The Republican Moment of Truth

AS THEIR state chairman says,the Republicans in California are facing their moment of truth. Alarmed by the Democratic sweep in the June 3 primary, Vice President Nixon, GOP official of varying heft and profundity, and possibly even President Eisenhower will troop up and down the Golden State between now and November, trying to rescue ungainly Bill Knowland from the wrath of the voters. But most of the 1960 Democratic Hopefuls will also be pitched in for the party in California. And the fledgling Democratic Council of Clubs, now emphatically proved important by their triumphs in the primaries will be challenged to produce for their nominees in the general election as they have not produced before.

To the distress of Republicans, in fact, little in California politics this summer seems as it was beofre. “Liberal, but moderate liberal” Democrat Pat Brown in his campaign for Governor has divided the usually monolithic daily press and has on his side many respectable businessmen and Republicans who can afford to contribute generously. Knowland has a united organized labor opposed to him for Governor, and for the first time in many years, the unions have not endorsed a single major Republican candidate, excepting the California Federation of Labor's double endorsement of Democrat Clair Engle and Republican Goody Knight for the US Senate. June primary results, too, indicate a new pattern of voting along semi-straight party lines–strange to California.

In a state 800 miles long, with a highly mobile population difficult for interest in politics, campaign expenses are sky-high. The cost of electing all California public officials in 1956, for example, has been estimated at $10 million; a single strong state-wide race costs at least $400,000. This being so, in the absence of a strong Democratic Party, business interests, being the most affluent, have been able to dominate the state. At the capital in Sacramento, their lobbies have become prolific and potent. In 1955-56, 414 of them registered as representatives of 377 interests (including , however, the Dog Defenders League, Dancing masters of California, and the Western Nudist Conference).

No single group, not even oil, seems to be in control. (Although the major oil companies with foreign production admittedly sank $5 million into the campaign, they lost a public vote in 1956 to establish the price-fixing variety of oil conservation which is a duly sacrosanct statute in Texas and other oil states.) But John Despol, secretary of the state CIO Council, believes oil, trucking, railroads, liquor and the manufacturers' association are the most influential lobbies in Sacramento. They constitute an “interest matrix,” he says, but “each one is sufficiently powerful to itself to operate on its own.” A University of California doctoral dissertation adds Despol's own labor lobby to the list of the “most influential” at Sacramento.

The “interest matrix” is naturally interested in elections as well as lobbying. So much depends on their campaign support, in fact, that “A Republican who is cut off at the pickets s out of luck,” says Ed Lybeck of Rep. James Roosevelt's staff. “The Knight episode demonstrates the type of setup the Republicans have. They control the newspapers and they have the money.” Glenn Anderson, the srong minded liberal who won the Democrat’s nomination for lieutenant-governor, says simply that in Southern California “the Los Angeles Times is it,” while up north it's Pacific Gas and Electric and the Knowlands.

Because of the non-partisan tradition and the transience of many Californians, the press has had an unusually persuasive voice in Republican counsels. (Democratic Senate nominee Clair Engle says “the Republican press and money...can make a four-minute miler out of a political corpse.”) And with four out of every 10 voters in California, Los Angeles does not have a single pro-Democrat newspaper. The Times, with a daily circulation of half a million and 865,000 on Sundays, endorsed 14 of Los Angeles's 15 city councilmen; “They have a terrific control,” says one of the council members.


Actually, however, the paper is but the visible tip of a business iceberg–land, lumber, banking, insurance, television, steel, aluminum, oil, printing, and nobody is quite sure what else. It is less a newspapers than a holding company for Publisher Chandler and his associates. Neil Haggerty, boss of the California Federation of Labor, says “The Time has an empire with every sort of business known to man–power companies, banks, retail, farming, investments.” Fred Dutton, Brown's state campaign manager, says, “Four or five people–Brown has called them 'the Republican power elite'–run the thing. Norman and Mrs. Chandler; Asa Call, a prominent businessman; Kyle Palmer, political editor of the Los Angeles Times...” The Chandlers dominate the Los Angeles and Southern California economy, Dutton says.

