Walters: Sometimes nice California governors do finish first

California’s Republican elite – yes, Virginia, there was once such a thing – gathered in the Capitol on Dec. 15, 1980, to cast the state’s 45 presidential electoral votes for Ronald Reagan.

After the formalities, attendees lingered in the state Senate chambers, savoring the moment and believing that Reagan’s election was a harbinger of their party’s rising fortunes in a state that seemed to be, at the time, up for political grabs.

Mike Curb, a former recording executive, drew the most attention from political insiders and reporters. He had been elected lieutenant governor just two years earlier, having defeated a Democratic incumbent, and was considered the leading GOP candidate for governor in 1982.

Curb enjoyed the implicit blessing of what were called the “kingmakers” – a group of wealthy Southern California businessmen who had shepherded Reagan’s transformation from B-movie actor to winning politician.

George Deukmejian, a former legislator who had been elected attorney general two years earlier as well, stood a few feet from the Curb entourage, chatting with me and one or two other reporters.

Offhandedly, without prompting, Deukmejian mentioned that he was setting up an “exploratory committee” for governor. It was classic Deukmejian – no flashy, contrived media event, just a quiet declaration.

I was a bit shocked, because exactly five months earlier, we had walked together from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, site of the GOP national convention that had nominated Reagan, to the California delegation’s hotel a few blocks away, and I had asked him, off the record, about the governorship.

Deukmejian acknowledged, as I already knew, that Republican figures who resented the kingmakers had urged him to run. But, he told me, he was happy to be attorney general and lead a crackdown on crime, and wasn’t inclined to give it up for what would be an uphill run for the governorship.

As became evident later, the anti-kingmaker faction wouldn’t take no for an answer and, with pledges of support from law enforcement leaders and wealthy Armenian-Americans, finally persuaded Deukmejian to take the plunge.

The rest is, as they say, history.

Deukmejian not only outpolled Curb in the 1982 Republican primary but defeated the Democratic candidate, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, by one of the narrowest margins in state history. Bradley actually won among in-person voters, and was proclaimed the winner by media on election night, but a surge of mailed ballots pushed Deukmejian over the top, and he defeated Bradley again in a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

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