The relationship between California Lieutenant Governor Robert Finch and Governor Ronald Reagan can best be described as strained. There were a couple of reasons for the difficult relations between the two. First, Finch hailed from the more moderate wing of the Republican Party, and had toiled on behalf of GOP elected officials and causes for many years. Reagan, meanwhile, represented the avant-garde of the Republican Party, the much more conservative folks who had been shaken from their slumber during Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign of 1964.
Second, Finch out-polled Reagan statewide during the 1966 election, which, while little-noticed by the national media in the aftermath of Reagan’s defeat of incumbent Governor Pat Brown, was a point of influence for Finch. In a post-election spirit of unity, Governor-elect Reagan sought to immediately include Finch as part of his team by naming him to head up welfare reform efforts in California state government (Associated Press, 1966). Likewise, Finch, in at attempt to reach out to GOP conservatives, announced his intention to propose an anti-pornography bill (Associated Press, 1966). But, as time went on, Finch began to carve his own path in state government and openly oppose Reagan on public policy matters.
First, in early 1967, the Lieutenant Governor on his own initiative proposed the formation of three new legislative committees (Zeman, 1967). Then, Finch announced that he opposed the budget cuts to California’s higher education system that had been proposed by Reagan, and indicated he was trying to negotiate a compromise between Reagan and those on the UC regents and the trustees of the state college system who opposed the reductions (Trombley, 1967). Finch further distanced himself from Reagan’s political perspective by declaring that capital punishment in California should be applied in a much narrower fashion (Los Angeles Times, 1967).
Perhaps in response to Finch’s decision to carve his own political path away from Reagan’s, the Governor publicly proposed–all the while effusively praising Finch–that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor should be elected as a ticket (Lembke, 1967). It is apparent that the two were at odds, and a breaking point may have been inevitable. Indeed, that rupture occurred in August of 1967 when Finch, at a joint press conference with Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, unveiled a joint Republican-Democratic anti-poverty proposal. However, Reagan claimed he was adamantly opposed to such a plan and was furious at Finch for appearing in public with the presumed 1970 Democratic contender for Governor against him (Los Angeles Times, 1967). That was the low public point of the relationship between the two, as the remainder of 1967 saw no public animosity between them, though Finch in an interview towards the end of the year made no apologies for his willingness to speak out (Zeman, 1967).
Public sparring between Finch and Reagan subsided in 1968, but this author suspects that relations may have not have been very cozy, simply due to Reagan’s favorite-son bid for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination, and Finch’s key role as an operative for Richard Nixon. After Nixon secured the GOP presidential nod, rumors began to spread that Finch would depart Sacramento for Washington in order to serve Nixon in some capacity, and Finch was indeed appointed by Nixon to serve as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
The animosity that was apparent in the relationship between Robert Finch and Ronald Reagan highlights a critical problem in states that choose to elect a stand-alone Lieutenant Governor: the possibility of different perspectives on policy issues, which can hamper the implementation of a Governor’s political and policy objectives. While divergent at times, the relationship between Finch and Reagan would not reach the depths seen in the future, and Reagan would see to it that Finch’s successor would be very loyal to him and his aims.
Associated Press (1966, November 17). Reagan Says He Will Consult People on Curing State’s Ills. Los Angeles Times, pp. 3.
Associated Press (1966, November 18). Finch Will Propose Anti-Smut Measure to New Legislature. Los Angeles Times, pp. 2.
Lembke, Daryl (1967, July 14). Reagan Asks Change in State Election System. Los Angeles Times, pp. 30.
Los Angeles Times (1967, April 13). Finch Declares Death Penalty is Used Too Broadly by State. Los Angeles Times, pp. 3.
Los Angeles Times (1967, August 3). Monaghan Supports Finch in Disclosure of Poverty Plans. Los Angeles Times, pp. 3.
Trombley, William (1967, February 28). Finch Opposes College Across-Board Slashes. Los Angeles Times, pp. 3.
Zeman, R. (1967, January 28). Finch Calls for New Legislative Committees. Los Angeles Times, pp. 2.
Zeman, Ray (1967, October 12). A Busy Man-Robert Finch. Los Angeles Times, pp. C4.