By Louise Leigh & Fred Davis
The CRA bore its greatest philosophical and structural changes during the decade from 1962 to 1972. The founders and builders of CRA were dedicated, astute and certainly most effective. However, their original vision of a United States Republican Assembly had eluded them. When the bylaw change was adopted to require paid memberships to units, some were outraged and felt betrayed. Dr. Robert Craig, one of the founders, feels to this day that this single bylaw change crippled the whole original concept of what CRA should have accomplished. Nevertheless, they had accomplished the gargantuan task of a statewide effective volunteer organization.
CRA’s founding fathers were of a liberal philosophy, and therefore, CRA was liberal, as were the men they elected to public office.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Roosevelt and World War II made the national political scene impenetrable for 20 years. By contrast, in California the CRA endorsed and elected candidates, and changed the state’s political history as no other volunteer organization has done before or since.
Circa, 1955, there were people within the ranks of CRA whose philosophy was diametrically opposed to that of CRA’s founders. From “militant forward-thinking liberal” in 1962, CRA became “moderate” by 1963 and “conservative” by 1972.
Fred Hall was elected President of CRA in 1962, and it was the beginning of the end of the domination of the liberal element in CRA.
The 1963 CRA Convention was the most bitterly fought convention ever between the liberal and conservative factions within the CRA. Labor union member William Nelligan won over Harry Waddell, who was supported by the conservatives and John Birch Society members. The rift was so great that amid shouts of “foul play and stuffing ballot boxes,” the Waddell group staged a walkout. They later organized the United Republicans of California and never returned to CRA again. Bill Nelligan was the last of the liberal presidents of CRA, but the liberal vs. conservative battle had only just begun.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States.
CRA was said to have a membership of 14,000 that year.
The 1964 CRA Convention was a philosophical battle, with CRA members split in their support of Nelson Rockefeller or Barry Goldwater for President. It became the most tumultuous, chaotic and divisive convention ever to be staged by members of CRA.
President Nelligan, founding father Ed Shattuck, past president A. Ronald Button, and past president Harvey Mydland led the Rockefeller forces. Past president Gardiner Johnson, Assemblyman Jack Schall, Dick Darling, and Nolan Frizzelle, led the Goldwater forces. Amid manipulation and stalling tactics, the hour became late. Many of the delegates had to catch planes and left. There had been twelve hours of wrangling, and by 9:30 p.m. Assemblyman Schall asked for a ruling by the chair on the two-third rule for endorsement. The ruling was in his favor. It was then that the Rockefeller forces walked out and Goldwater was endorsed by the CRA in the wee hours of the morning.
The struggle between right and left, within CRA continued. The John Birch Society, a political organization, was recruiting members nationwide. Its adversaries depicted it as an organization bent on a “Republican Party takeover,” calling its members “the lunatic fringe” and “extremists.” It was said that five members of the CRA executive board were members of the society at that time.
In 1964, Nolan Frizzelle was elected the first of the conservative presidents of CRA. Barry Goldwater was nominated at the 1964 National Republican Convention in San Francisco, but the conservative forces nationally were not robust enough to elect him president. In November 1964, Lyndon Johnson became president.
Cyril Stevenson was elected president of CRA in 1965.
In 1966 the CRA delegates endorsed Ronald Reagan for governor. He defeated Governor Edmund G. Brown, who was seeking a third term. In November of 1966, all the Republican candidates on the Reagan team won, except the candidate for controller.
In 1968, the CRA Convention endorsed Richard Nixon for president and Max Rafferty for U.S. Senate over incumbent U.S. Senator Tom Kuchel.
Kuchel lost in the June primary election to Max Rafferty, and Rafferty lost to Alan Cranston, a Democrat, in the November election. The Nixon-Agnew ticket defeated Democrat presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.
July 21, 1969, was the date of the incredible “Walk on the Moon.” It was also an incredible time for the Republican Party having both a Republican president and governor.
In 1970 the CRA was rocked by the incredulous fact that the CRA treasury had been looted. Paul Casattas, first elected CRA treasurer in 1969, had been re-elected to the post in 1970 when Dave Gater was elected CRA president.
Dissent and friction in the Los Angeles County Republican Assembly added to CRA’s chaos that year. L.A. County, the largest in the state, had a stronghold of over 2,000 CRA members. The animosity and power struggle was bitter and long. It finally culminated at the CRA convention in 1971. The 43rd District RA, the Griffith Park Hills RA, the 41st District RA, and the Glendale RA were the successful accusers.
With the chartering power revoked after 37 years by the state organization, and the ensuing chaos, the 2,000 memberships of 1971 dwindled to just seventeen units by 1981. Los Angeles County has never recovered from that period. In November of 1982, Bradley won in Los Angeles County by 51.46% over Deukmejian, and Brown by 52.46% over Pete Wilson.
