This writing of CRA's history was first published as part of a
souvenir book for the 50th CRA State Convention in 1983. It was
updated by the author just prior to the 57th Convention.
Official CRA Archives at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"The California Republican Assembly," by Alton DuRant, Jr. - Master's thesis, Stanford University, 1953.
A series of articles by CRA Historian Louise Leigh for CRA NEWS during 1982-83.
File copies of CRA NEWS dating back to the 1930s.
The author's research during 11 years as CRA NEWS editor.
On Feb. 11, 1934, a small band of young Republicans got together in San Jose. Many of them were there to attend a regional Junior Chamber of Commerce convention. Among these were Edward S. Shattuck of Los Angeles and William F. Reichel of Oakland, both of whom would later serve as presidents of the California Republican Assembly. Paul Mason of San Francisco was elected temporary chairman of the group.
These "Young Turks" were fed up with Republican politics-as- usual, and were determined to re-structure the party in California. They wanted younger men to take control from the Old Guard.
An interesting story is told of how three of the principal founders of CRA got together. In 1932, Ron Button and Ed Shattuck were two of the three Republicans running for nomination in the old 15th Congressional District in the Bay Area. Button's overly-enthusiastic supporters are said to have uprooted most of Shattuck's campaign signs and dumped them late one night in Shattuck's front yard. Shattuck angrily phoned the Button campaign headquarters, and ended up talking to Robert Craig, Button's campaign manager. The more Craig and Shattuck talked, the more they realized that they shared similar views about how to revitalize the Republican Party in California. Shattuck and Craig worked together to form the California Republican Assembly. Button became active, too, and later became CRA president (in 1952) and Republican National Committeeman from California (1955).
Markell Baer (CRA president 1951-52) in his The Story of the California Republican Assembly wrote that these men "dedicate themselves to promote the restoration of public confidence in the Republican Party, freed from the domination of reactionary leaders... and to developing a strong public opinion to offset the dangers of the New Deal administration... They saw the threat to the American tradition of freedom, private initiative and local government, and sought to arouse the people to a re-adherence to the principles of our government as handed down from our forefathers."
At the informal San Jose gathering, it was decided that a statewide meeting of young Republicans would be called for one month later, on March 11, 1934, in Fresno. Invited to the historic Fresno conference were representatives of Young Republican clubs from around the state, plus individuals from counties that did not have such clubs. Paul Mason took it upon himself to get the word out in the northern counties, and Edward Shattuck issued the call in the southern counties.
It was at this Fresno meeting that the California Republican Assembly was formally organized. Although the CRA was not incorporated as such until July 12, 1935, it could be fairly said that the organization's "date of birth" is March 12, 1934.
On the evening of March 11, delegates gathered in private caucuses. Out of these caucuses came an announcement by Mason and Shattuck that an agreement had been reached to avoid discussing any possible candidates for office. This step was apparently taken so that the spirit of unity would not be endangered by various factions arguing over the merits of individual political candidates. The purpose of the convention, announced Mason and Shattuck, would be to "revitalize the Republican Party, and not to back candidates."
This stance immediately presented the new organization with its first crisis. As the 60 delegates began discussions on March 12, the San Francisco and Alameda County groups said they would withdraw if the group adopted a resolution prohibiting preprimary endorsements.
The Los Angeles delegation acted quickly to bring about a compromise; they introduced a resolution saying that the question of endorsements would not be written into the By-laws, but would become a subject for study by a special committee. The resolution passed ... and CRA's first crisis was resolved.
With Paul Mason acting as temporary chairman, and Robert F. Craig of Los Angeles as temporary secretary, delegates got down to business. They elected Sherrill Halbert of Porterville as the first president of the CRA. CRA By-laws were then adopted. Committees were appointed.
