The election of 1944 posed many problems for my father, but it had one huge advantage for him: it was a Presidential election year. FDR was running for a fourth term for the Presidency. This time, however, he was not just the President. He was the leader of the wartime coalition of anti-Fascist countries that even in 1944 was beginning to be called the United Nations.
The Democratic Presidential ticket was going to have trouble in the peace-minded and isolationist Midwest in some Rocky Mountain states and in the South because of its support for civil rights legislation like the anti-lynching law. However, in California, because ~f the war, which was not over by any means in the Pacific, the Democratic ticket would be almost as strong as it was four years earlier. This was a big help to my father.
My father's GOP opponent, Roy McLaughlin, was an engineer and oil man. McLaughlin, unlike Robert Shuler, had the complete support of the District' 5 regular Republican organization. He also could count on backing from most oil company executives, if not the companies themselves. This election, more than any other, pitted my father against what was becoming California' 5 most powerful political and economic interest group, namely, the oil companies. The Elk Hills imbroglio made this inevitable.
Fortunately for my father, the GOP campaign was lackluster due partly to wartime restraints. Twelfth District Republicans could not advocate abandonment of price and wage controls during 1944, which they could do two years later. Neither could they criticize the Democrats' handling of the war. By September 1944, France was liberated, along with most all of Belgium and Luxebbourg. Also, the Allies were pushing into Northern Italy, and MacArthur was preparing to recapture the Philippines. Guam, Saipan and Tinian had been taken from the Japanese, and the United States had complete mastery of the air in the South and Central Pacific. It seemed as though the war in Europe might end within a year. The end to the Pacific war was also in sight. About the only talking points which District Republicans had were the Elk Hills issue and taxes, especially the excess profits tax. These issues, and my father's unusual monetary philosophy, would excite only a limited segment of the electorate, namely, bankers, oil company employees, and wealthy taxpayers.
To make matters worse for the GOP, McLaughlin alienated conservative Republicans with a speech on Labor Day which many interpreted as being too pro-labor. The anti-labor bias of the 12th District, with its large population of farmers, professionals, and small entrepreneurs, would be a huge advantage for the GOP during the 1946 campaign and a major liability for my father. However, in 1944, anti-labor sentiment worked as much to the disadvantage of the Republican Congressional candidate as it did for my father.
When the ballots were counted, the GOP suffered a disastrous defeat in California. The number of Republican House seats went down from eleven to seven as a result of the 1944 election. Three of these Districts which went from Republican to Democratic were in Northern California and one was located in the South, right next to my father's District. Sheridan Downey easily defeated his Republican challenger, Fred Houser, and was reelected to a second term in the Senate. Finally, the Democratic Presidential ticket carried 46 out of California's 58 counties.
The Democratic landslide of 1944 in California swept my father into office for his fifth and last term. My father received 77,385 votes to McLaughlin's 62,524. This was a solid victory. Interestingly enough, my father's margin of victory in 1944 was almost the same vote spread which Richard Nixon had over my father in 1946. Despite my father's impressive victory, there were ominous portents in the 1944 election results, a foretaste of what was to come.
The 12th District was becoming more Republican and less Democratic not just because of redistricting. Businessmen and farmers through the District who voted Democratic in 1936 and 1940 were now becoming increasingly Republican due to a combination of wartime controls and restrictions, tax, and labor trouble. Also, the population of the District was becoming more middle-class and suburban due to the influx of defense industries and military officers into the District during the war years. Defense workers and military officers were always strongly Republican in their voting habits. Finally, my father was shifting to the left. A parting of the ways was now inevitable.
My father's last term in office was in many respects his most successful. He finally got a seat on the Agriculture Committee, and partly as a result of that he was able to see to it that the School Lunch Program became a permanent ongoing activity, funded on a regular basis by the federal government. Also, his mebeership on the Special Committee which dealt with post-war economic planning, gave him a helpful forum to publicize his monetary policies and his plans for a peaceful post-war world. He strongly supported the United Nations founded in San Francisco during June of 1945, and he supported ratification and implementation of the U.N. Treaty.
My father was a member of the Congressional majority which passed a series of bills that were designed to aid returning veterans. These were soon to be dubbed the GI Bill of Rights. Among other things, these pieces of legislation which were passed during 1944 and 1945 provided for federally financed education grants that enabled returning veterans to receive a free college education.
My father took an active role in the debate over the future of atomic energy during 1945 and 1946. He vigorously and successfully supported the McMahon Act which set up the Atomic Energy Commission and put atomic energy research, production and development under the control of a civilian agency rather than the military. My father' 5 deep concerns on this matter probably influenced his good friend Chet Hollifield to get a seat on the House Atomic Energy Committee and eventually become its chairman. Finally, my father strongly supported post-war assistance programs for Japan and Europe, both inside and outside of Congress. One of his last acts in the House was his vote in favor of a multi-billion dollar aid package to Great Britain.
Two things which my father did during his last term contributed considerably to his defeat in 1946. One was his continued support for rationing and price controls, even after the war had ended. The other was his stand on the issue of Tidelands oil. During 1945 and 1946, my father opposed attempts to end grain rationing and to allow the liquor industry to buy the tremendous amounts of grain it needed to produce most alcoholic beverages. His attitude was based on his belief that the grains should be used to feed the millions of starving refugees and war victims of Asia and Europe. From a humanitarian standpoint, my father's position was absolutely correct. Politically1 it was a big mistake. My father had few friends among the District's Prohibitionists who supported Robert Shuler's campaign against him during 1942. He had potential allies in the liquor industry since he ran against and defeated a Prohibitionist in 1942. However, his support for continued grain rationing and the denial of grain to the liquor interests infuriated most brewery owners and liquor companies. It also irritated the many 12th District voters who had been denied access to their favorite liquor by wartime restrictions. During 1945 and 1946, they wanted to celebrate the war' S end in a proper fashion. Many of them began to look upon my father as a puritan and a killjoy.
Finally, in July of 1946, Congress passed an oil industry-sponsored bill which advocated state control of Tidelands oil resources. Tidelands oil was petroleum which existed under the surface in tidal areas close to shore. Everyone recognized that beyond the tidal zones, and certainly beyond the three-mile limit, oil resources belonged to the federal government. However, oil companies and states right advocates were at odds with federal officials regarding oil resources in California's tidal basins. They wanted this oil to come under less restrictive state control. Most liberals, however, especially if they were from inland states, favored federal control and ownership over oil in the tidal basins.
My father voted against the Tidelands Oil Bill. In this he was joined by only two other Californians: George Outland from Santa Barbara, who was defeated by a Republican in November, and Helen Gahagan Douglas, who represented a solidly Democratic district in the City of Los Angeles. All other California members of Congress, and the vast majority of the House, voted for the bill. Once again my father was isolating himself from his California Congressional colleagues, the California Democratic Party, and Democratic leaders in the House. He also angered the State of California and coastal communities such as Long Beach, which would receive considerable tax revenue if Tidelands oil resources were placed under State control. The Tidelands oil vote was the last straw for many moderate-to-conservative 12th District voters, who were already upset with my father over his stands on joint tax returns, Japanese internment, and grain rationing, as well as his opposition to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. By voting against the Tidelands Oil Bill, my father might very well have signed his political death warrant.
Once again, my father's sense of fairness was his undoing. He believed and stated that Tidelands oil belonged to all of the American people and that tax and other revenue from this resource should be shared equally by all Americans. This was a scrupulously honest and straightforward argument. Nobody could dispute its fairness. But it was political suicide in Southern California.
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