“Ronald Reagan campaigned with me back in 1966 and that guy could get a standing ovation in a graveyard!” former California State Sen. H.L. “Bill” Richardson recalled to me during a dinner in his hometown of Placerville in 2000. “He was running for governor for the first time and I was running for my first term in the state senate.”
But a year later, he noted, the two parted company. Having discovered the deficit his predecessor left was larger than projected, Gov. Reagan was forced to break his much-repeated campaign promise and seek a tax increase to balance the budget.
“I said ‘nothing doing,’ a no-tax pledge is a no tax-pledge,” said Richardson, who not only voted against the Reagan proposal but gave up his three-pack-day smoking habit to avoid paying the increased cigarette taxes.
“That sent a jolt to my supporters — who always greeted me at events with ashtrays,” laughed Richardson.
When Hubert Leon Richardson died January 13 at age 92, anecdotes and remembrances such as that were voiced by hundreds who had had the pleasure of his company in a political career that lasted nearly half-a-century.
Before Reagan or even Barry Goldwater, Richardson was a hard-core conservative. Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Educated at Olympia College and the Cornish Conservatory in Washington State, the young Richardson eventually settled in Southern California and launched a successful career as graphic artist and advertising man. From running his own business and love of reading history, he sculpted a philosophy summarized by the title of one of the six books he would eventually write: “Slightly to the Right.”
In 1962, a new spread-out congressional district largely in the San Gabriel Valley was created. Richardson made his maiden political voyage as the Republican nominee. He denounced what he called “the socialistic ADAers [the liberal Americans for Democratic Action)…and the new robber barons—the bureaucrats, who are robbing the American taxpayer.”
State Assemblyman and liberal Democrat George Brown, who ran on a platform of nuclear disarmament and support for organized labor, won with 55 per cent of the vote.
Four years later, Richardson roared back and won a state senate seat. His disagreement with Gov. Reagan on the ’67 tax hike notwithstanding (the governor gave taxpayers a rebate a year later), Richardson worked closely with him on issues ranging from overhauling the state’s welfare program to the 1973 referendum to enact Proposition One and cap state spending (the statewide initiative lost but was essentially passed five years later in the form of Proposition 13, which capped property taxes).
An avid outdoorsman, Richardson served for more than a decade on the board of the National Rifle Association. He also founded Gun Owners of California and Gun Owners of America. Utilizing his skills as an ad man and his legislative acumen, Richardson was a major player in thwarting legislation in Sacramento that would undermine the right to keep and bear arms.
In 1974, he won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator with more than half the primary vote over four opponents. He campaigned hard against liberal Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston’s votes to cut defense spending and made the case for instead cutting education grants, food stamps, and foreign aid.
But this was the so-called “Watergate Year,” and Cranston raised $1.3 million to less than $400,000 for Richardson. He won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Richardson would make two more losing bids for higher office: a 1986 primary race for lieutenant governor and a race for Congress in Northern California (where he settled in after retiring from the state senate in 1988) in 1992.
Golden State conservatives agree that Richardson’s greatest triumph was in 1986 with his organization of several political action committees to deny reconfirmation to three decidedly liberal members of the State Supreme Court. The most famous of the three was Chief Justice Rose Bird, known for her rulings against victims of crime and the law enforcement community. Bird and the other two justices were beaten by more than one million votes.
The slogan of the campaign was vintage Richardson: “Bye, Bye, Bird.”
Between politics, hunting with friend Clint Walker (famed as TV’s “Cheyenne”), and helping wife Barbara raise their three children, Richardson wrote books ranging from mysteries (“The Devil’s Eye”) to political satire (“Split Ticket”) to instruction guides for politicians (“Confrontational Politics”).
His most famous volume was a humorous look at the work of state legislators entitled “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?” The classic work is now used as a text in various colleges.
H.L. Richardson was a true swashbuckler in the postwar conservative movement, as well as a Renaissance man and true family man. To those whose lives he touched with words for inspiration, he won’t be forgotten.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.