Socially, too, the Chandlers reign. One night, a Los Angeleno who was present recalls, first-nighters at the Los Angeles Symphony noticed a bunting draped stall overlooking the stage. They thought perhaps it was for the Vice President, but the Chandlers arrived, alone, and occupied the place

The Times way of announcing a $100-a-plate dinner for Brown (attended, as it turned out, by 1,500 people) was to run a story that the Republican state chairman was warning union members friendly to Knowland they might be helping Brown's campaign for Governor by attending.

In the Times news columns one finds such remarks as these: “Senator Bridges also said Knowland is a hard but always fair and honorable fighter. Our Attorney General [Brown] will learn some of these facts for himself as the campaign progress.” When the Times announced a meeting of the Los Angeles Democratic Women for Knowland committee, the story started, “A group of Democratic women, impressed with US Senator Knowland's forthrightness...”

Consider the news of April 30 in the Times–page one, a four-column picture of the Vice President and Mrs. Nixon in South American, with story; page 2, an interview with Knowland, and Cecil B. DeMille's speech supporting the right-to-work law; page 19, “Republican Chairman Sees Five Good Factors.” In the issue of May 2, one found a long story on Nixon in Argentina (page2), an economist praising the “Buy Now” campaign (page 4), a column commending Nixon's job on his Latin tour (page 8), a story quoting Representative Engle at a water hearing (pge10), a story quoting Knowland from Washington (page 11), a story on the opening of a new GOP campaign office, with a two-column picture (page 25), a six-column society front-page layout on a bus tour on behalf of Knowland taken by Mrs. Knowland and their daughters, and in the third section, a story on the main political event of the day, the $100 dinner for Brown at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles. Little wonder Vann Dempsey at Engle's headquarters says enviously of the Times, “Cheez, it's life sending out a leaflet every day.”


Brown says Knight's finessing out of the Governor's race was accomplished by a woman, “a political boss” in Los Angeles, who told Knight he could get no funds to run for Governor. The Knowland-Knight switch is generally regarded as an accomplishment of Mr. and Mrs. Chandler of the Times, in whose offices Senate Republican Minority Leader William Knowland is called “our Willie.” Some believe Knowland zeroed in on the right-to-work issue to embarrass pro-labor Knight and please the anti-union Times,but this also enables Brown to say with effect that he prefers “Back to Work” to “Right to Work.” Knight, J.T. DeSilva of the Retail Clerks Union believes, infuriated “the economic barons...the Chandlers of the Lose Angeles Times and the Knowlands of the Oakland Tribune,” by being friendly to labor; and so he was jettisoned. Jerd Sullivan, a rich and influential Republican, said the Knight-Knowland switch “seems to be an effort on the part of Norman Chandler to do whatever he wants to do.”

WHEN KNIGHT first announced for re-election as Governor, the four Hearst papers endorsed him; when, therefore, the Times pressured him out of the race, the Hearst papers were left embracing a shadow. It is said that young Hearst resents the smotheringly influential Times, a view which seems borne out by a column he wrote after the primary remarking that the “political geniuses” who had pressured Knight out the Governor's race had been undone and wondering “if Norman Chandler still thinks it's a political crime for a popular governor to seek support among union labor.”

The Hearst papers (the San Francisco Examiner and Call-Bulletin, the Los Angeles Examiner and Herald & Express) have been very friendly to Brown and came within a veto from the East of endorsing him. Warden Woolard, editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, was introduced at the testimonial dinner for Brown. The Scripps-Howard San Francisco News has endorsed Brown outright, and the three Democratic McClatchy Bee papers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys (circulation about 200,000) have endorsed Brown and Engle. As Attorney General, in 1954, Brown was able to obtain the Time endorsement after threatening to run for Governor; so also this year he has escaped some of the sting the Times has inflicted on other Democrats.

