NEW BOOK: Freedom by State Senator Nelson S. Dilworth

Freedom by Nelson S. Dilworth
Freedom by Nelson S. Dilworth

New available on is Freedom: Reflections on What Makes America Great from a Veteran of World War I by State Senator Nelson S. Dilworth.

Dilworth had a varied career, including time as a rancher, a newspaper publisher, and lawmaker. After serving as the publisher of the Coachella Valley News, Dilworth enlisted in the U.S. Army and deployed to France during World War I where he “learned again how much I love my native land.”

In a political career that would span nearly a quarter century, he delivered powerful speeches on the unique freedoms granted to Americans by the Constitution and the opportunities and high standard of living given American citizens by the free market.

In themes echoed by Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech more than a decade later, Dilworth also repeatedly discussed the important concept that this unique freedom is both precious and fragile, and must be preserved and valued by each generation in order to be passed to the next.

“I feel safe in asserting that it is both obvious and apparent that we, today, are the beneficiaries of the courageous past achievements of our forefathers in political liberty and political institutions… In our hands rests all that is precious in America… We are, you see, the trustees of the future. It is your high privilege to preserve the best in America, to improve it, and pass it on to posterity, your children and mine. We can, in honor and integrity, do no less.” – Nelson S. Dilworth

The 129-year-old Case of Robert Desty

In the first years of California statehood, the number of individuals who served in the state legislature was huge. With shorter sessions (one-year Assembly terms and two-year Senate terms) and very few legislators who served multiple terms, each decade saw hundreds of new lawmakers rather than the 120-150 that we’ve seen in recent years.

For nearly a year, I’ve been working on tracking down the missing biographic information for early state legislators. Very few details were kept, usually just their name (frequently with abbreviated first names), counties represented, and political party affiliation. The lack of details makes it hard to find them after leaving office, but even minimal details (like full name, birth and death dates, and birthplace) makes it easier to find obituaries and census information.

Although new information is added regularly, it’s fairly rare to find information that changes the actual number of legislators. Most recently, it was in May 2019 that a spelling error (made over a century ago) was found to have resulted in Assemblyman R. H. Myers being counted twice with slightly different spellings of his name.

Research in recent weeks has uncovered another interesting corrections to the list of State Senators.

Robert Desty
There were a number of historic sources that would seem to indicate that Robert Desty served in the Senate. The list of legislators published in the California Blue Book has included Desty as a Senator since it was first published in 1891. At the same time, it does not include any other people who were elected to the legislature but never served (you can find the list of known examples here).

In the Senate Journal, the official record of the events that take place in the Senate, Page 1 for the 1880 Session explains the start of the session as;

“The Secretary [of the Senate] was then directed to call the roll of the Senators elect, and the following Senators responded…
Eight District – San Francisco and San Mateo…. Robert Desty”
[and continued]
“The Senators elect now took and subscribed to the oath of office, administered by the President of the Senate…”

Journal of the Twenty-third Session of the Senate of the State of California (pp. 1-2)

According to this section, it definitely appeared that after being elected, Desty had appeared and been sworn in. But that’s not exactly what happened.

Page 4 of the Senate Journal has the first indication that something is wrong, continuing to refer to Desty as “Senator elect” and not recording him as having cast any votes during his first days in office… It’s because he was in New York.

Robert Desty

Desty, whose full name was Robert Daillebout d’Estimauville de Beaumauchal, was born in Canada and moved to the United States as a young man and and applied for citizenship in New York at age 22. After receiving notice from a court that his citizenship application had been accepted, he began his new life as an American citizen. In 1880, Desty ran for the California State Senate and won.

Immediately after the election, allegations were made that Desty had not completed the naturalization process and wasn’t actually a citizen. Soon after the 1879 election, Desty returned to New York and found that although he had filed a petition to become a citizen in 1849 (and received a certificate recognizing his application), he never formally became a citizen in New York at that time.

Desty returned to California and claimed to have been naturalized in San Francisco (but that the records were destroyed in an 1850 fire) and petitioned to have his citizenship take place retroactively. The petition was declined, and he immediately renewed his application for citizenship. Desty became a U.S. citizen on February 24, 1880.

