California Governors During My Lifetime

This is a fact sheet used as a resource for a larger piece titled, California, From The “Golden State” To The “Homeless Capital Of The World.”

Earl Warren, 1943–1953 (Republican)

Earl Warren was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 19, 1891, and grew up in Bakersfield, California.

He graduated from the University of California in 1912 with a degree in legal studies and earned a law degree in 1914. From 1914 to 1917 he practiced as a private attorney in San Francisco and Oakland, California.

In 1917, Warren enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private and rose to the rank of first lieutenant.

After his military service, he served as a clerk to the judiciary committee of the California Assembly in 1919 and was Oakland’s deputy attorney from 1919 to 1920.

Warren served Alameda County as deputy district attorney from 1920 to 1923, the chief deputy district attorney from 1923 to 1925, and district attorney from 1925 to 1929.

He also served as California’s attorney general from 1939 to 1943 and was a delegate to the 1944 Republican National Convention.

On November 3, 1942, he was elected Governor of California, and on January 4, 1943, he was sworn into office.

He was reelected to a second term in 1946, and a third term in 1951.

Warren is California’s only governor ever elected to three consecutive terms.

In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Governor Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court as the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States. Resigning from the governor’s office on October 5, 1953, Warren served as Chief Justice until 1969.

Goodwin Knight, 1953–1959 (Republican)

Goodwin Jess Knight was born on December 9, 1896, in Provo, Utah

Knight became interested in politics when he was a teenager. His first experience in politics was handing out handbills promoting Hiram Johnson’s first gubernatorial campaign.

After graduating from high school, Knight spent a year working in lead and zinc mines in Nevada. He also worked as a newspaper reporter for the Los Angeles News and as a grocery clerk.

Knight started his studies at Stanford University in 1915 and interrupted his studies in 1918 to serve in the Navy during World War I. After he was discharged from the service, Knight returned to Stanford and completed his B.A. degree.

Knight started studying political science and law at Cornell University but was unable to complete his studies for financial reasons. He returned to Los Angeles, worked as a clerk in a law firm, and was admitted to the California bar in 1921.

In 1935, Governor Merriam appointed Knight as a judge on the Los Angeles County Superior Court, a position he held for more than eleven years.

He served as Lt. Governor under Earl Warren, succeeding to the office of Governor in 1953 after Earl Warren resigned his governorship to join the Supreme Court.

During his term, Knight made major achievements in the area of water conservation and development, including the beginning of the Feather River Project. He also improved the prisons and created the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Knight died of pneumonia in 1970.

Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, – 1959–1967 (Democrat)

Brown was born on April 21, 1905.

As a boy growing up in San Francisco, he earned his own money by delivering two newspapers — the Call and the Chronicle.

After graduating from high school, he studied law at the San Francisco College of Law, where he graduated first in his class.

While he was in law school, he worked for Milton Schmitt, a blind attorney. After he graduated from law school, Brown continued to work for Mr. Schmitt and upon Schmitt’s death, Brown took over the practice.

On January 8, 1944, Brown was sworn into office as San Francisco’s District Attorney, a post he held until 1950 when he became the state’s Attorney General and served two terms.

In 1958, Brown was elected Governor, winning by more than 1 million votes. Four years later, Brown defeated Richard Nixon to serve a second term as Governor.

While in office, Brown achieved a statewide water plan and improvements in higher education. Brown also ended the practice of cross-filing for political candidates and backed the use of computers in state government.

His most controversial move was when he granted a 60-day reprieve to Caryl Chessman, who was convicted of rape and kidnapping with bodily harm (and was eventually executed).

Governor Brown died as a result of a heart attack. He was 90 years old.

Ronald Reagan, 1967–1975 (Republican)

Ronald Wilson Reagan was born on February 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois.

Most of his childhood was spent in Dixon, Illinois, a small town about 100 miles west of Chicago.

Reagan won a scholarship to study at Eureka College near Peoria, Illinois, and majored in economics. He was also drawn toward acting, but upon graduation, in 1932 the only job available related to show business was as a local radio sportscaster.

In 1933 he became a sportscaster for station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa.

In 1937 Reagan went to Hollywood and began an acting career that spanned more than 25 years. He played in more than 50 films and his first political activities were associated with his responsibilities as a union leader; Reagan was active in the Screen Actors Guild (the union for film actors) and was elected six times as its president.

From 1942 to 1945, Reagan served in the United States Army Air Force.

Reagan emerged on the national political scene in 1964 when he made an impassioned television speech supporting the Republican presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona. Although Goldwater lost the election, Reagan’s speech brought recognition from Republicans around the country.

He ran for governor of California in 1966, defeating Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Sr., the incumbent Democrat, by almost a million votes. Reagan became the 33rd Governor of California.

During his first term, Reagan temporarily stopped government hiring to slow the growth of the state workforce, but he also approved tax increases to balance the state budget.