ALTHOUGH confronted now by a coalition including public-power-minded and pro-labor Democratic clubs, unions and minorities, the Republicans have permitted the two main issues of the Brown-Knowland campaign to become a Democratic dam-and-power-plant program to use millions of tons of water now emptying into the ocean and right-to-work law Knowland is promoting.


Most of California's water supply originates in Northern California. The Northern half of the state, which rules the Senates, wants to damn up its steams for flood control, water conservation and power. The more populous South, which rules the Assembly, wants a guarantee that it would get plenty of the water from the projects that would be built in large part with its tax money. This year's legislature adjourned without financing any dams because the North would not give the South such guarantees.

The federal government, meanwhile , has started a project o the Trinity River in the North to turn surplus water way from the Pacific, eastward to the Sacramento River so it can flow down and bring needed water to the Central Valley. Pacific Gas & Electric has proposed that it be allowed to take over the construction of powerhouses in the Trinity River project, and Knowland, saying he doesn't want California's Central Valley to become “another Tennessee Valley Authority,” has sided with PG&E. Brown says the federal government, and not PG&E, should build the facilities and distribute the power. “I didn't think the Senator needed the extra money for his campaign for Governor that much,” Brown said.

Knowland has worked hard not only at alienating public power partisans but also the state's 1.4 million union members. Opposing the union shop on grounds that a worker has a right to voluntary, not compulsory, unionism, he has asked if Americans should be compelled to stay in the Teamsters' Union as “captives” of Jimmy Hoffa. He does not, he says, intended to let California become “a satellite of th Walter Reuthers' labor-political empire.” He insisted before the primary that he believed many rank-and-file union people would vote for him on the sly: he ever spoke at the last state CIO convention in an effort to meet some of them. It was not , a pleasant experience. A convention sergeant-at-arms tapped a member of his family on the shoulder and passed along the admonishment of the day, “No booing.” During his speech (“In some respects, I understand how Daniel felt in the Lion's den...”) no one shuffled feet, no one coughed; it was so quiet his voice echoed int eh hall. When he finished there was cold silence–not even polite applause, no even a boo or two for comic relief. People there say he turned purple. When an official shook his hand and thanked him for coming he mumbled something and left at one.

There is a meaning in the way AFL State Secretary Haggerty says that union people have “no choice but to vote for Pat...There is just no other choice.” Haggerty, though a registered Democrat originally from Boss Curley's Boston bailiwick, has backed many Republicans in the past, including Governor Knight. In his defense Haggerty can cite the bread-and-butter gains Knight helped the unions win, but there is not gainsaying that Haggerty suffered a serious defeat when the California Federation refused to unite behind Knight for Senator this year, instead co-endorsing Engle and Knight. Except for this race and one other, where two Democrats were endorsed, the AFL and CIO this year lined up for ht California Democratic Council's state ticket.

Merger of the two labor organizations has not yet occurred in California, but George Meany recently announced in San Francisco that it would, on orders. The main issue is Haggerty's role as director of political action (he is not seriously challenged as the skillful lobbyist he is). Much will turn, Assemblyman Burton believes, on whether the voting strength of the unions in the merged federation is based on past per-capita paid favor the CIO's almost totally-affiliated 150,000 members, or actual union membership, which would favor the much larger AFL Haggerty frankly says that for 58 years the California AFL has has “one executive officer answerable to the executive council and conventions, with all authority to hire help,” and he wants this to be continued; but the CIO, favoring politics more democratic, does not.

Since Liberal have taken over the state Carpenters' Union and the Maschinists are also said that have fallen into more liberal ways, and Haggerty's man supporters, the Teamsters, will not be in evidence, an anti-Haggerty coalition, if successful in the merged state AFL-?CIO might bring to an end California labor’s tendency to back Republicans.


This article appeared in the June 22, 1958 issue of the magazine.