Culbert Olson Talk at the Mosk


State Librarian Greg Lucas introduces Debra Deanne Olson

Debra Deanne Olson, a granddaughter of Governor Culbert Olson, spoke about her grandfather today at an event organized by the California State Library. Joining Debra was her daughter, Kaitlyn.

Olson, who served as Governor between 1939 and 1942, was the first Democrat to hold that office in almost 50 years. His four years in office were marked by building international tensions that exploded into the second world war halfway through his term.

Today’s lecture included family photos of the Governor and his children, as well as personal anecdotes about his friendships and family.

Debra Deanne Olson and Kaitlyn Olson look at documents relating to Governor Culbert Olson

Debra Deanne Olson and Kaitlyn Olson look at documents relating to Governor Culbert Olson

Also in the room were a collection of documents relating to Olson’s term in office, including the document used to pardon Tom J. Mooney in 1939. Mooney, a prominent labor leader, had been convicted of the 1916 San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing and served 22 years in prison before his pardon.


HOW LONG AGO? Attorney General for Senator


In the past week, speculation has exploded as U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer announced her retirement in 2016 and Attorney General Kamala Harris began her campaign. By Thursday, Harris had become the leading candidate (of two announced; Merv Evans has also announced his candidacy), with Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters asking “Does Kamala Harris have free ride to Senate?

It seemed like a good time to take a peek at the history books.

For the record, it has happened only once before. James McDougall, California’s first Attorney General (1850-1851) [and also the AG in Illinois in 1842-1846] was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1861. In the century and a half since, none have been successful.

Interestingly, two of California’s Attorneys General had previously run unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate (Fred N. Howser (elected AG in 1946 and lost for Senate in 1944) and Jerry Brown (elected AG in 2006 and lost for Senate in 1982).

Alternatively, one of our U.S. Senators, Aaron A. Sargent, won election to the Senate (1871) after having lost a campaign for Attorney General (1857).

In short, while not completely unprecedented, making the leap from Attorney General to Senator is not something that happens every day. Antonio Villaraigosa, another likely candidate, will probably take heart from the fact that three of California’s last five U.S. Senators had experience as Mayors; Feinstein (San Francisco), Seymour (Anaheim), and Wilson (San Diego).

The Age of Lockyer Draws to a Close


An age in California’s political history is ending. One of the longest-serving elected officials in state history will be leaving office shortly after New Years, drawing to a close a career that started during the Nixon Administration. In California history, thirty-five people have served in the Legislature for more than a quarter-century, and only five are still living. Lockyer is the only one still in elected office.

Lockyer won a seat on the San Leandro School District Board in 1964, and by 1973 was the Chair of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee and an Administrative Assistant to Assemblyman Robert W. Crown.

Late on the night of May 20, 1973, Crown was hit and killed by a car while jogging through a crosswalk. According to an LA Times article;


ALAMEDA (UPI) – Assemblyman Robert Crown (D-Alameda), a physical fitness buff and 17-year veteran of the California Legislature, died early today of injuries suffered when he was hit by a car while jogging…
One auto halted at the intersection and another, driven by Charles E. Shuler Jr., 41, Alameda, apparently went around the stopped vehicle and hit the legislator, police said.
Los Angeles Times, May 21, 1973; pg 3

Lockyer filed as a candidate in the special election, and won with nearly two-thirds of the vote. He served for eight years before being elected to the State Senate in 1982. Served as President pro Tempore, California State Senate from 1994 until he termed out in 1998. During his 26 years in the Legislature, his tenure overlapped with those of nearly 300 legislators, from Randy Collier and Ralph Dills (first elected in the 1930s) to Bob Hertzberg and Jim Nielsen (still serving today).

What makes Lockyer stand out is that he is the last of the long-term legislators to leave state office. The thing about long-term legislators is that they see farther into the future when considering legislation, as hopefully the new 12-year members will. They’re also less likely to fall for the tricks that tend to snare newer members (“What’s the big deal about accepting a campaign contribution inside the Capitol, anyways?”). Lockyer has seen what happens when the wrong corners get cut, and it made him cautious. Lockyer’s caution made him reliable, and his reliability made him appealing to voters who were looking for a little stability to counterbalance their more eccentric votes (like a movie-star Governor). In his final election, Lockyer received more votes than any other state elected official in state history except Jesse Unruh.

Now, as Lockyer leaves office, his final replacement will be John Chiang, who was two years old when Lockyer won his first election. There’s something to think about.