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Remembering Ed Reinecke — Once Gov. Reagan's Right Hand in Sacramento

Remembering Ed Reinecke — Once Gov. Reagan's Right Hand in Sacramento

 Ed Reinecke (AP)

Saturday, 31 December 2016 05:19 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Almost as soon as they learned California’s former Lt. Gov. Ed Reinecke died December 24 at age 92, those who knew him and remained in touch after his fall from political grace began playing the "what if" and "had only" games.

In April of 1974, Lt. Gov. Reinecke was popular California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s Number Two man. Polls showed him headed for a big win in the Republican primary to succeed Reagan (who declined to run for a third term as governor) and even money against the front-running Democratic candidate, Secretary of State Edmund "Jerry" Brown, namesake-son of a former governor." 

Had events gone as expected, Reinecke would have handily won the Republican primary in June. With Reinecke’s resonant voice, rapid-fire humor, and strong following among the grassroots Republicans, he could have defeated Brown in November.

Reagan's conservative "creative society" governance would have continued under "Gov. Reinecke," and Brown might today be an answer to a political trivia question instead of the Golden State’s longest-serving governor.

But it was not to be. In April of '74, Reinecke's world suddenly collapsed.

Leon Jaworski, special prosecutor in the Watergate political corruption scandal, announced that Reinecke was the target of an investigation into whether ITT had offered to pay for the 1972 Republican National Convention at a time it was facing three anti-trust suits.

Jaworski's team secured a perjury indictment of Reinecke. The charge was that the Californian had lied two years before when he told a Senate committee that he had discussed the convention offer from ITT with then-U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell only in September — two months after the government suits with ITT had been settled.

Prosecutors said this contradicted an early statement to reporters that his discussion with Mitchell was in May, prior to the suit's settlement. A jury agreed, convicting Reinecke on two counts of perjury and slamming him with an eighteen-month prison sentence. By then, he had badly lost the primary for governor to moderate State Controller Houston Flournoy, who lost a close general election to Democrat Brown.

Reinecke would doggedly insist he was innocent, that he had not lied but had confused dates. In December 1975, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that the Senate committee before which he testified lacked a quorum at the time and that Reinecke’s testimony was therefore invalid.

Before his association with Reagan, Ed Reinecke demonstrated he was a leader in private business and politics. A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II and graduate of the California Institute of Technology, the young Reinecke launched a thriving sprinkler and filter business with his sister and two brothers.

Long a volunteer in Republican politics in Southern California, Reinecke became a candidate himself in 1964 when he made a seemingly hopeless bid for Congress in a district (San Fernando Valley) that had been in Democratic hands for the past 28 years.

When Democratic liberals forced Rep. Everett Burkhalter to stand down so that leftist Assemblyman Tom Bane could take the seat, moderate Democrats were furious and bolted. Reinecke — whose posters featured a large key to teach voters to pronounce his name "Rine-A-Key" — defeated Bane in a dramatic upset.

"When Bob Finch resigned as our lieutenant governor to become secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in '69, I wasn't on most of the lists of replacements," Reinecke recalled to me, "And I didn’t know Gov. Reagan all that well. But his brother Neil Reagan was a constituent of mine and big supporter. He kept telling [Reagan] I was best choice he could make for lieutenant governor and, well, he chose me."

Reinecke's easygoing style and accessibility (he removed the door from his State Capitol office) made him a popular figure. As Reagan was winning re-election by half-a-million votes, his lieutenant governor ran ahead of him by 300,000 to win a full term of his own.

In 1983, his legal troubles behind him and back in private business, Reinecke was resoundingly elected state vice chairman of the California GOP. A year later, he became state chairman. Party leaders agreed, he told me, "that I had been given a bum rap."

Reinecke was a regular fixture at state party conventions well into his 80s. He was always greeted warmly by delegates, who inevitably called him by his former title, "Governor."


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Almost as soon as they learned California's former Lieutenant Governor Ed Reinecke died December 24 at age 92, those who knew him and remained in touch after his fall from political grace began playing the "what if" and "had only" games. In April of 1974, Lieutenant...
gizzi, reinecke, reagan
Saturday, 31 December 2016 05:19 PM
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