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Welcome to my second installment of my A Look at California Politics series
part 1 can be found here

When we last left off CA voters had split tickets easily reelecting Reagan to the governorship and Democrat John Tunney to senate.

1972 Elections

California's rapid population growth resulted in the state gaining 5 additional house seats, moving from 38 to now a total of 43 seats. While Democrats did control both chambers of the legislature they lacked a supermajority to override Governor Reagan. As a result, Democratic congressman Phillip Burton drafted a new map that would preserve all 38 incumbents and create for the 5 new seats: 2 democratic, 2 Republican, and one marginal/swing seat. Reagan was originally inclined to sign off the new map. But when Burton tried to protect Republican Congressman Charles Teague he weakened Republican Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr.'s seat by snaking it up to the ocean to take in Oxnard which is a heavily hispanic and democratic area. Barry then complained to his dad Senator Goldwater of Arizona who in turn complained to Reagan who vetoed the maps. Caught in a stalemate on the issue, the California Court came in and declared that the maps produced by the legislature could be used for the 1972 elections but the legislature must draw a new map in 1973.These new seats included: one seat in the Bay Area, one in the Central Valley, and 3 in southern California; three went to Democrats, two to Republicans. Despite a retirement and two lost renominations, both parties held their seats in this election, bringing the Democrats up from 20 seats to 23 and the Republicans up from 18 seats to 20. In the end, this was an amazing feat of ticket splitting for CA Democrats, as this occurred during Richard Nixon's 1972 landslide election. Nixon dominated the state winning by a 14 point margin. George McGovern was only able to carry six counties (Sierra, Shasta,  Plumas ,Alameda,  San Francisco, Yolo) Interestingly enough the first 3 counties were ancestrally Democratic, today they are safe R counties. Nixon's victory did little to help his fellow Republicans in the state level. Democrats actually gained seats in the Assembly. Republicans did gain a state senate seat, but Democrats remained in control of the chamber.


Watergate & Jerry Brown

As a harbinger of things to come, Governor Reagan (though eligible to run for a 3rd term) decided to retire. Democrats ran their only state level elected, Jerry Brown. While Republicans nominated State Controller, Houston I. Flournoy. The Democrats in the legislature once again drew new congressional maps, but these maps were once again vetoed. The CA Supreme Court gave the ultimatum where the legislature was given 3 days to override Reagan's veto. The override failed and the Court took it upon itself to draw the new congressional maps for the upcoming elections.On November 28, 1973, the maps were unveiled. The map created a lot of districts where incumbents had to run in unfamiliar territory and in many cases shredded certain districts to pieces. (Hat tip:demographicarmageddon). The 1974 Watergate midterms devastated Republicans in the state. With only 6 months since Nixon had resigned and less than 2 months after the Nixon pardon, Republicans all across the state faced a harsh electoral environment along with unfamiliar territory due to the court drawn maps. Republicans lost all statewide races except Attorney General. Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor, Alan Cranston cruised to a second term in the senate as Democrats gained seats in both chambers of the legislature and picked up 4 house seats.

Jerry Brown's 1st term as governor surprised many as he governed as fiscal conservative who wanted Californians to tighten their belts.  He focused on slowing the growth of state government while at the same time pushing for more environmental reforms. To save the state money and set a standard, Brown decided to live in 6 floor apt near the capitol instead of the Governor's mansion. He refused to ride in the Governor's limousine and instead drove 1974 Plymouth. An opponent of the death penalty, Brown Nominated Chief Justice Rose Bird.
For more Jerry Brown's term you can go to here and here.

Trivia: Under Jerry Brown's 1st Term, Democratic leaders such as S.F. Mayor George Mascone successfully pushed for the repeal of the state sodomy laws, which added CA to small group 14 states total.