Seven regional vice-presidents were elected, along with secretary Robert Craig, assistant secretary Paul St. Sure of Alameda County, treasurer Gerald S. Toll of Los Angeles County, sergeant-at-arms H. W. Rouff of Tuolumne County, and chaplain Frank B. Gigliotti of San Diego County. When the convention adjourned, its delegates went back home to organize CRA units throughout the state. It has been estimated that, by the November election that year, there were CRA organizations in two thirds of California's counties.
Some interesting facts about the ideas and philosophy of that group of founding fathers: They considered themselves to be more liberal or "moderate" than the party's Old Guard.
When they began publishing their first statewide newspaper in July 1935 (The Independent Republican), the paper's masthead included the slogans "Militant - Forward Looking - Independent." Membership in CRA was limited to men 45 or younger. No women were allowed at first.
This new movement was obviously young, relatively liberal, and definitely bent on re-shaping the party's staid image.
That they organized themselves quickly, and well, is evidenced by the success of the party in the 1934 general election. Republican Frank Merriam was elected governor, George Hatfield lieutenant governor, Hiram Johnson to the U. S. Senate, plus seven Congressmen, and a GOP majority in both houses of the state legislature. All this despite a heavy voter registration majority favoring the Democrats. (Sound familiar?)
Following the general election, Paul Mason called Northern California CRA groups to a special meeting Dec. 19 in San Francisco. Various issues and organizational problems were discussed, and the delegates decided to go home and make contact with Republicans from counties that had not sent representatives. These other representatives were invited to a second Northern California caucus in Sacramento on Jan. 12-13, 1935.
Meanwhile, Southern California CRA groups met Feb. 9, 1935 in Los Angeles.
President Halbert had issued a special call to women to attend the convention. A separate women's division had been organized by the Los Angeles County R.A., and Halbert challenged other counties to do likewise. "I think it would be a very fine gesture and forward step," he said, "if you would have a nice representation from the women's division present."
It should be noted here that CRA was originally organized at the county level. There were no local units as we know them now, just county organizations. This organizational concept continued until 1948.
Delegates from 33 counties attended the 1935 convention. The convention opened, dramatically, with the reading of a letter from former President Herbert Hoover, addressed to President Halbert. The letter represented the breaking of a two-year silence maintained by Hoover since he left the White House in 1933.
Some excerpts from Hoover's letter:
"The Republican Party today has the greatest responsibility that has come to it since the days of Abraham Lincoln... It must furnish the rallying point for all those who believe in (fundamental American) principles and are determined to defeat those who are responsible for their daily jeopardy... It is well that the young men and women of the Republican Party would meet and give attention to this drift from the national moorings... The present conception of a national economy based upon scarcity must in all common sense be reversed to an economy based upon production... The problems of business, agriculture and labor become much easier'with a restoration of economic common sense."
Needless to say, Hoover's message gave the delegates quite a lift.
Another shot of adrenalin was administered by Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who was the convention's principal speaker.
"We need the active interest in our government of the young people," said the Son of Bull Moose. "Do not, however, lose sight of your objectives. This is no battle between groups of a different age. It is principles for which you fight and qualities that you seek in leaders."
While the CRA was meeting in Sacramento's Municipal Auditorium, the Junior Republicans, Inc. were meeting nearby. The two groups held some joint sessions, and there was talk of merging the two entities. But that talk was soon forgotten when a rift developed over the old bugaboo of endorsing candidates. The Junior Republicans voted to endorse Governor Merriam for President of the U.S. The press ballyhooed the endorsement as being a sort of "upstaging" of CRA by the Junior Republicans.
The CRA adopted the following resolution:
"Inasmuch as Junior Republicans have chosen to make a specific endorsement of a candidate for the presidency, thereby violating a mutual understanding, the Assembly disavows any affiliation with and responsibility for the state and actions of Junior Republicans or any of its sponsors."
Mark Requa, National Republican Committeeman for California, had pleaded at one of the CRA luncheons for party unit, and avoidance of factionalism.
Some stands taken by resolution of the convention:
- Against Communism.