A week after he became a citizen, the San Francisco Election Commission ruled that because he hadn’t been a citizen when he registered to vote, the application was retroactively denied and ordered that Desty’s name be “stricken from the Great Register” of voters. Within a week of that, on March 5th, the Senate Committee on Elections reported that Desty was not entitled to the seat claimed by him because he hadn’t become a citizen until February 24th. The committee report was approved by the full Senate on a 23-14 vote, disqualifying him as a Senator, and officially vacating his seat.

What apparently caused confusion for nearly thirteen decades was that the Senate Journal appeared to show Desty being sworn into office, but that he was never sworn in prior to having his certificate of election rejected by the Senate on February 25th.

Unlike the nine people who were elected to office but died before assuming office or the five who declined to serve, Desty was treated by historians as a Senator who was elected, did not decline to service, and did everything he could to assume office for two months before eventually being denied his office. That’s why, even though he never actually assumed office, he has held a place on the list of California legislators for 130 years.

This Election in History (UPDATED 11/13)

Hoping to head to Sacramento?


  • Gavin Newsom will be the first Democratic Governor to succeed another Democratic Governor since 1887, when George Stoneman was followed by Washington Bartlett.

Statewide Offices

  • More women were elected to statewide office in 2018 than at any prior election in California history. With Eleni Kounalakis as Lieutenant Governor, Betty Yee as Controller and Fiona Ma as Treasurer, California will have three women in statewide office. The previous high of two women in statewide office occurred in 1988-1989, 1991-2002, and 2009-2017.
  • Betty Yee


    The all-time record for most votes for a constitutional officer is being set by Betty Yee. Prior to 2018, the highest vote count for a candidate for a non-federal statewide office was Jesse Unruh, who received 5,589,633 votes in his 1986 reelection as Treasurer.

  • Of California’s 12 constitutional offices (8 statewide offices and the four seats on the State Board of Equalization), incumbents were reelected in only three (Secretary of State, Attorney General and Controller). The nine new constitutional officers are the largest turnover of the Executive branch since 1911. It was the 1910 election which brought the Progressive era to California politics.
  • The last election to result in a LARGER turnover of Executive branch offices was the 1906 election, which brought 10 new constitutional officers to Sacramento*. * Back in 1906/1907, California had 16 constitutional officers instead of the 12 we have today; at the time, there was also a three-member Railroad Commission and the Clerk of the Supreme Court was elected statewide).

Board of Equalization

  • The Board of Equalization will have a full turnover of its four elected Board Members in this election for the first time in more than 130 years.
  • At 41, Malia Cohen would be the youngest woman ever elected to a California constitutional office. (NOTE: Elizabeth Whitney was younger when she served as Acting Treasurer in the 1987-1988, but she wasn’t elected)
  • If elected to the BOE, Mike Schaefer would be the oldest freshman constitutional officer in state history by about a decade, breaking the record set by Lt. Governor John F. Chellis (in 1863) and Surveyor General Martin J. Wright (in 1902). After one year in office, Schaefer would be the oldest constitutional officer ever, passing Secretary of State Frank M. Jordan (who lived to about 81 years and seven months).

The Legislature

  • If Democrats reach 60 Assemblymembers, this will be the largest caucus in that house since there were 71 Assembly Republicans in 1937. The last time Democrats had 61 Democrats in 1883.
  • The Senate will start the session with 28 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The last time the Senate had that many Democrats was in 1962.
  • At an estimated thirteen new members, the Class of 2019 will be the smallest incoming class since 1991 (when thirteen new members were elected in the General Election)
    • With 8 new Senators, the Class of 2019 will have the fewest new State Senators since 2003.
    • With 8 new Assemblymembers, the Class of 2019 will have the fewest new State Assemblymembers since 1989.
    • Three of the new Senators are not new legislators; Caballero, Grove, and Jones have served in the legislature previously.

In the Assembly

  • Tyler Diep


    Tyler Diep – It appears that Diep will be the only new Republican in the State Assembly next year, which would be the first time a General Election resulted in a freshman Assembly Republican class of one since Assemblyman Milton Marks (of San Francisco) was elected in 1958.