Barely into is first term, Brown made public his intention to run for President. Brown received a decent showing in the primaries (carrying 3 states:CA, NV, MD), but ultimately withdrew his nomination at the Democratic Convention. The 1976 election produced mixed results. Republicans nominated a political new comer S.I Hayakawa to challenge freshman Democratic Senator Tunney. Hayakawa presented himself as a rather idiosyncratic candidate, Canadian by birth with Japanese ancestry, Hayakawa taught English in SF state. He was never afraid to make brash outlandish statements.  Though originally Democrat (casting his first vote for Adlai Stevenson in 1956) Hayakawa became a Republican in 1973. He enamored conservatives to him with his strict shutdowns of student protests on his campus. Gerald Ford narrowly won the state and Democratic Senator Tunney was unseated Hayakawa.  But Democrats won another house seat (with Leon Panetta) bringing Democrats to a 29-14 advantage house delegation (The most lopsided CA Democratic delegation in recent history). Democrats also performed well in the legislature as they won a 2/3 majority in the state assembly and were only 1 seat shy from 2/3 state senate.

Trivia: The aftermath of the 1976 elections gave democrats their largest majorities in the legislature and congressional delegation in recent history! For every 1 Republican that Californians sent to congress there would be 2 Democrats.

1978 Midterms: Proposition 13 & 6

Republicans were excited entering the 1978 elections, they viewed Brown's victory to be just a fluke win from the Watergate aftermath and felt Carter's midterm would be the right opportunity to return to power in the state. Republicans ran their only state level elected, Evelle J. Younger  to challenge Brown. Also on the ballot were two controversial propositions: 6 and 13

Proposition 6- the Briggs Initiative

The Briggs initiative was part of large scale movement to deny gays and lesbians their basic rights. Anita Bryant and the Save our Children coalition succeeded in rescinding a Miami Dade ordinance that banned discrimination in areas of housing, employment, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation. Just one day after that event conservative senator John Briggs (R- Orange County) decided to push a similar bill (which would ban gays and lesbians from teaching in the public schools) through the CA legislature. But when Briggs realized that it was unlikely the legislature would pass his bill, he turned towards making a ballot initiative. He easily gathered the half a million signatures needed. The ballot language adopted went even further than what Anita Bryant had accomplished in Florida. As stated it not only would have banned gays and lesbians, but possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. Briggs has also authored a separate death penalty proposition. He hoped his conservative initiatives would build a name for himself so that he could be a viable candidate for governor. Prop 6 was the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a ballot initiative.



Gay and Lesbian activists ran on a campaign of "Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" in which gay men and lesbians came out to their families and their neighbors and their co-workers, spoke in their churches and community centers, sent letters to their local editors, and otherwise revealed to the general population that gay people really were "everywhere" and included people they already knew and cared about. They went on door to door campaigns spreading the word on the harm caused by the passing the Briggs initiative.
The anti-briggs forces garnered support from several unions(auto workers, culinary workers, postal workers, steelworkers, and teamsters) and unlikely politicians from all shade of the political spectrum.The No on 6 campaign had the support from: Jerry Brown, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Cesar Chavez, Micheal Curb (the future Republican Lt Gov), and George Deukmejian (future AG and Gov). In a final death blow, former Governor Reagan wrote an editorial just before the election declaring:

Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this
Prop 6 which had initially led in the polls with numbers as high as 61% was defeated in a 17 point landslide 58-41. The defeat was so overwhelming that even senator Briggs home county of Orange County( a conservative stronghold) rejected the proposition! It was the first major victory for the Gay Rights movement during conservative era of 1970s. Supervisor Harvey Milk and S.F. Mayor George Mascone had little time to celebrate before their lives were brought to a tragic end.

Trivia: The Log Cabin Republicans were founded in 1977 California as a rallying point for Republicans who opposed the Briggs Initiative.

Prop 13 - The People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation

Prop 13 was the child of Anti-tax activists, Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann. Jarvis a retired industrialist, got his start originally trying to repeal the federal income tax. Jarvis found few people to find that idea popular so he instead focused his efforts on cutting the property tax in the state of CA.  Even there he found trouble gathering signature a year earlier in 1977 Jarvis failed to gather appropriate signatures for ballot initiative.