Reagan was elected to a second term in 1970. Governor Reagan worked with the Democratic majority in the state legislature to enact a major reform of the welfare system in 1971. The reform reduced the number of people receiving state aid while increasing the benefits for those who remained eligible.

During his tenure as governor, Reagan chaired the Republican Governors Association from 1968 to 1969.

Reagan ran for President in 1980, successfully beating the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter to become the nation’s 40th president. Reelected in 1984, Reagan presided over broad changes in the U.S. government’s economic and social policy.

After retiring to California, Reagan remained politically visible and active, becoming a national and international spokesman.

He published his autobiography, An American Life, in 1990 and opened the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California in 1991.

In 1993 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In November 1994 Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer’s disease, and he subsequently died of the illness in 2004.

Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, 1975–1983 (Democrat)

Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., the son of former Governor Pat Brown (1959-1967), was born in San Francisco on April 7, 1938.

He graduated with degrees in Latin and Greek from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961 and received a Juris Doctorate from Yale in 1964. His education also included studies at the Jesuit Seminary in Los Gatos, California.

Following law school, Brown worked as a law clerk to California Supreme Court Justice Mathew Tobriner, traveled and studied in Mexico and Latin America, then took up residence in Los Angeles, working for a law firm.

In 1968, he helped qualify a slate of presidential delegates to oppose the re-nomination of President Lyndon Johnson. The following year, Brown was elected to the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees.

In 1970, Brown was elected California’s Secretary of State, a position he held until his inauguration as Governor in 1975. As governor, he had strong ideas about state spending and refused to live in the new governor’s mansion, renting a modest apartment instead, and nixing the governor’s limousine in favor of a state-issued Plymouth.

He focused on energy efficiency and alternative power sources, sponsored and signed the first labor laws in the United States to protect farm workers, and signed into law the California Conservation Corps (CCC) program.

His appointments emphasized minorities and women, echoing the social awareness of his era.

After his two terms as governor, Brown unsuccessfully ran for United States Senator in 1982.

He then traveled extensively, returned to his law practice in Los Angeles, and in 1989 became chairman of the state Democratic Party.

He resigned from that position in 1991 and unsuccessfully sought the 1992 Democratic Presidential nomination.

In 1998, Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland, California, and held the post until 2007.

George Deukmejian, 1983–1991 (Republican)

George Deukmejian was born on June 06, 1928.

As a young boy, George Deukmejian was considered polite, good-natured, and studious. He worked through high school wrapping meat and making coat hangers.

He attended Siena College where he majored in sociology, managed the college’s baseball team, and picked up the nickname “Duke.”

He went on to earn his law degree at St. John’s University. Soon after completing law school, he was drafted to serve in the US Army, where he was assigned legal duty in Paris.

At the end of his tour of duty, Deukmejian returned to the US and established a law practice in Southern California.

He was very active in several community organizations including the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, and Lion’s Club.

In 1962, Deukmejian was elected to the Assembly where he served until 1967. He served as a State Senator for Los Angeles from 1967 to 1979 and as State Attorney General from 1979 to 1983.

Deukmejian was elected Governor in 1983 and served two terms. His accomplishments included promoting sound economic policies that led to the creation of more than 2.8 million new jobs; making education a priority for the state; and creating a workfare program.

After serving as Governor, Deukmejian remained active in the community by serving on special commissions. In May 2008, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from California State University, Long Beach for his political and civic endeavors.

Pete Wilson, 1991–1999 (Republican)

Peter “Pete” Wilson was born on August 23, 1935, in Lake Forest, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago.

He attended Yale University on an ROTC scholarship, earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1955, and subsequently served three years as a Marine Corps infantry officer.

He earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall in 1962.

Wilson’s public service career began in 1966 when he was elected to the California Assembly.

In 1971 he was elected mayor of San Diego and remained mayor until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1982 and reelected in 1988.

He was elected Governor of California in 1990, becoming California’s thirty-sixth chief executive, and was reelected in 1994.

As governor, Wilson focused on reforms in the areas of health coverage for employees of small businesses, workers’ compensation, and education. In addition, he signed into law two major pieces of crime-related legislation–the “Three Strikes” law (25 years to life for repeat felons) and the “One Strike” law (25 years to life upon the first conviction of aggravated rape or child molestation).

After leaving office, he spent two years as a managing director of Pacific Capital Group and is currently a principal of the Bingham Consulting Group. He is also of counsel to Bingham McCutchen and a member of the Board of Advisors of Thomas Weisel Partners, a San Francisco merchant bank. He serves as a director of the Irvine Company, U.S. Telepacific Corporation, Inc., National Information Consortium Inc., and IDT Entertainment.

Wilson received the Woodrow Wilson Institute award for Distinguished Public Service and was awarded the Patriots Award by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

He is on the governing boards of the National D-Day Museum, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the Richard M. Nixon Foundation, and the Donald Bren Foundation, and is the founding director of the California Mentor Foundation.

