When George Deukmejian recently passed away at 89, it came as a reminder that California’s governor has not always been named Brown. George Deukmejian first served as an assemblyman, senator, and attorney general. In 1982, the Republican defeated Democrat Tom Bradley, major of Los Angeles, to become the Golden State’s 35th governor.
George Deukmejian ended his two terms in 1991 and did not seek higher office. His passing also came as a reminder that, for the left, history is something to be created, not studied. Consider the May 9 Sacramento Bee editorial “On the legacy of George Deukmejian and what governance used to mean.”
Deukmejian “campaigned on the law-and-order credo that was his party’s hallmark.” Actually, it was a response to the pro-criminal stance of the previous governor, Jerry Brown, who had already made California a sanctuary state.
During his first term, American Indian Movement (AIM) founder Dennis Banks was convicted of riot and assault for a 1973 courthouse gun battle in South Dakota. Banks fled to California, and governor Jerry Brown, untroubled by the fugitive’s indulgence of gun violence, refused to extradite him. When Deukmejian won election as governor, Banks bolted the state, but the AIM fugitive was hardly the extent of Brown’s legacy on crime.
In 1977, Jerry Brown nominated his former campaign chauffer Rose Bird, only 40 and with no judicial experience, to be Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Bird overturned every death sentence that came before her, including the sentence of Theodore Frank, duly convicted of kidnaping, torturing, raping, murdering and mutilating two-year-old Amy Sue Seitz in 1978.
This was the reason for Deukmejian’s law-and-order stance. The Bee’s legacy piece claims Deukmejian “backed an initiative to recall” Bird and “got two other justices thrown out with her.” That’s not quite how it happened.
California supreme court justices have fixed terms and sometimes the voters get a shot at reconfirmation. On November 4, 1986, California voters ousted Rose Bird by a margin of 67 to 33 percent. California voters also ousted justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, both Jerry Brown picks, who sided with Bird on the death-penalty cases and like Bird put their own views above the law.
On Brown’s watch, between 1974 and 1978, property taxes increased 120 percent and some Californians were literally taxed out of their homes. The people responded with Proposition 13, which limited the growth of property taxes. Brown attacked the measure as a “fraud” and a “rip-off,” but it passed with 65 percent of the vote. Brown proclaimed himself a “born-again tax cutter,” which he was not. George Deukmejian, on the other hand, had learned the lesson
In 1987, Deukmejian signed the largest tax rebate in California history, a $1.1 billion refund in surplus state money that put checks of up to $236 in the mail to taxpayers. As the governor explained, “I think we can be very pleased that we were able to protect this money for the taxpayers and that we have honored the spending limit enacted by the voters through the initiative process.” That was a reference to the 1978 Proposition 13, the last measure truly to limit taxes and spending, but the significance was deeper.
The tax-and-spend lobby howled long and loud over Deukmejian’s plan to return money to the people. Deukmejian knew who pays the bills, and that the state does not have a prior claim to what workers earn. So he protected the money for the taxpayers who provided it in the first place.
For the Bee, George Deukmejian was “renowned for inflexibility,” on crime and public spending, and “every sixth bill brought to his desk was vetoed.” Nothing about respect for workers, taxpayers and victims of violent crime. A more serious alteration came on a foreign front.
“When he realized the parallels between South African apartheid and the Armenian genocide fled by his parents,” the Bee contended, “he reversed a long-held position and insisted that the University of California divest its massive retirement fund from that country.”
According to experts at California State Fresno, the only evidence that Deukmejian saw any parallel between South Africa apartheid and the Armenian genocide is a 2013 piece by George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times. The former governor explains that “genocide was being carried out against Armenians” but never uses “genocide” in connection with South Africa, a bigoted regime imposing racial segregation but not even the most serious violator of human rights in Africa at the time.
The leading candidate for that would be the Ethiopian regime of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, whose “Red Terror” purge which killed tens of thousands during the 1970s. For its part, South Africa’s opposition was hardly a vanguard of peaceful change.
Winnie Mandela, Nelson’s wife, supported the execution of dissidents with gasoline-soaked tires known as “necklaces.” As Winnie Mandela said, “Together, hand in hand, with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate our country.” George Deukmejian, a strong anti-Communist, never supported anything like that.
He should be remembered as a foe of violent criminals, a champion of the rule of law, and the last California governor to put taxpayers above ruling-class bureaucrats. Remember too that, as Milan Kundera said, the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.