Before we continue, here is a brief look at the events which lead up to the proposition.
During the 1960's there was corruption and bribery surrounding the tax assessors. In effort to solve the problem, the state legislature passed a bill requiring that all property (homes, businesses, etc) must be assessed to at the same rate. The law had the unintended effect of moving tax burdens from businesses to homes. Prior to this businesses had often paid high property taxes. During the mid to late 1970's high demand for houses (due to population influx and growth) combined with inflation caused house prices to double and triple in 4 years(1974-1978). This in turn resulted in property taxes doubling and tripling. At the same time the state was running a 5 billion dollar budget surplus. The state legislature failed to pass a tax relief bill by 2 votes. Seizing the moment, Jarvis and Gann teamed up to write Prop 13. This time they ran with a populist message saying that since they legislature had failed to pass relief measure it was now up to the people to make that change. Signatures poured in for prop 13 (1.2 million were gathered). Prop 13 focused on limiting property taxes to just 1% of market value(this was a 60% reduction in property taxes revenue and 7 billion dollar drop in the Budget). The proposition essentially froze property taxes at 1975 levels unless the house was sold.It also required a 2/3 vote to pass any tax increase in the legislature. The big issue was how these cuts would effect the state. Property taxes were used to fund schools and fire, police, libraries. Seeing the possible loss of services and revenue, the legislature quickly passed a bill (prop 8) as more sensible solution. Prop 8 would keep business property taxes at the same level but have 30% cut for homeowners and limit local government spending. Groups against Prop 13 included :AFL-CIO, PTA, Sierra Club, and even big businesses (Bank of America, Southern CA  Edison, Carter Hawley Hale). Many of these companies who  would benefit from reductions in property taxes were on the no position because they feared higher sale's and corporate tax that would come in the wake of decreased Property taxes.

But by this time it was too late as the Yes on 13 voters had the high ground and California voters supported Prop 13 by a two thirds margin in June. Much of the impact of Prop 13 would not be felt till the next administration as the state surplus was used to bail out many of school and services throughout the state.

Jerry Brown campaigned strongly against the prop 13, and was forced to spend the 5 billion dollar surplus, bailed out counties and schools from the revenue deficit. His actions surprisingly attracted the attention of Jarvis who cut an ad for Brown's reelection campaign. (Jarvis would also cut an ad for Younger but remained more or less neutral in the race). With a decisive win at cutting taxes, Younger tried to seize the momentum by asserting his past support of the measure. Brown moved quickly saying "the people have spoken, and as Governor I will diligently enforce their will" effectively taking the steam out of the Republicans.  Younger proved to be bland, dull speaker and was cash strapped from a tough primary battle. Jerry Brown coasted to an easy victory crushing Republican Attorney General Evelle J Younger with 56% vote with a margin of 1.3 million votes (the largest in CA history at the time)
Republicans had better luck down the ballot as they picked up the Lt.Gov, AG offices along, with gains in both chambers of the State legislature. The GOP also picked up 3  house seats.

Trivia: Brown was responsible for appointing the first openly gay judge in the United States when he named Stephen Lachs to serve on the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1979. In 1981, he also appointed the first openly lesbian judge in the United States, Mary C. Morgan of the San Francisco Municipal Court. Brown completed his second term having appointed a total of five openly gay judges, including Rand Schrader and Jerold Krieger

1980 The Age of Reagan

Jerry Brown once again set his eyes toward the presidency. The public had begun to sour on President Carter and Brown believed the time was right to challenge Carter. But this time Brown fared even more poorly in the primaries (only winning the state of Michigan) and he soon dropped out of the race. Meanwhile Republicans had began to rally to former governor Reagan, With the support of conservative organizations  like the CRA, Reagan triumphed to win nomination over George Bush. Reagan then cruised to a landslide election winning the presidency and all but 3 counties in CA( Yolo, San Francisco and Alameda). Reagan's 16 point win brought about modest gains for the GOP in the state as they picked up 3 house seats resulting in a narrow 22-21 Dem house delegation and two seat gain in the assembly. But at the same time Democratic Senator Alan Cranston easily defeated Prop 13 co-author Paul Gann by nearly 20 points.