There was an interesting Resolution read from the floor at the March 20, 1971 CRA Convention. Citing Nixon’s war in Vietnam, cuts in defense spending, expansion of Social Security, and other ills it was “resolved that the CRA will not support Nixon for President in 1972 unless he changes his present actions by October 1, 1971.” The resolution was not adopted by CRA at that convention.
In November of 1972 Nixon and Agnew were re-elected by a landslide election. The world was shifting, and CRA shifted its political philosophy and its structure during the decade 1962 to 1972 from moderate to conservative.
By Louise Leigh & Fred Davis
The decade encompassing 1972 to 1982 was a time of despair (Watergate) and presidential euphoria (Reagan) for CRA.
In 1972, Reagan was Governor of California and Nixon was President of the United States. The CRA Convention delegates elected Dr. Donovan Pretzer president of CRA that year. Dr. Pretzer decided that the CRA archives should be stored in a permanent place for posterity.
He approached the University of California at Los Angeles, where the archives were accepted and are now stored permanently.
By 1972, conservative elements within the Republican Party were becoming more vocal in their opposition to President Nixon’s policies.
The war ends. Amnesty to those who had fled the country to avoid serving in Vietnam became a national issue and a furious debate.
On May 30, 1973, Tom Bradley defeated Sam Yorty and became Mayor of Los Angeles.
CRA passed a resolution that year urging acceptance of the Panama Canal zone as our 51st state. At the 1973 CRA convention, the bylaws were changed from Congressional District Directors to Assembly District Directors for greater grass roots involvement.
After Vice President Spiro Agnew was accused by the press of having accepted gratuities while he was Governor of Maryland, he was forced to resign October 10, 1973. President Nixon appointed Gerald Ford Vice President.
Then came Watergate accusations, which immobilized the government and shocked the nation. Republicans were confused and hoped for a plausible explanation.
Let us try to persuade Congress to either impeach the President or ‘GET OFF HIS BACK’ as some have put it. We are glad to see Senator Barry Goldwater and Senator Hugh Scott begin to take the offensive in support of the President. There are too many pressing and vital issues facing our country for Congress to waste all its time on Watergate. Let us demand that they get on with the important business of running our great country.
Los Angeles Times
March 2, 1974
Watergate Charges Rage, 6 Ex-Nixon Aides Indicted
On March 18, 1974, the Watergate scandal infiltrated California. Special Watergate Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, probed into the alleged offer by International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation to help finance the 1972 Republican National Convention and accused Lt. Governor Ed Reineke of improprieties. By October 2, 1974, Lt. Governor Reineke was forced to resign and Governor Reagan appointed John Harmer Lt. Governor.
The uncertainty of Watergate came to an end on August 10, 1974. President Nixon resigned as President of the United States (a first in American history) and Gerald Ford was sworn in as President. His statement to America: “The nightmare is over.”
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported the CRA had 5,600 members in 1974.
On September 9, 1974, President Ford granted President Nixon an absolute pardon to avoid trials and further sensationalism. He then appointed Nelson Rockefeller to the Vice Presidency of the United States.
In November of 1974, Jerry Brown defeated Republican Houston Flournoy to become governor of California.
CRA voted against the Equal Rights Amendment for women in 1975. At that same CRA board meeting, a Resolution was passed supporting an open primary and national convention. Vice Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, Mike Montgomery, stated, “We cannot tolerate having a state committee involved in a Reagan-Ford fight. Our responsibility as state officers is to ensure all candidates receive fair and impartial treatment.”
At the Republican National Convention, President Gerald Ford became the Republican Nominee by a small majority over Ronald Reagan. On November 3, 1976, President Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Republican losses were heavy in the election. Watergate had taken its toll.
CRA’s founding fathers must have experienced the shock of a lifetime when, on April 17, 1977, the first woman in CRA history was elected president of the California Republican Assembly — Ms. Mike Evans. She sought a second term in 1978, contrary to a CRA unwritten law, and was defeated in her bid. Dennis Catron was elected president that year.
Delegates of the 1977 CRA convention passed a Resolution urging
Congress to continue ownership and control of the Panama Canal. “It is vital to the defense of the free world,” it said.
In May of 1978, the CRA endorsed Ed Davis for Governor over Evelle Younger, Mike Antonovich for Lt. Governor over Mike Curb, and George Deukmejian for Attorney General. In November, all Republicans lost their bids for state office except Deukmejian and Curb.
At CRA’s March Convention in Los Angeles, members heard two candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination and vote on proposed changes to CRA bylaws.
