1928 - 2018
George Deukmejian, a two-term Republican governor who fought taxes with the same zeal as he sought to toughen California’s approach to crime, died Tuesday at his home in Long Beach. He was 89.
The son of Armenian immigrants, Deukmejian served 16 years in the state Legislature and spent one term as state attorney general before narrowly defeating the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley, for governor in 1982. Four years later, in an election marked by voters’ ouster of three liberal state Supreme Court justices whom he had opposed, Deukmejian defeated Bradley again, this time in a landslide.
The recall gave Deukmejian three openings to fill on the seven-member court — and the conservatives he named steered California’s judiciary sharply to the right for three decades, upholding death sentences and limiting lawsuits against businesses and employers.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who was also Deukmejian’s predecessor as governor, issued a statement saying Deukmejian “was a popular governor and made friends across the political aisle.”
Deukmejian set a basic agenda — keep taxes and government spending down, and be tough on crime.
“What people don’t know is how sensitive he is to the plight of the less fortunate,” then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, now a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, said in a 1990 interview.
Deukmejian was instrumental in the 1986 campaign in which voters denied new terms to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other liberal justices, all of whom had consistently voted against death sentences. Deukmejian’s replacements, including his former law partner, Malcolm Lucas, led the court rightward.
Deukmejian could have run for a third term, but chose not to. “As eight years move along, you take a lot of bashing; you’re kind of a punching bag,” he once said. “I think I’m going to be saying to myself every day, ‘Gosh, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.’ I think I’m going to enjoy that feeling.”
Courken George Deukmejian Jr. was born June 6, 1928, in Menands, N.Y., to immigrants who had fled Turkey to escape the slaughter of Armenians in the 1910s.