Friday, February 17, 2012

Sen. Thomas Kuchel and his regrettable war on California conservatives

Senator Thomas Kuchel was in the center of the political maelstrom threatening to engulf the California Republican Party in the 1960s.  Appointed to fill Richard Nixon's vacancy in 1952, Kuchel quickly made enemies on the political Right when he labelled John Birch Society members, "fright peddlers, from the simple simpletons to the wretched racists." (Political chickens coming home to roost)

Sen. Thomas Kuchel

In the 1962 governor's race between former Vice-President Richard Nixon and Democratic incumbent Pat Brown, Kuchel was accused of failing to fully-support Nixon.  In Kuchel's defense, however, that might have been a two-way street.  When asked about supporting Kuchel's re-election effort, Nixon replied, "[I am running] independently of candidates for national office." (Political chickens coming home to roost)

Anti-Kuchel feelings were exponentially inflamed in 1964, when Kuchel (erstwhile chairman of California campaign for Goldwater's primary foe Nelson Rockefeller), refused to support Sen. Goldwater--even after he had secured the Republican nomination!  The same year, Republican senatorial candidate George Murphy received similar treatment from Kuchel on the the grounds that Murphy would not repudiate the John Birch Society.

While Kuchel was cold-shouldering Murphy and campaigning against Goldwater, four men (Francis Capell, Norman Krause, Jack Clemmons, & John Fergus) with ties to the right were putting together their own hit job.  What purported to be an affidavit signed by an L.A. police officer began to circulate claiming that Kuchel was arrested in 1949 in the midst of a sex act.  This prompted a libel suit, which the senator won.(Kuchel receives accusers' apologies)

In the 1966 gubernatorial primary, Kuchel broke with custom (and perhaps formal rule) by endorsing, pre-primary, the liberal former mayor of San Francisco, George Christopher.  The Christopher endorsement itself might not have been that big of a deal, had Kuchel not taken the extra step of attempting to slander Reagan's campaign and supporters by warning:
...within our California Republican Party is a fanatical, neo-fascist, political cult, overcome with a strange mixture of corrosive hatred and sickening fear, recklessly determined to overcome our party or destroy it. (Demos hail Kuchel decision not to run)

The senator's impolitic (and perhaps envious) public stabs at the Reagan camp prompted Robert M. Smith, national chairman of Republicans for Ronald Reagan to sound off with a public statement of his own:

On behalf of our membership and supporters, I wish to strenuously object to your statement...which you have directed to the conservative Republicans in California.

If you are to look for a destroyer of the Republican Party you have but to look to your own voting record in the Senate to see who is in the mainstream of the party.

We resent your use of the office of U.S. senator as a platform from which to blacken the name of loyal Americans and fellow Republicans. (Local group raps Kuchel)

Things finally came to a head following Reagan's primary victory in June, when Kuchel seemed...less-than-congratulatory.  State GOP chairman Gaylord Parkinson had had enough. He fired off the following open letter to Kuchel:
As you are aware, there is a widespread anti-Kuchel feeling as the result of your lack of support for the Nixon ticket, the Murphy ticket, the Goldwater ticket and now your pre-primary endorsement in the gubernatorial race…Frankly, Tommy, it is my candid opinion that you have a lot of fences to mend in this state…I am concerned about this and am doing everything I can do to bring all elements of the party together…We have invited you to attend every State Central Committee meeting and you have attended none…In the Navy, when general quarters are sounded, every man is expected to go to his battle station, whether he likes the war or the direction the vessel is going.  To me, a general election is a call to arms for the hole [sic] party to stand behind the candidates freely and openly chosen by the party.  Your failure to endorse the California Republican ticket in the face of a preprimary endorsement of one of the candidates will be a disappointment to me and all loyal Republicans.  I hope you will see fit to change your mind. (Parkinson warns Kuchel: Board GOP bandwagon)

Kuchel's reply to this missive?  "Who the hell is Parkinson?"(Political chickens coming home to roost)

Well, Kuchel may not have known who the hell Parkinson was, but I suspect he found out in 1968 when he was successfully primaried by the conservative candidate Max Rafferty.  Rafferty, unfortunately, lost to Alan Cranston in the general election; And Thomas Kuchel went back to practicing law until his retirement in 1981.


  1. Three men, Keith D Gilbert, Dennis Patrick Mower, and Harold Schlapia, all members of the Minutemen took the "affidavit" and a copy of the police report to Thomas Kutchel's office when we could get no response from the local news papers in LA, CA. Mower was the source of the documents, Schlapia just went along for the ride. Kutchel was supposed to be in his office but had been called away...when his secretary ask to see the documents we had brought with us we gave her a copy and after looking them over went into an adjoining office and locked the door...she called the US Secret Service and they escorted us out of the was Kutchel that demanded an investigation and brought the documents to the public and in the process destroyed his political career. In those days when political minded folk were accused of homosexual acts the public responded with a "where there is smoke there must be fire" attitude.

    1. Thanks for reading the blog...and for your contribution of additional historical background.

  2. Very interesting read and research. Thanks for posting.

    - a friendly lib

    1. You're very welcome. Thank you for your gracious words, my friend.