The two presidential candidates? Ronald Reagan and Phillip Crane.
On April 26, 1980, the American public learned that an attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran had failed. Americans were killed, helicopters destroyed, and it became an American fiasco. Inflation climbed, and Carter’s popularity fell to an all time low.
The Republican debates between Baker, Dole, Crane, Connelly, Reagan, and Bush were exciting.
In California, John Schmitz and Pete McCloskey filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior court to invalidate the California “winner take all” election system. They were not successful.
On April 11-13, 1980, in Santa Clara, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, was guest speaker and was endorsed by CRA. Mike Curb, Lt. Governor, was the luncheon speaker, and Steve Frank of Los Angeles was elected CRA president that year.
The California Delegation to the Republican National Convention, July 12-18, 1980 in Detroit, Michigan, was like a CRA homecoming. CRA past president, Dr. Tirso Del Junco, was a convention speaker. Past Presidents Mike Evans, Dick Darling, Frank Adams and Truman Campbell attended, to name only a few. Ronald Reagan became the Republican nominee.
In November, the Press called the election “too close to call,” but never was election polling more discredited. On November 6, 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected by a landslide.
When he was sworn in as President of the United States, the American hostages were freed in Iran. Bells tolled in Washington D.C., and yellow ribbons were visible all over America. Hopes were high.
At the April 1981 CRA Convention in Irvine, the second woman in CRA history was elected president, Jean Orr. In March of 1982, CRA endorsed Bob Dornan for U.S. Senate, and for the third time, a woman was elected President of CRA, Coanne Cubete.
Attorney General George Deukmejian won the Republican nomination for Governor and Pete Wilson won the U.S. Senate nomination.
Deukmejian was elected Governor on November 2, 1982, defeating Tom Bradley. Pete Wilson won the U.S. Senate seat over Jerry Brown. No other Republicans were elected to state offices. Republican losses nationwide were attributed to high unemployment rates.
In 1983 the CRA embarked on its 50th anniversary. Governor George Deukmejian was the guest of honor.
By Louise Leigh & Fred Davis
In 1983, Bob Thierry was elected CRA president in L.A. during a non-election year. The November 1983 issue of CRA News had a front-page photo of past president Mike Evans with the notation, “Mighty Mike Evans is the Godmother of the Texas Republican Assembly.” When the Texas RA held their first reception, there were more than 1,000 members in attendance. Thus the vision of CRA founders Ed Shattuck and Robert Fenton Craig was becoming reality.
The Republican National Convention was held in Dallas, Texas August 20-23, and Ronald Reagan was nominated for a second term.
Joe Gilmaker became CRA president at the April convention in 1984. He was the first CRA president to appoint a computer committee. CRA entered the computer age.
Governor Deukmejian kept his campaign promise to get a fair reapportionment. Over 800,000 signatures were gathered to put his initiative on the ballot to establish a non-partisan commission of former judges to draw the reapportionment lines to prevent the blatant gerrymandering by the Democrats.
At the 52nd CRA convention, January 1985, Barbara Rathbun was elected CRA president.
Governor Deukmejian’s initiative for fair reapportionment was defeated by voters fearful of “involving judges in politics,” it was said. At the same time, Republicans out registered Democrats, and there were 6.8 million Democrats to 4.7 million Republicans.
Dr. Ralph Waugh became the new CRA president in 1986-87. On September 13, 1986, a special CRA convention met in Santa Clara for the express purpose of taking a position on California Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird. She had been appointed by then-Governor Jerry Brown, known as “Governor Moonbeam.” The ballot proposition to remove Rose Bird was referred to as “cleaning up the Bird mess.”
The year 1987 was the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and the CRA dedicated its March convention in Irvine to the celebration. CRA received congratulatory letters from Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George Bush, George Deukmejian, and others, but the one most treasured by CRA was the Ronald Reagan letter.
The River City RA in Northern California had a membership of over 300 members in 1984. Col. Bob Byerly became the new CRA president in 1987. He was a retired military officer and businessman from Fairfield, CA.
In 1988, the following year, Dr. Everet Roden was elected president of CRA. It was a presidential election year. George Bush was elected president and Dan Quayle vice president.
At the CRA convention in 1989, William E. Hoge became CRA president, and later was elected an Assemblyman from the Pasadena area.
Rick Staats was elected CRA President in 1990. At the pre-primary endorsing convention, CRA voted a “no confidence” for the candidacy of Pete Wilson for U.S. Senate because of his pro-abortion stance. Layne Allred was hired by CRA to become the field coordinator and to recruit support for CRA endorsed candidates.
