment, referring to Knight, was:
“You’ve got one here today.”
Knight, as lieutenant governor, succeeded to the governorship upon the resignation of Earl Warren, who went off to the District of Columbia to accept a post there. (He was to attract both adulation and detestation in his role as chief justice.)
Warren’s third term as governor expired Jan. 3, 1955. Knight had a Democratic opponent in the 1954 general election, lobbyist Richard P. Graves. The gregarious Knight had been unable to repeat his feat of 1950 when he ran for reelection as lieutenant governor, capturing the nominations of both the Republican and Democratic parties. He came close, however.
Graves, like certain other candidates for statewide office in the 1950s, resorted to desperation tactics. He leveled charges against Knight, sans proof, of being cozy with criminal elements.
Coming to Knight’s defense was his mentor, Scott. A Sept. 27, 1954 report in the Times quotes him as saying:
“I have engaged in politics in our great state of California for more than half a century, during 45 years of which I have known Goodwin Knight as a student, a lawyer, a judge, and as Lieutenant Governor and Governor. When he was a little boy I gave him his grammar school diploma. as president of the Board of Education. And I had the same pleasure when he graduated from Manual Arts High School.
“There is no more decent, honorable man, either in or out of public service.
“For this reason I view with apprehension and indignation the kind of campaign Goodwin Knight’s opponent is conducting in his vicious and brazen attempt to discredit him.”
(Actually, Scott didn’t confer a diploma on Knight at Manual Arts, though it’s easy to see how their memories were tricked. Records show that Scott was the speaker at the commencement exercises on June 24, 1914. Young “Good Knight” was in all probability there; he was school president. However, he was a member of the “winter class,” and his graduation took place Jan. 18, 1915.)
Back to the 1954 election. Knight appointed a committee of 10 lawyers, including Scott, to look into Graves’ grave charges. Having been commissioned by the accused, himself, and clearly being partisans in his camp, it could not have been supposed that this was a panel that would objectively sift through evidence. Members had a mission: to debunk the allegations.
Nonetheless, these were men (it was an all-male board) who did have reputations in the community and were not about to lay themselves open to charges that, in the course of alleging the flaying of unsubstantiated and false allegations, they engaged in that very conduct. Members included Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kenneth Chantry (a Republican appointed by Warren, later presiding judge of the court) and USC Prof. Robert Fenton Craig (president of the California Republican Assembly in 1957 and an advisor in Knight’s 1958 campaign for the U.S. Senate).
A United Press dispatch of Oct. 6 says:
“Charges Governor Goodwin J. Knight is tied to Southern California liquor scandals today were called ‘the most reprehensible and utterly false statements ever made in the history of this state.’
“A group of 10 lawyers turned in a 10 page report concluding Knight ‘has been made the victim of malicious gossip without either substance or any element of credibility.’ They called on Knight’s opponent and originator of the charges, Richard P. Graves, for a public apology.”
Graves unleashed some of his accusations based on the affidavit of a Carl W. Williams, a San Diego businessman. The UP report says:
“Part of the Williams affidavit charged Knight [as lieutenant governor] had dispatched his automobile and personal chauffeur to San Quentin on behalf of a pardon for a prison inmate, Charles O. Spencer.
“Today’s report answers that Knight did not at the time have a big car or a chauffeur, that Spencer was not in San Quentin, and no pardon was sought or granted.”
(And why would Knight seek a pardon at San Quentin when the governor, Warren, who had sole power to grant a pardon, was right there in the same city as Knight: Sacramento?)
Knight won 56.8 percent of the vote in the run-off.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company