DeukFest ’08


A shorter version of this ran Tuesday June 17, 2008 in the Capitol Morning Report –

 More than 300 former members of the Deukmejian administration celebrated the 25th anniversary of George Deukmejian taking office at the Hyatt Hotel in Sacramento Saturday night.

Former cabinet secretaries and office secretaries filled the dining room and ended the evening by singing Happy Birthday to the GOP governor who turned 80 on June 6.

“As you can tell I’m a very happy man,” a fit and relaxed Deukmejian told the crowd. “If you remember one word from me tonight – I’m grateful. Grateful to each of you and we hope God will continue to bless you.”

The event was organized – and paid for – by a number of Sacramento notables who graduated from either Deukmejian’s term as Attorney General eight years governorship or gubernatorial campaigns.

Among the sponsors and organizers are Allan Zaremberg, head of the California Chamber of Commerce and former legislative secretary to Deukmejian and former Gov. Pete Wilson, and Merrill Jacobs, deputy vice president of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. 

Larry Thomas, Deukmejian’s former press secretary and the head of his 1986 re-election campaign organized sponsored and spoke – eloquently as always — saying he regretted not writing a book about his old boss.

Mitch Wilk, a former member of the Public Utilities Commission and now retired both organized and helped pick up the tab.

Sacramento political consultant Sal Russo was instrumental in organizing the event but was unable to attend because of a previous commitment. Tom Hayes, appointed state treasurer by Deukmejian after the death of Jess Unruh also contributed to the event. (See below for a complete list of sponsors and organizers.)

Among the other attendees were Leo Trombatore, former CalTrans director; Jannane Sharpless, Deukmejian’s environmental secretary and Jesse Huff, one of Deukmejian’s finance directors. Also present, snapping away with her camera, was Maureen Higgins, part of Deukmejian’s legislative unit and Karen Morgan, another legislative unit fixture. Ron Rinaldi, who handled labor issues and Cal-OSHA stuff for the Deuk, was also there looking like he hadn’t aged a day.

Several staffers from Deukmejian’s 1982 campaign who have gone on to big things were there including Lisa Rawlins, a press aide who now is senior vice president for studio and production affairs at Warner Bros. Entertainment. Her old boss, Kevin Brett, who went on to become one of Deukmejian’s gubernatorial press secretaries, was also there.

So was Rick Davis, advance man extraordinaire who – the world comes full circle – has a son who plays soccer with one of Deukmejian’s grandsons. Davis and his wife Joanne run the aptly named Davis Group, a Long Beach public affairs firm.

Possibly winning the traveling-the-farthest-to-attend award was Jim Robinson, Deukmejian’s former speechwriter – Remember IOU to A-OK? – who flew from Washington DC where he is a senior vice president and counselor to the president of the US Chamber of Commerce.

Sue Glad – the mother hen of Deukmejian’s 1982 campaign and his scheduler both in 1982 and in the governor’s office had a blast and so did her avuncular husband, Ned.

Now retired, Fred Karger flew up from Los Angeles. Karger was one of the three principles at the Dolphin Group, the campaign firm created by the late Bill Roberts when he split from Stu Spencer. The Dolphin Group ran Deukmejian’s campaign for attorney general and governor.

Spencer and Roberts were pioneers in campaign management and orchestrated Reagan’s gubernatorial wins.

Besides Roberts, also attending in spirit were: Mike Franchetti, Deukmejian’s first finance director and his steady chief deputy at the Department of Justice, Tony Anthony, who ran the Division of Law Enforcement at Justice and then General Services  during the governship, David kennedy, head of the Department of Water Rresources and Chad Chaderjian, head of corrections. 

The organizers should have considered a raffle to guess how many positions in state government attendees Cliff Allenby and Del Pierce held. (Double digits, for sure) One of Pierce’s jobs was Anthony’s chief deputy at the Department of Justice.

Numerous members of Deukmejian’s governor’s office staff attended. Linda Peyronel, personnel director and Sandy Sharrer, an accounting officer under Deukmejian and CFO of the Governor’s Office for Gov. Schwarzenegger, manned the reception table.

Also present were Lorrie Ward and her husband Chuck, who met when Deukmejian was Attorney General. She, Lorrie Barbian at the time, was Deukmejian’s executive assistant; Ward was the head of Deukmejian’s security detail. A former Los Angeles motorcycle cop, Ward can be seen in a cameo role in Peter Sellers’ movie, The Party.

Former Sen. Chuck Poochigian and his wife, Debbie – just elected a Fresno County supervisor – attended. Poochigian, an appointments secretary for Deukmejian, has never been shy about expressing his admiration for the former governor.

Hail and hearty and three weeks away from turning 88 was former Assembly Speaker Bob Monagan, GOP leader of the Assembly when Deukmejian served in the lower house during the 1960s.

 At the same table was the redoubtable William T. Bagley, a GOP Assembly member who also served with Deukmejian in the Assembly and was later named a University of California regent by Deukmejian. Always quick with a quip, Bagley joins octogenarians Deukmejian and Monagan on June 29.

Sue Sims, now the communications director at the Department of Water Resources, compiled a touching and humorous slide show including Deukmejian and his extended gubernatorial staff in front of the state Capitol, all wearing Groucho Marx glasses with fake eyebrows and moustaches. There was far less shiny hair in the photos of the attendees taken in the 1980s.

Besides the slide show, several former governor’s office staffers, including Associate Justice Marvin Baxter of the California Supreme Court, treated guests to a toast/roast of Deukmejian.

The staid Baxter was Deukmejian’s appointments secretary. Baxter’s assistant during the Deukmejian years was Tim Flanigan, the evening’s master of ceremonies and now a Sacramento lobbyist.  