- For legislation requiring all organizations and persons to make a statement of funds used on behalf of candidates.
- For strengthening of the Armed Forces.
- Against government entering into the field of free enterprise.
- For a thorough study of primary election laws, leading to specific remedies.
- A "pay as you go" state fiscal policy.
- Opposing any further tendencies toward increased bureaucracy.
- Favoring an economically sound old-age retirement system.
The convention adjourned with President Halbert designating the seven regional directors as officers in charge of organizing the counties. The nine original county charters were held by Humboldt, San Joaquin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Alameda, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Imperial. During May of 1935, charters were given to San Bernardino, Tulare and Yolo counties. By June 24, the San Francisco Chronicle could report that 47 of the state's 58 counties had CRA organizations, and that individual CRA memberships exceeded 8,000! The California Republican Assembly was "going forward by leaps and bounds," reported Ed Shattuck in a March 24 letter to Young Republican national president George Olmstead of Iowa.
"In county after county," Shattuck's letter reported, "the officials of the Central Committee are turning their work of organizing the party to the Assembly, and are either stepping out of the picture or into the background." Shattuck claimed that National Committeeman Requa and state Central Committee Chairman Earl Warren "are cooperating, and it should not take long now until the Assembly has succeeded in its program to take over the Republican Party here."
Another Shattuck letter, this one to Colonel Roosevelt just before Teddy Junior spoke to the convention, was also very revealing:
"Here, as in other states, there has been a terrific undercurrent of conflict within the Republican ranks between those who favor `standpatism' and those who favor liberalization of the party. The Republican Assembly movement grew out of the desire of the younger generation to reconstruct the Republican Party... At first, the older party leadership encouraged the movement. However, when they saw it gaining strength, they reversed their position and did everything in their power to kill it. Since that time, the entire party organization has swung towards the Republican Assembly, as has county after county. There cannot be the slightest doubt who will control the party in 1936. Certainly in this progressive state of California, the Republican Party must get into the hands of the liberals or it is doomed."
Whether Shattuck was being overly melodramatic, or just how "liberal" the Young Turks meant the party to become, are questions open to some conjecture; but there can be little doubt about the energy, fervor, and organizational ability of these first planters of the CRA seed.
It appears to have been a word used by Republicans to describe a re-birth of the party, a swing to younger, fresher leaders and ideas, and a general broadening of the base of the party. Certainly, the aforementioned resolutions adopted by the 1935 convention can sit well with present day CRA philosophy.
In early 1983, first president Sherrill Halbert, then a semi-retired judge, would write to President Coanne Cubete:
"...I have trouble with the term liberal and conservative which have been used freely over the years. There is an old saying, `Today's liberal is tomorrow's conservative,' and I have found that to be pretty much true. What I had in mind when we were founding CRA was that the government ought to be gotten back to the people. Many times I have said to myself, `No citizen should expect the government to do for him that which he can do as well or better himself.' I do not think CRA has ever varied from that philosophy, regardless of how you denominate it."
However, it can be argued that CRA did continue to have a more "centrist" direction until the watershed convention of 1964, when conservatives dramatically overcame a Rockefeller faction and got the convention to endorse Barry Goldwater for the presidential nomination.
Before we move on from the important CRA year of 1935, it should be mentioned that the organization definitely did decide to endorse in the primaries, running the full gamut from state legislative races, through congressional, state and presidential offices.
Also in '35, CRA members were very involved in a Western States Republican Convention held Oct. 46 in Oakland. Ed Shattuck was general chairman of the convention. It drew delegates from 11 states. State Senator William Knowland was the convention toastmaster. Speakers included state central committee chairman Earl Warren, national YR chief George Olsted, Melvin Belli, Governor Merriam and former President Hoover.
The basic work of that convention was an indictment of Roosevelt's New Deal, and an ill-fated attempt to launch a comeback for Herbert Hoover.
Also, the convention re-elected Sherrill Halbert to a second term as CRA president.