During May 3-5, 1991, at the CRA 58th Convention in Sacramento, the featured speakers were Lt. Col. Oliver North, Pat Robertson, Senator John Ashcroft, Bruce Herschensohn, and Attorney General Dan Lungren.
Mike Schroeder, an attorney from Orange County, was elected CRA president 1991-93. He launched an ambitious fundraising drive attempting to raise $1,000 from 35 CRA members.
In August of 1991, plans were made to hold a meeting in Houston, TX, with current members from Vermont, Illinois, and Texas to propose the expansion of CRA to other states.
The CRA bylaws were changed in 1991 to allow CRA presidents to serve two years instead of the traditional one-year term. However, the rotation of CRA presidents from north to south was retained. The first CRA president to serve the two-year term was Mike Schroeder. Later, President Schroeder was elected Chairman of the California Republican Party.
By Louise Leigh & Fred Davis
Nineteen ninety-two was a presidential election year, as well as an election year for one of California’s two U.S. Senate seats. Governor Pete Wilson was able to ensure a fair reapportionment due to his non-compromising position, and the CRA commended him for it.
The CRA endorsing convention for U.S. president and other positions was held in Orange County on April 3-5. Bill Bennett, author and Ronald Reagan’s Drug Czar, was a guest speaker as was Dick Cheney. President George Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle were defeated by Bill Clinton.
Greg Hardcastle was elected CRA president, 1993-95. The next CRA endorsing convention was held in April 1994, in Sacramento to endorse for U.S. Senate and all California Constitutional officials. Pete Wilson was re-elected Governor, and only two other Republicans won statewide office: Chuck Quackenbush (Insurance Commissioner) and Bill Jones (Secretary of State).
Jon Fleischman was elected CRA president, 1995-97. He was later to become the Executive Director for the California Republican Party.
Governor Pete Wilson became the California state chairman for the Bob Dole campaign for president. As the Dole campaign faltered in California, CRA endorsed Pat Buchanan for president. Candidate Dole selected Jack Kemp as his vice presidential running mate, but nothing seemed to give the campaign the momentum needed to win. The Clinton-Gore ticket was re-elected. However Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in many years.
The so-called suicide of Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster became public, and critical questions arose. Confusion and cover-up ensued.
New CRA President, John Courtney, was elected in April in Ontario, CA, for the 1997-99 term. Outgoing CRA President, Jon Fleischman, presented the Ronald Reagan Freedom Fighter Award to convention speakers Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Dr. Pat Robertson, Steve Forbes, and Governor George Bush, Jr., of Texas.
By 1997, the National Federation of Republican Assemblies has expanded to include Virginia RA, Minnesota RA, Nevada RA, and Colorado RA. By the end of 1997, 40 states expected to belong to the NFRA. Past CRA President, Steve Frank, became president of NFRA.
In February of 1997 at the California Republican Party Convention, CRA members were predominately elected. Many liberal and moderate Republicans present called it a “CRA takeover.”
The CRA Convention, held in Ontario, overwhelmingly endorsed the “English for the Children” and the “Parental Consent” initiatives being prepared for the 1998 election. In July of 1997, the CRA had one of its most enjoyable meetings in the beautiful surroundings of Mammoth. Most members brought their families.
1998 was an election year for California legislators and congress. The CRA endorsed Attorney General Dan Lungren for Governor, Senator Richard Mountjoy for Lt. Governor, and Darrell Issa for U.S. Senate. All lost their elections. Democrat Gray Davis was elected Governor.
At the April 1999 CRA meeting, presidential candidates courted the CRA hoping to receive its endorsement. Those who spoke were Senator Bob Smith, Steve Forbes, Pat Buchanan, Gary Bauer, and Alan Keyes (George Bush, Jr. and Elizabeth Dole were the only candidates not present). Sergio Picchio was elected CRA president 1999-2001 by acclamation.
The CRA endorsing convention for president took place on November 12-14, 1999 in Ontario. The CRA endorsed Gary Bauer for president.
The National Federation of Republican Assemblies held its first-ever presidential endorsing convention in April of 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri. Steve Forbes, though not receiving the 2/3 vote required for endorsement came close and was clearly the favorite.
On October 4, 1999, Governor Davis signed into law a bill authorizing production of “Ronald Regan license plate,” as a tribute to the former president.
In April of 2000, CRA celebrated its 65th Anniversary from its 1935 date of incorporation. The convention took place in Napa, the second greatest tourist attraction in California. Assemblyman Tony Strickland, former California Supreme Court Justice William Clark and John Gizzi, political editor for Human Events, were the speakers.
With CRA’s excellent leadership in the political arena, the conservative movement, which has expanded across America, bodes a bright future for CRA and the NFRA.