Gray Davis, 1999–2003 (Democrat)

Joseph Graham ” Gray ” Davis Jr. was born December 26, 1942, in Bronx, New York. His family left the Bronx in 1954 and settled in the Santa Monica Mountains.

He was a popular kid who did extremely well both as a student and an athlete.

Gray earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Stanford University and a Juris Doctorate from Columbia University Law School.

In 1961, while at Stanford University, he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. After graduating from law school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of captain while serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

From 1975 to 1981, he was Chief of Staff to Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. Gray Davis represented Los Angeles County in the Assembly from 1983 through 1987. Following his term as an Assembly member, he was elected as the State Controller–a post he held until 1995. Gray then served as Lieutenant Governor from 1995 to 1999, during which he focused his efforts on keeping jobs in California and encouraging businesses to locate and expand within California. Gray served as governor from 1999 to 2003. He lost the governorship through recall by popular vote in 2003. He is currently affiliated with the Los Angeles office of the law firm Loeb & Loeb LLP.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2003–2011 (Republican)

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born July 30 1947 in Thal, Austria, a small village bordering the Styrian capital of Graz. He immigrated to the United States in 1968 and became a U.S. citizen in 1983.

Schwarzenegger earned a BA in Business and International Economics at the University of Wisconsin, Superior, and received an honorary Doctorate from that University in 1996 and an honorary Doctorate from Chapman University in 2002.

An increasingly politically active Republican during the 1990s, Schwarzenegger ran for the California governorship and won when Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the 38th Governor of California on November 17, 2003, following careers in bodybuilding, business, and entertainment.

Schwarzenegger was the first foreign-born governor of California since Irish-born Governor John G. Downey in 1862. While governor, Schwarzenegger focused on reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the minimum wage, and updating the workers’ compensation system. He was also a proponent of physical education and after-school programs and supported the After-School Education & Safety Act, which passed in 2002.

Before and during his term as governor, Schwarzenegger was involved with the Special Olympics, an organization founded by Maria Shriver’s mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. He was named Special Olympics International Weight Training Coach in 1979 and then a Global Ambassador.

President George Bush appointed Schwarzenegger as Chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in 1990, which he served until 1993. He also served as Chair of the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under Governor Pete Wilson.

Schwarzenegger’s awards include the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “National Leadership Award” for his support of the organization’s Holocaust studies.

In 2002, Schwarzenegger was honored with the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award, presented to him by Ali, a longtime friend and sports mentor.

In 2004 he was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 People Who Help Shape the World”.

Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, 2011–2019 (Democrat)

Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., the son of former Governor Pat Brown (1959-1967), was born in San Francisco on April 7, 1938. He graduated with degrees in Latin and Greek from the University of California, Berkeley in 1961 and received a Juris Doctorate from Yale in 1964. His education also included studies at the Jesuit Seminary in Los Gatos, California.

He initially served as California Governor from 1975 to 1983.

After his two terms as governor, Brown unsuccessfully ran for United States Senator in 1982. He then traveled extensively, returned to his law practice in Los Angeles, and in 1989 became chairman of the state Democratic Party. He resigned from that position in 1991 and unsuccessfully sought the 1992 Democratic Presidential nomination. In 1998, Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland, California. Brown was re-elected in 2002 and held the post until 2007.

Brown was elected Attorney General of California in 2006 and announced his candidacy for Governor in March 2010.

Since Brown’s previous terms in office were not covered by term limit laws enacted in 1990, he was not barred from running for Governor again. Jerry Brown is the only governor to return to office after serving years before.

Gavin Newsom, 2019–Present (Democrat)

Gavin Christopher Newsom was born in San Francisco on October 10, 1967, to Tessa Thomas Menzies and William Alfred Newsom III. Newsom received a partial baseball scholarship from Santa Clara University, where he graduated in 1989 with a degree in political science.

After graduating from Santa Clara, Newsom worked briefly in sales and real estate before starting a retail wine shop in 1992 in San Francisco. The business eventually grew into the PlumpJack Group, which includes restaurants, luxury resorts, and wineries throughout California.

Newsom got involved in politics in 1995 as a volunteer for Willie Brown’s campaign for mayor of San Francisco which resulted in Mayor Brown appointing Newsom first to a vacancy on the Parking and Traffic Commission and in 1997, to a vacant seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Newsom was subsequently elected and re-elected to the board before successfully running for mayor of San Francisco in 2003. In 2004,

Newsom made national headlines when he challenged California’s ban on same-sex marriage by directing the San Francisco city-county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

While still mayor of San Francisco, Newsom was elected the 49th lieutenant governor of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.

On November 6, 2018, Newsom was elected the 40th governor of California.

Click here to see how four powerful families got this very Liberal Democrat elected as Governor.

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