Goodwin J. Knight

Governor Goodwin Jess Knight was unique among California's chief executive when he took office in 1953. He had served in
all three branches of government, serving first as a superior court judge, and then presiding over the State Senate while
being Lieutenant Governor. Knight was born December 9, 1896, in Provo, Utah. His father Jesse Knight, a lawyer and mining
engineer, and mother Lillie Milner Knight, a concert singer and a suffragist, moved their family to Los Angeles in 1904.
Knight showed various talents as a child. On his 13th birthday in 1909, he completed a book of fiction that was published as
Good's Budget. His political career began a year later when he helped support the campaign of Progressive Hiram Johnson
for governor by handing out leaflets for the candidate. As a child, Knight often skipped school to hear the great orators of
the day when they came to California. These speakers included William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, Hiram Johnson,
William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt. Later, in his political career, public speaking would become one of his
greatest strength.

In high school, Knight began to exhibit his leadership skills. He was elected student body president as a junior at Manual
Arts High School in Los Angeles. Also in his class were General Jimmy Doolittle, Frank Capra, and opera singer Lawrence
Tibbetts. His yearbook predicted that he would someday serve as governor - of New York.
Upon graduation, Goodie, as he was commonly known, went to work as a miner in southern Nevada. Once he had saved
enough money, he entered Stanford University. Knight would continue working in mines during his college summer breaks.
His college graduation was delayed for one year when he entered the Navy during World War I. After receiving his A.B. from
Stanford in June 1919, he received the Telluride scholarship at Cornell, where he studied the law and political science.
Once back in California he was admitted to the bar and opened his own law practice in 1921. In 1925, he formed two
partnerships. He married Arvilla Cooley, with whom he had two daughters, Marilyn and Carolyn, and he formed a law
practice with Thomas Reynolds. Their practice grew rapidly and within a few years was one of the largest in California. In
the early 1930s, he purchased gold mines in Kern County that became very profitable after a rise in the gold standard.
In the 1930s, his interest in politics increased. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Frank Merriam's successful campaign for
governor in 1934. That same year he delivered the keynote address to the State Republican Convention. His support for
Merriam led him to be appointed to the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench in 1935. On the bench, Knight became
known as the Hollywood divorce judge because of the many high profile cases that came through his court. During his
years as a judge, he also hosted radio programs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In 1946, Knight ran for statewide office for the first time. He defeated State Senator Jack Shelley in the race for lieutenant
governor. During this campaign, he employed the campaign management firm of Whitaker and Baxter. Whitaker and
Baxter were a highly successful husband and wife team who Knight would later use in campaigns for governor and the U.S.
Senate. Knight was re-elected in 1950 as the Lieutenant Governor, winning in both the Democratic and Republican
primaries.

After Governor Earl Warren stated in September 1953 that he would not pursue a fourth term, Knight announced he would
seek the Republican nomination in 1954. Knight already had experience as the governor serving over 400 days as Acting
Governor while Lieutenant Governor. However, Knight had only to wait less than one month before becoming governor. In
October 1953, Warren accepted President Eisenhower's appointment as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. On
October 5, 1953, Knight was sworn in as the 31st governor of the 31st state in the Union. Knight strongly believed that he
was continuing Warren's term and for that reason retained most of Warren's appointees and policies.
Beginning in the late 1940s, many of the more conservative Republicans in the state began to promote Knight as a
potential gubernatorial candidate. These Republicans felt that Warren, although a Republican, was too liberal in many of his
social policies. During his gubernatorial administration, Knight surprised many of these previous supporters by continuing
and even expanding most of Warren social policies, such as mental health care modernization, increased payments of
unemployment insurance, and juvenile delinquency reform.

Upon taking office, Governor Knight cited his immediate goals as continuing construction of highways and freeways,
maintenance of state institutions, protection of state industry, and smog control. One of the few administrative changes
that he made was naming John Pierce as Director of Finance for the retiring James Dean.
Sadly, Knight's first wife Arvilla died in 1952, before he took office as governor. However, he became the first California
governor to marry while in office when he wed Virginia Carlson, a widow of a World War II veteran, in 1954. She was a
constant companion who traveled throughout the state with her husband.

