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Houston I. Flournoy

Senator Tom McClintock
Date: January-14-08
Publication Type: Press Release

Mr. President:

I rise with sadness to note the passing of former State Assemblyman and former State Controller Houston I. Flournoy.

Hugh Flournoy truly was a remarkable and rare public servant who never lusted for political positions except as a means to a higher end. Though he was disdainful of politics in general and political office in particular, he cared very deeply about this state and its people.

Just one quick story. Many years ago, I asked him how he had pulled off his upset victory against incumbent state Controller Alan Cranston in 1966.

He thought about it for a moment and said, “Well, I walked across a stage and waved at some people. That was about it.”

He then explained that he had happily left the Assembly to return to academia, only to be visited by a delegation of former colleagues shortly before the filing deadline. They had a problem: no one wanted to run against Alan Cranston, and that they needed a sacrificial lamb to avoid the political embarrassment of Cranston running unopposed.

Hugh told them “But I don’t want to be Controller.” And they said, “Don’t worry. You won’t be.” And he said, “I don’t want to campaign.” And they said “don’t worry, we’ll campaign for you.”

So Hugh settled back to his teaching job until about two weeks before the general election, when state GOP chairman Gaylord Parkinson called and said, “We’ve got this big dinner in L.A. It’s the only time the entire ticket is going to be together. Won’t you please, please come?”

So Hugh said he made his one campaign appearance. When Ronald Reagan called his name, he crossed the stage, waived at the audience, sat down, had dinner and went home.

And on election night he won an upset victory to become the state’s chief fiscal officer at a time when California was spending a million dollars a day more than it was taking in – perhaps tame by today’s standards but unprecedented back then.

For eight momentous years, Hugh Flournoy played a characteristically quiet -- but stunningly effective -- role in setting California’s finances in order.

In 1974, our party proudly nominated him to follow Ronald Reagan as Governor.

That was the Watergate election – a nearly impossible uphill battle for any Republican candidate. I had the honor to serve as his statewide high school coordinator that year and I can tell you that not once did I ever see him ruffled – he always made time for the volunteers in his state headquarters in Los Angeles and always maintained a gracious and relaxed manner day in and day out.

He started way behind and against all the odds came within two points of winning. If it hadn’t been for that razor-thin margin, today we would be mourning the passing of a great governor, and California would be a very different place. That election marked a turning point in the history of our state, and regrettably, Hugh Flournoy’s road was the one not taken.

We have some consolation that he spent the rest of his life as a Professor of Public Administration at USC, and thus leaves us with a living legacy of thousands of students that he trained and inspired to carry on his devotion to our public institutions.

Mr. President, I ask that when the Senate adjourns today it does so in memory of Houston I. Flournoy and that the Senate now pause for a moment of silence to mark the passing of this good man.