By Louise Leigh & Fred Davis
The CRA bore its greatest philosophical and structural changes during the decade from 1962 to 1972. The founders and builders of CRA were dedicated, astute and certainly most effective. However, their original vision of a United States Republican Assembly had eluded them. When the bylaw change was adopted to require paid memberships to units, some were outraged and felt betrayed. Dr. Robert Craig, one of the founders, feels to this day that this single bylaw change crippled the whole original concept of what CRA should have accomplished. Nevertheless, they had accomplished the gargantuan task of a statewide effective volunteer organization.
CRA’s founding fathers were of a liberal philosophy, and therefore, CRA was liberal, as were the men they elected to public office.
Unfortunately for Republicans, Roosevelt and World War II made the national political scene impenetrable for 20 years. By contrast, in California the CRA endorsed and elected candidates, and changed the state’s political history as no other volunteer organization has done before or since.
Circa, 1955, there were people within the ranks of CRA whose philosophy was diametrically opposed to that of CRA’s founders. From “militant forward-thinking liberal” in 1962, CRA became “moderate” by 1963 and “conservative” by 1972.
Fred Hall was elected President of CRA in 1962, and it was the beginning of the end of the domination of the liberal element in CRA.
The 1963 CRA Convention was the most bitterly fought convention ever between the liberal and conservative factions within the CRA. Labor union member William Nelligan won over Harry Waddell, who was supported by the conservatives and John Birch Society members. The rift was so great that amid shouts of “foul play and stuffing ballot boxes,” the Waddell group staged a walkout. They later organized the United Republicans of California and never returned to CRA again. Bill Nelligan was the last of the liberal presidents of CRA, but the liberal vs. conservative battle had only just begun.
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States.
CRA was said to have a membership of 14,000 that year.
The 1964 CRA Convention was a philosophical battle, with CRA members split in their support of Nelson Rockefeller or Barry Goldwater for President. It became the most tumultuous, chaotic and divisive convention ever to be staged by members of CRA.
President Nelligan, founding father Ed Shattuck, past president A. Ronald Button, and past president Harvey Mydland led the Rockefeller forces. Past president Gardiner Johnson, Assemblyman Jack Schall, Dick Darling, and Nolan Frizzelle, led the Goldwater forces. Amid manipulation and stalling tactics, the hour became late. Many of the delegates had to catch planes and left. There had been twelve hours of wrangling, and by 9:30 p.m. Assemblyman Schall asked for a ruling by the chair on the two-third rule for endorsement. The ruling was in his favor. It was then that the Rockefeller forces walked out and Goldwater was endorsed by the CRA in the wee hours of the morning.
The struggle between right and left, within CRA continued. The John Birch Society, a political organization, was recruiting members nationwide. Its adversaries depicted it as an organization bent on a “Republican Party takeover,” calling its members “the lunatic fringe” and “extremists.” It was said that five members of the CRA executive board were members of the society at that time.
In 1964, Nolan Frizzelle was elected the first of the conservative presidents of CRA. Barry Goldwater was nominated at the 1964 National Republican Convention in San Francisco, but the conservative forces nationally were not robust enough to elect him president. In November 1964, Lyndon Johnson became president.
Cyril Stevenson was elected president of CRA in 1965.
In 1966 the CRA delegates endorsed Ronald Reagan for governor. He defeated Governor Edmund G. Brown, who was seeking a third term. In November of 1966, all the Republican candidates on the Reagan team won, except the candidate for controller.
In 1968, the CRA Convention endorsed Richard Nixon for president and Max Rafferty for U.S. Senate over incumbent U.S. Senator Tom Kuchel.
Kuchel lost in the June primary election to Max Rafferty, and Rafferty lost to Alan Cranston, a Democrat, in the November election. The Nixon-Agnew ticket defeated Democrat presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey.
July 21, 1969, was the date of the incredible “Walk on the Moon.” It was also an incredible time for the Republican Party having both a Republican president and governor.
In 1970 the CRA was rocked by the incredulous fact that the CRA treasury had been looted. Paul Casattas, first elected CRA treasurer in 1969, had been re-elected to the post in 1970 when Dave Gater was elected CRA president.
Dissent and friction in the Los Angeles County Republican Assembly added to CRA’s chaos that year. L.A. County, the largest in the state, had a stronghold of over 2,000 CRA members. The animosity and power struggle was bitter and long. It finally culminated at the CRA convention in 1971. The 43rd District RA, the Griffith Park Hills RA, the 41st District RA, and the Glendale RA were the successful accusers.
With the chartering power revoked after 37 years by the state organization, and the ensuing chaos, the 2,000 memberships of 1971 dwindled to just seventeen units by 1981. Los Angeles County has never recovered from that period. In November of 1982, Bradley won in Los Angeles County by 51.46% over Deukmejian, and Brown by 52.46% over Pete Wilson.
There was an interesting Resolution read from the floor at the March 20, 1971 CRA Convention. Citing Nixon’s war in Vietnam, cuts in defense spending, expansion of Social Security, and other ills it was “resolved that the CRA will not support Nixon for President in 1972 unless he changes his present actions by October 1, 1971.” The resolution was not adopted by CRA at that convention.
In November of 1972 Nixon and Agnew were re-elected by a landslide election. The world was shifting, and CRA shifted its political philosophy and its structure during the decade 1962 to 1972 from moderate to conservative.