Thursday, December 11, 2008
Joseph Scott Warns Against GOP Switcharoo
By ROGER M. GRACE
One of the most colossal, most harebrained political boners in the history of California surely was the Republican “big switch” in 1958. Among those warning against it was GOP stalwart Joseph Scott.
For those who don’t recall…Goodwin J. Knight was the governor, and was immensely popular. He won election in 1954 in a landslide. The possibility was slim that he could have been defeated for reelection in 1958 by the Democratic nominee, Attorney General Edmund G. “Pat” Brown.
So what does a political party do when it is virtually assured of retaining the governorship in the next election? If it’s daft…it dumps the incumbent.
That’s what the GOP did. U.S. Sen. William F. Knowland wanted to run for governor, and was accommodated by the party. He thought the governorship would be a better springboard to the presidency in 1960 than being a solon. (This was a proposition of doubtful validity, especially given his key role in the Senate as minority leader).
Rumors that Knowland was eying the governorship surfaced in mid-1957. A United Press dispatch from Sacrameno reports that at a breakfast event attended by Knowland, Knight remarked from the podium:
“Welcome home, Bill. I wish you success in all your endeavors with the one exception, which I am sure you will understand—your possible candidacy for the office I now hold.”
Increasingly, it seemed that a battle between the two Republicans was in the offing. An Aug. 22 Associated Press report from Sacramento says:
“Joseph Scott, Los Angeles Republican leader who nominated Herbert Hoover for president in 1932, says it would be a ‘fundamental error’ for Sen. William F. Knowland to seek the California governorship next year.
“Scott expressed that view yesterday in a message to Gov. Knight, pledging his support of Knight’s re-election bid. The Republican governor, who announced Monday he will seek another four year term, released Scott’s message along with others supporting his candidacy.”
An article that day in the Pasadena Independent provides this quote from Scott’s statement:
“I’ve known Bill Knowland since he was a lad at his mother’s knee. He’s made a good senator and an excellent representative of the state of California in Washington. He’d make a good governor. But he wants to preserve his position as senator and to run for governor, and in the light of those two victories, to become President of the United States. That’s too big a menu for any one man to masticate.
“Frankly, I’m very fond of Governor Knight and I don’t think he should be disturbed in his present position. I’ve been working as a buck private in the Republican Party since 1893, and my advice to all Republicans is to beware of such a split as the Knight-Knowland contest would create.”
The Los Angeles Times got wind of what was about to transpire. Its Nov. 1, 1957 issue reports:
“Gov. Knight will be a candidate for United States Senator in the June primaries, according to positive assurances here yesterday by friends of the Governor.”
The gregarious Knight was uncharacterically silent in response to reporters’ inquiries.
He met with Republican President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon in the White House on Nov. 5. After the meeting, the governor announced he would run for Knowland’s Senate seat.
Knight told me in later years that, as things were put to him, he had no choice. If he ran for reelection he would lose because Republican Party financing would dry up.
Figure into this equation that Nixon himself wanted the Republican nomination for president in 1960. A Knowland defeat in the 1958 gubernatorial race would put out of contention a powerful rival.
“Attorney Joseph Scott, the GOP’s ‘Mr. Republican’ in California, declared yesterday that Sen. William F. Knowland was guilty of ‘reprehensible’ behavior in the machinations which forced Gov. Goodwin J. Knight out of the 1958 gubernatorial race,” the Nov. 13, 1957 issue of the Pasadena Star News says.
It quotes Scott as remarking:
“I am deeply concerned over the miserable situation that confronts the voters of California. I see no necessity for this behavior.”
Knowland and Knight each easily won the party’s nomination for the offices they respectively sought. Knowland ran on a right-to-work platform, engendering fervent union opposition, and he brought Knight down with him.
The governor who would surely have clobbered any opponent in the gubernatorial race was felled in his bid for the Senate by a little-known congressman from Red Bluff, Clair Engel.
Scott was not to see the outcome of those races. He died March 24, 1958.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company