The “Duke” is In the House

The very first story I ever covered as a paid journalist was a tour of the newly rented “Governor’s Mansion” in Sacramento’s Wilhaggin neighborhood prior to George and Gloria Deukmejian moving into it. The story reverberated locally because Governor Jerry Brown, in his first iteration in that post, lived in a small apartment near the Capitol, and land set aside for a new Governor’s mansion had been sold. The Deukmejians still had kids at home—and they needed a real house to live in.  A private foundation rented the Willhaggin house for them.

As it turns out, I covered the Capitol during much of Deukmejian’s term in office and that visit to his new house was the first of many times I would interview him. To say that Deukmejian was considered boring is like saying Angelina Jolie is considered attractive. But all that belies something important about Deukmejian’s character. I’m sure that he cared about keeping people happy, but he wasn’t afraid to go with his gut, even if it meant going against the grain.

To be honest, the word that I still associate with George Deukmejian is “prudent” because he always used that word to describe the reserve fund he insisted on having in the state budget. And he always described his budgets in his standard monotone. I was recently reminded however, that he threw prudence to the wind to act on an issue that reverberates much louder today than his budgets.

Dan Morain from the Sacramento Bee recently wrote that, to a great degree, George Deukmejian helped end Apartheid in South Africa. I won’t go into the details here—because Morain explains it quite well and more eloquently than I could hope to—but by signing legislation to divest California’s considerable assets from companies doing business in South Africa, George Deukmejian helped drive a stake into the heart of that odious social throwback.

He recognized the power behind California’s vast investment portfolio and in cooperation with legislative democrats, used it to influence social change in a country 10,000 miles away. He did it in the face of opposition from much of his own party and the business interests that helped elect him. Perhaps he did it partially because his own Armenian ancestors had been the victims of attempted genocide—but in the long run he did it because he felt it was the right thing to do. The lesson, I think, is that public opinion is important, but sometimes you have to go with your gut—even when it would be easier to stick your finger in the air and go with the wind.

 

About: Gregg Fishman:
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.

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