1982 Midterms

California continued to grow in population and the 1980 Census rewarded the state with 2 new house seats. Democrats controlled trifecta in the State (having the governorship, state senate, and state assembly) giving them the opportunity to draw a favorable map. Congressman Burton once again stepped up to the plate to draw new maps. Instead of the previous incumbent protection map he had drawn in 1972, Burton drew an aggressive Democratic map, known as the Burtonmander. The end result shifted the state delegation from a narrow 22-21 Dem majority to an impressive 28-17 Dem majority, which would last all the way till the 1990 elections.

Senator Hayakawa originally planned to run for reelection, but he had become a liability to the GOP. Hayakawa had come off as a loose cannon, not afraid to say such phrases "let the price of gasoline go up" during gas crisis of 1979. The state party decided it would be easier to hold this seat without Hayakawa and thus nudged Hayakawa to retirement. Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr, Maureen Reagan (daughter of President Reagan) and San Diego mayor Pete Wilson were some of the big Republican contenders entering the open seat race. Wilson ultimately won the nomination.


Declining to run for the third term, Governor Brown set his sights on the open senate seat. Both Brown and Wilson were viewed as moderate-liberal candidates by the voters. Wilson attacked brown for his presidential runs and for the his nomination of Rose Bird for Chief Justice. President Reagan came out to give a hearty endorsement of Wilson. The last thing Reagan wanted was for the man who succeeded him in the governorship, to flip one of his home-state senate seats. Meanwhile the 2 statewide Republicans Mike Curb and George Deukmejian duked it out for the open governor's seat. Deukmejian eventually won the primary with 55% of the vote.Democrats in turn nominated LA Mayor Tom Bradley.

Polls originally had Democrats ahead in both races. In fact Bradley's numbers continued to increase as the campaign went on. But on election day the governor's race wore on and in the end Deukmejian won with late returns from Orange County pushed him over the top. The disparity between the polls and the actual results led to the media and some political pundits coining of the term "Bradley effect". But in actuality Bradley's loss was more a result of an unpopular gun control initiative and a strong Republican Absentee ballot campaign. (Hat tip: Dave in Northridge) Deukmejian's victory also helped Wilson win the senate race. The Governor's race brought in a late influx of the Armenian vote from the conservative Fresno County/Central Valley. Brown's loss sent him in political retirement for the most of decade. Democrats fared better in the remaining races by picking up the Lt. Gov, AG offices.

Trivia: Jerry Brown came out of political retirement in 1989 winning the position of CA Democratic Party Chair.

In 1984 President Regan once again easily Reelected. He carried all but 5 counties in the state (Almeda, San Mateo, Marin, San Francisco, Yolo) while Democrats held onto all their house seats.

In 1986 Governor Deukmejian faced a rematch with Bradley won in a landslide. Republicans gained a few seats in the legislature but Democrats remained in control of legislature and held the rest of the statewide positions. It was during Deukmejian's term in office that the state California began to feel the first real effects of Prop 13. With divided government and 2/3 majority requirement to pass tax increases, California experienced a series of budget showdown/shutdowns.

This concludes my 2nd installment of "A look at Politics of CA" I hope you found it be to be an enjoyable read. Next We will look at the impact of the end of the cold war, Prop 187, and the Democratic resurgence in CA.

Additional Links/Resources

The Legacy of Prop 13

The Times of Harvey Milk 1984

Originally posted to California politics on Tue May 08, 2012 at 02:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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