  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan – Currently researching.
  • Tasha Boerner Horvath – If you look at the list of the people who have held AD-76 over the years, you’ll see that in the past quarter century, this district number (which has moved several times due to redistricting) has been held by Democratic women and Rocky Chavez. Boerner Horvath follows in the footsteps of Susan Davis (1994-2000), Christine Kehoe (2000-2004), Lori Saldana (2004-2010), and Toni Atkins (2010-2012).
  • Cottie Petrie-Norris – Petrie-Norris would be the first Democrat to represent most of her district since the 1970s; the last Democrat to represent the northern part of the district was Dennis Mangers (who held AD-73) in 1974-1980. The last Democrat from the southern part of that district was Ronald Cordova in 1976-78.
  • Buffy Wicks – Wicks joins Steve Glazer and Wendy Carrillo in making August 10th one of the most popular birthdays for current legislators
  • Robert Rivas – Rivas is the first legislator from San Benito County since Peter Frusetta termed out in 2000. He also appears to be the first San Benito County Supervisor to be elected to the legislature since State Senator Thomas Flint Jr. in 1901-1904.
  • Christy Smith – Smith is the first California legislator to be born in Germany since Frederick Peterson (who served 1933-1936). Peterson was born in the German Empire in 1878.
  • James Ramos – As far as I was able to find, Ramos is the first California state legislator born on tribal land (he was born on the San Manuel Indian Reservation)

In the Senate

  • Bob J. Archuleta


    Shannon Grove – Grove was the first female California state legislator to have served in the military. Another legislator, Lucy Killea, was not actually in the military but served as a civilian employee of the Army in a stateside Military Intelligence unit during World War II.

  • Brian Jones – Jones brings the number of currently serving Texas-born State Senators to two (the highest number since Ralph Dills and Barbara Lee served together in 1997-98).
  • Anna Caballero – Caballero will be the first Democratic legislator elected from Madera County since 2000.
  • Bob J. Archuleta – At 73, Senator Bob Archuleta will be the oldest freshman legislator since the end of World War II. Previously, that record was held by Assemblyman Steven Choi (sworn in at 72) who was the oldest new legislator since Assemblyman Albert I. Stewart (age 74) was inaugurated in January 1945.
  • Maria Elena Durazo – Although several current and former legislators were previously recognized as a legislative “Woman of the Year,” Durazo is the first double-honoree to serve in the legislature (1995 in the Assembly and 2001 in the Senate).
  • Melissa Hurtado


    Melissa Hurtado – Hurtado will be the youngest female State Senator in California history and the youngest State Senator since 1981. Hurtado will also be the first Democratic legislator elected from Tulare County since 2010.

  • Andreas Borgeas – Prior to Borgeas (and Caballero), California has not had a Arizona-born State Senators since 1970.
  • When the new Senator from SD-32 is inaugurated in December, it will be the first time that three people have held a single seat in the Senate within a calendar year.
  • BIRTHYEAR: At the start of the 2017-18 Session, the legislature had more current members born in the 1960s than any other decade. By the end of the session, legislators born in the 1970s were the largest group. The 2019-20 Session begins with the proportion of 1970s-born legislators having grown slightly, now at 30% of the legislature.
  • Jim Nielsen


    For members at the start of the 2019-20 session, the average age of the State Assembly is 50.2 years old and the State Senate is 57.2 years old.

  • BIRTHPLACE: 78 of the 120 legislators were born in California (down from 81 at the end of last session) and 15 were born in other countries (up from 13).
  • DEAN OF THE LEGISLATURE: Senator Jim Nielsen is starting his 18th year in the Senate (22nd year in the legislature) and is currently the 43rd longest-serving Senator in state history and the 63rd longest serving legislator in state history.
  • TERM LIMITS: None of the current Assemblymembers are scheduled to term out until 2024. There are no longer any Prop 140 Term Limits legislators in the Assembly, and Term Limits 2.0 legislators now make up almost half of the Senate (18 out of 40).

UPDATED 11/5 @ 8:04 pm: Three things that I forgot to mention earlier;

  1. It was rockstar Nuriel Moghavem, MD who caught the cool fact about no Democratic Governor succeeding another since 1887.
  2. Between 1879 and June 2018, the California State Constitution has been amended 539 times. Proposition 5 and Proposition 6 (which included amendments to the California State Constitution) both failed meaning that the number of amendments stays the same.
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for a State Assembly candidate who gets 189,531 votes or more. It’s quite likely that we will see the all-time high of 189,530 votes broken tomorrow.
  4. Also watch for a State Senate candidate to receive more than 303,241 votes (the most since 2010) or more than 326,755 votes (the most since Los Angeles was carved up into multiple Senate districts in the mid-1960s).