In July of 1974, incumbent Lieutenant Governor Ed Reinecke was found guilty on one felony count of perjury stemming from his involvement in the ITT Scandal. All indications were that, having been convicted of a felony, Reinecke would resign from office rather quickly. But, even though the California Government Code indicated that conviction of a felony disqualified state elected officials from holding office, state Attorney General Evelle Younger clouded the matter, indicating that it was only upon sentencing–after the appeals process had been exhausted–that Reinecke would be disqualified; and for his part, Reinecke didn’t appear to be in a hurry to depart (Jones 1974). Thus began a 2-month resignation drama.
At first, fellow Republicans seemed reticent to criticize him at all. Younger appeared to be trying to find a legal avenue for Reinecke to stay in office until his term expired in January of 1975, and GOP gubernatorial nominee, State Controller Houston Flournoy, declined to call for Reinecke’s resignation, and even appeared to feel sorry for Reinecke (Fairbanks 1974). Indeed, the most important GOP leader in the state, Governor Ronald Reagan, had said nothing publicly about the matter since Reinecke’s conviction.
Finally, nearly a week after the conviction, Younger released a report stating that only when sentenced would the state Government Code section disqualifying Reinecke from office kick in, but he suggested that the lieutenant governor should resign immediately (Endicott 1974). The very next day, Reagan finally spoke out about the issue, indicating he felt Reinecke should resign immediately, and that he would tell the lieutenant governor exactly that in a face-to-face meeting the next week, and was reviewing his short-term schedule to avoid leaving the state; again, Reinecke abjectly refused to leave, even with Reagan’s admonishment (Bergholz 1974).
Then, abruptly, Reagan apparently couldn’t tell Reinecke to quit in their face-to-face meeting, and stopped discussing the matter publicly (Fairbanks and Skelton 1974). For his part, Reinecke resumed his duties as the appeal process kicked off, even serving as Acting Governor several times, despite what Reagan had indicated (UPI 1974). Finally, on October 2, 1974, Reinecke submitted his resignation, which took effect at the same time he was receiving his sentence for the perjury conviction, having finally exhausted his available appeals. The next step in the process was for Reagan to name another lieutenant governor–the third in his tenure–to serve until January of 1975 (UPI 1974).
In hindsight, it is abundantly clear that GOP leadership in California should have early and forcefully called for Reinecke’s resignation, as the state Government Code was clear in its language about the disqualification of those state officeholders convicted of a felony. Attorney General Younger and Houston Flournoy, as both the state controller and the GOP gubernatorial nominee both played key roles–which they rejected–to potentially force the matter early on. However, Governor Reagan’s initial forceful public comments about Reinecke, juxtaposed with his apparently timid encounter with the lieutenant governor and subsequent hands-off approach to the dilemma, are especially open for criticism. Reagan, throughout his term in Sacramento, displayed outrage and no patience at student protesters who flagrantly violated the law. But, when it came to a fellow Republican officeholder who stayed on despite being convicted by a federal jury, apparently couldn’t bring himself to remain consistent in his zero tolerance for lawbreakers policy.
Bergholz, Richard. “Reinecke Should Quit, Reagan Says; Suggestion Rejected.” Los Angeles Times, August 3, 1974, A1.
Endicott, William. “Reinecke Should Leave Office Immediately, Younger Suggests.” Los Angeles Times. August 2, 1974, A1.
Fairbanks, Robert. “Flournoy Declines Judgement on Reinecke Staying in Office.” Los Angeles Times. July 31, 1974, A3.
Fairbanks, Robert, and Skelton, George. “Reagan Withdrew Resignation Call, Reinecke Reports.” Los Angeles Times. August 6, 1974, A3.
Jones, Jack. “Reinecke Says He Won’t Quit Unless Forced to by Law.” Los Angeles Times. July 30, 1974, A1.
United Press International. “Reagan Flies to Maryland Picnic.” Los Angeles Times. August 24, 1974, A12.
United Press International. “Reagan Names Sen. Harmer to Serve Rest of Reinecke’s Term.” Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1974, A3.