A Title Lost: California’s Legislative Historian

Associate Governmental Program Analyst.

Agricultural Technician III.

Data Processing Manager.

Most job titles in California State Government are formulaic series of words that, while useful in understanding the duties of the position, are so wickedly unimaginative that you have to wonder if they were created by a committee.

Yes, in fact, they were.

But sometimes, very rarely and usually only in the distant past, the state has come up with a job title that rocks. Many of these have been too awesome to last, and have eventually been lost to time. From the Guardian of Yosemite (first appointed 1866 and renamed around 1900), to the once-powerful Railroad Commissioners (created in 1879 and renamed in 1946) and of course the Disaster Acting Governors, the California government has occasionally outdone itself.

Don A. Allen, California's Legislative Historian

Don A. Allen

As someone who has spent years studying the legislature and history of state laws, there are few titles more awesome that the one given only once, in 1966. That June, the California Legislature passed a concurrent resolution bestowing the title of Legislative Historian on outgoing Assemblyman Don A. Allen Sr. So what had Allen done to earn this completely awesome title? It’s a great story.

Allen was born in 1907 in a 5,000-person town in western Iowa, leaving as a teenager after joining the Marines. He served in the Haitian Campaign and the Second Nicaraguan Campaign, where Allen (a Democrat) served in the same unit as his friend and future Assembly colleague Charles Edward Chapel (a Republican).

Allen was elected to the Assembly in 1938 and served from 1939 until he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1947. In 1940, while serving as a member of the Fact Finding Committee on Government Efficiency and Economy, Allen began “a comprehensive study of the history of the Legislature” that would last more than 20 years.

He served on the Council for a decade (1947-1956), in what he later called “my temporary departure from the Legislature.” In June 1956, Los Angeles voters returned Allen to the legislature in a special election resulting from the resignation of Delbert Morris after his conviction for illegally selling state liquor licenses [See: Howard Cramer: Forgotten Legislative Hero].

Having won the special election (they happen when they happen) but having a little more work to finish before leaving the Council, Allen declined to be sworn into office for three months after the election (the longest delay in assuming office in state history). Allen was reelected in the November election and got back to work when the new session started.

It’s interesting (and probably instructive for new 12-year legislators) that in his 18 years as a legislator, Allen is best remembered for the mastery he demonstrated in his last two terms. What defined Allen most as a legislator (as frequently happened in the age before term limits) was his dedication to a single policy area; legislative history.

As a member (and eventually Chair) of the Assembly Committee on Elections and Reapportionment, Allen was able to use his years of collecting and studying old redistricting maps and the history of the Legislature. As the case Reynolds v. Sims (relating to state legislative districts) began to gain attention, Allen wrote a series of memos to his Assembly colleagues describing prior redistricting disputes and how the membership of the Legislature had been impacted.

In June 1964, the Warren Court ruled that legislative districts had to be equal in size, and the California Legislature was required to immediately redistrict the State Senate to meet the “one man, one vote” standard. The deadline for the new districts was July 1, 1965.

Allen switched into high gear, compiling data and statistics from two decades of research into a single volume. The resulting book, the Legislative Sourcebook was a reference that has never since been equaled by a legislative publication. How can you possibly not love a book that has 200 pages of narrative and charts followed by an additional 287 pages of appendices?

In early 1965, the Legislature passed a resolution recognizing the Sourcebook as “a work of major historical significance” and authorizing the printing of 10,000 copies, to be distributed for $3 each.

The Legislature met the court-imposed deadline, stripping the rural counties of their dominance of the Senate and transforming the upper house into the body we know it as today. In June 1965, shortly after the court-imposed deadline, the Legislature approved ACR 63, creating the position of Legislative Historian and conferring it (for life) on Allen.

Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 63
Relative to position of Legislative Historian

[Filed with Secretary of State June 21, 1966]

WHEREAS, Don A. Allen, Sr., has labored in the vineyards of California history, especially history pertaining to the California beginning in 1941; and
WHEREAS, He has haunted the archives since being first introduced to them by the former Archivist, Bart Greer; and
WHEREAS, Down through the years Don A. Allen, Sr., has furnished at his own expense memeographed memoranda which have proven to be of extreme value, both educational and instructive, to all members of both houses; and
WHEREAS, He was persuaded to include much of this material in the Legislative Source Book, which has been published and is acknowledged by many scholars as the greatest biblography to have ever been contained in a document of this kind; and
WHEREAS, Don A. Allen, Sr., has waived all rights, royalties or copyrights and has made this a labor of love to the State of California; and
WHEREAS, The Members of the Legislature are deeply grateful to Don A. Allen, Sr., for his outstanding contributions and selfless service to the Legislature and to the people of the entire State of California; now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Assembly of the State of California, the Senate thereof concurring, That the position of Legislative Historian is hereby created, to be held without compensation or state expense, and is hereby conferred upon Don A. Allen, Sr., for so long as he shall live.

Allen held the title for slightly more than 18 years, during which time he continued his dedication by founding the Association of Former California Legislators. Allen, California’s only official Legislative Historian, died in Sacramento in 1983.

 

California Legislative Staff Tenure

Using the Staff Salaries spreadsheet on the California State Assembly’s Salaries and Expenditures page, I was able to find some interesting statistics about staff tenure and pay in that house. Some of it was pretty surprising. Two of the more interesting data points;

  • 58% of Assembly staff have worked there for 3 years or less.
  • Almost 1/3 of Assembly staff have worked there for less than a year.

An important note; this data reflects the current tenure of legislative staff (as of August 2015). Because prior service with the Senate and prior (but non-consecutive) employment with the Assembly would not be reflected in this data, these numbers probably depict the staff as a little less experienced than they actually are.

 

California’s Newest Almost-A-Political Party

Even many of those who follow California politics most closely may not have heard about the new and unique political party which may have enough registered voters to become ballot-qualified, but is being held up on a technicality.

An article in the November edition of Ballot Access News, “California Secretary of State Refuses to Tally Independent Party Registrations” detailed the efforts of the Independent Party to become ballot-qualified.

According the the article by Richard Winger, the party was formed for non-partisan reasons. Wait, what? A non-partisan party? Yes…

Earlier this year, the Independent Party was formed, partly to assist independent candidates. Under current law, an independent candidate for Congress and partisan state office must have “party preference: none” on the ballot. Most independents would rather have “independent” on the ballot next to their names.

Accordingly, the Independent Party will have no platform.

The problem? The Secretary of State says that the party name is too similar to that of the American Independent Party. Winger points out an inconsistency, noting that the Secretary has allowed political parties with names like Americans Elect Party (2011) and American Freedom Party (2015) to register… so why not the Independent Party?

The Secretary of State does not say no party can ever be called “Independent Party.” Instead he says the name “Independent Party” is too similar to the name of the American Independent Party, which has been a qualified party in California since 1968. However, the Secretary of State let Americans Elect qualify in 2011, and over the past 37 years there have been 19 political bodies with “American” as part of their name. Just a few months ago the Secretary of State let the American Freedom Party register as a political body. At one time or another, 43 states have had two parties simultaneously on the ballot that shared a common word in their names, such as “Socialist” and “Socialist Labor.”

Stay tuned. Fortunately for us, Richard Winger is watching.