During the first year of Knight's administration, he created an alcoholic beverage control department, increased the weekly
unemployment insurance payment, and prepared a fiscally sound state budget. The rapidly increasing population of
California made balancing budgets increasingly more difficult throughout his administration. Eventually, Knight would use
the state's "Rainy Day" reserves to balance the budget and keep up with the long-range state construction projects and
planning needed to meet the continuing growth.
In the gubernatorial election of 1954, Knight again hired Whitaker and Baxter. He soundly defeated Democratic candidate
Richard Graves, who was executive director of the League of California Cities. His victory came despite the higher
proportion of Democratic to Republican voters in California.

One of the most contentious issues during Knight's administration was the development of water resources. Knight was
lauded for his efforts to continue the push to build the Feather River Project. However, he was also chastised for his inability
to get politicians from northern and southern California to agree on a workable plan for the State Water Project. In 1956, he
signed legislation creating the Department of Water Resources, although the special session of the legislature he called in
1957 for water development did not lead to a compromise by the legislature to get through a bill for funding the Feather
River Project.

Knight's administration had numerous successes. Most of these revolved around the state's efforts to keep up with the
fantastic population growth of the 1950s. In the 1950s, California's population grew at a rate of over 1,500 new residents
every day. California absorbed the new population while providing necessary governmental services. During Knight's
administration, the state enjoyed a period of near full employment with a high standard of living. Knight was able to
promote California as a location for industries throughout the nation to move, while also enjoying excellent relations with
the state's labor leaders.

He also called special citizens committees and Governor's Conferences to examine problems faced by the state. Some of
these committees and conferences dealt with air pollution and smog, juvenile delinquency, children and youth, and mental
health. His term was also notable for the improvement in prison conditions.

Knight's five years in office were also marked by numerous clashes with prominent California Republicans. During the
1950s, California produced four powerful and nationally known politicians. These four Republicans were Knight, Vice
President Richard Nixon, U.S. Senator and leader of the Senate Republicans William Knowland, and U.S. Supreme Court
Chief Justice Earl Warren. Through the 1950s, Knight, Knowland, and Nixon waged various power struggles for control of
California's Republican Party.

The first of these fights took place in 1954 at the State Republican Convention when a Nixon-backed candidate challenged
a Knight loyalist for the assistant chairmanship. Knight won this battle with the help of Knowland, although the rift between
Knight and Nixon would never really be repaired. At the 1956 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, Knight
believed he would lead California's 70 delegates and possibly head a native son campaign. However, after some
negotiations the delegates were split three ways with Nixon, Knowland, and Knight, each controlling 23 delegates and U.S.
Senator Thomas Kuchel serving as the 70th delegate.

In 1958, Knight took part in one of the more complicated and misguided political decisions in California history. Knight
announced he would seek re-election as governor in August 1957; however, he was not the only prominent Republic to
seek this office. William Knowland announced shortly thereafter that he would leave his position as a U.S. Senator and run
for governor. Knowland planned to use the California governorship as stepping stone for a run as President in 1960. As a
bid for party unity and possibly from pressure from outside political forces, Knight stepped aside and decided to run instead
for Knowland's Senate seat. The "Big Switch" was not successful for either candidate, with Pat Brown defeating Knowland
for Governor and Knight losing to Clair Engle in the Senate race. These campaigns marked a change in the political
landscape of California, with the emergence of the Democratic Party as the major political party in the state.
After leaving office, Knight continued to be involved with politics. He worked as a political commentator for a television
station in Los Angeles. He also opened his own insurance company. In 1961, he declared that he would again run for
governor, although he soon contracted hepatitis and was forced to leave the race.

Governor Goodwin Knight died on May 22, 1970, and is buried at the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.


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