Flanigan described Baxter as a slow talker with a fast mind. 

Baxter took credit for being the button-down Deukmejian’s “charisma coach.”

Rod Blonien, who worked for Deukmejian both as governor and prior to that in the Attorney General’s office from 1978, was one of the administration’s more gifted practical jokers.

He recounted how Mother Theresa was scheduled to call Deukmejian and urge him not to execute Robert Alton Harris whose death penalty appeals were exhausted. She was to call Monday.

On Friday, Blonien called impersonating the nun.

“I thought you were calling Monday,” said Lorrie Ward, still Deukmejian’s gatekeeper.

“It is Monday here,” Blonien replied in a frail voice. “Please tell Governor Deukmejian to let the no-good bastard fry.”

To illustrate the sense of humor of Gloria Deukmejian, the governor’s wife of 51 years, Blonien recalled the Deukmejian’s three beagles – Sniffer, Barry and Puff – who had a tendency to tear up the backyard of the suburban Sacramento home that served as the governor’s mansion for Deukmejian and later Pete Wilson and Gray Davis.

Barbequing in the backyard, Deukmejian complained of fleas biting him.

“George, don’t worry about it. Next weekend I’ll buy two flea collars and put one on each of your legs,” Blonien said Gloria replied.

The one recurring theme of each speaker was praise for Deukmejian’s honesty and integrity. Baxter noted he had the highest approval rating of any governor of the past 45 years. Baxter, of course, attributed Deukmejian’s popularity to charisma.

Steve Merksamer, Deukmejian’s first chief of staff and now a Sacramento political lawyer, described California’s 35th governor as a “friend, mentor and role model” who governed “not by focus groups and spin but by adherence to principle.”

He read a poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland he said described Deukmejian and his administration:

“A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands; men and women whom the lust of office does not kill; men and women who the spoils of office cannot buy; men and women who possess opinions and a will; men and women who have honor; men and women who will not lie.”

Donna Lucas, a deputy press secretary for Deukmejian and now head of local public affairs firm presented Deukmejian with a bench in Capitol Park on behalf of those attending that will be completed in September.

Deukmejian said he was a little troubled that the other monuments and benches were dedicated to dead people.

 As Deukmejian stepped up to speak, Lucas chanted, “Four more years.”

Quipped Deukmejian: “I thought you were a friend.”

Deukmejian introduced his children, Leslie, Andrea and George, their spouses and he and Gloria’s grandchildren.

He said he and Gloria were proud “to have these wonderful children and wonderful sons-in-law and daughter-in-law because they’re such good people and such good parents.”

After reading several political memoirs recently, Deukmejian told the crowd he decided he wanted to write one himself. He said he contacted a publisher and told Gloria the publisher was contemplating a $100,000 advance.

“Do you really think we can afford to pay that?” Deukmejian said she replied.

Always proud of the number of couples created by his administration, Deukmejian asked for a show of hands of  how many were in the audience.

My wife and I are one of those couples, meeting on Deukmejian’s 1982 campaign. The hand of our sister-in-law, Sue Lipper, also shot up as did those of the Wards, among others.

Of his administration, Deukmejian said: “We kept our promises. We made California safer and more prosperous.

Tallying it up, Deukmejian told the crowd he had now lived 29,288 days.

“Old age is like everything else – to make a success of it you have to start when you’re young. Now if I buy something new I don’t have to worry about it wearing out. My secrets are safe because I can’t remember them.”

The GOP governor said he now drives a car with 178,000 miles on it.

“I have no car phone. No security detail. My GPS system consists of a road map and Gloria. I have no assistant. No e-mail. No text messaging. No blog. No iPod. I don’t even Yahoo or Google. You can live happily with a landline telephone and a fax machine.”

It was obvious to the crowd that Deukmejian wasn’t kidding when he described himself as a “very happy” man.

“I don’t have any frustrations. The last frustration I had was golf and I gave that up.”

Prompting a standing ovation, Deukmejian concluded:

“If we have another of these reunions in five years, I’m planning to be here.”





Organizing Committee: 

Rod Blonien

Merrill Jacobs

Susan Lipper

Donna Lucas

Steve Merksamer

Shannon Picciano

Sal Russo

Sandy Sharrer

Sue Sims

Larry Thomas

Kirk West

Mitch Wilk

Allan Zaremberg


 Reunion Sponsors: 

Joe Criscione, Markham Vineyards

Governor Deukmejian

Esque & Kathryn Frost

Tom Hayes

Merrill Jacobs

John Kautz, Kautz Ironstone Vineyards

Donna Lucas

Steve Merksamer

Sal Russo

Rob Saroyan

Sandy Sharrer

Larry Thomas

Mitch Wilk

Allan Zaremberg


Filed under: Governor


  1. Sorry to have missed this one. But first daughter’s high school graduation takes precedence…

    Comment by NoOneInParticular — 6.19.2008 @ 8:36 am

  2. Ageless Ron Rinaldi? Is there are Dorian Gray painting in someone’s closet. Yet, to think of it, he never did seem to get older: a decent guy working for a decent governor! Has Donna Lucas aged? I doubt it (safe!)Never mind………

    Comment by Pat Henning — 7.07.2008 @ 6:36 pm

  3. Tom: Not sure if it’s the same Ron Rinaldi as Oxford. This Rinaldi was the nead of the Labor Dept in California during that time. Does your friend live Ii Davis?

    Comment by admin — 11.17.2008 @ 2:32 pm

  4. To Governor and Gloria Deukmejian…and all my colleagues and friends, I am really sorry that I missed this wonderful reunion and birthday celebration…I have always attended everyone in the past, along with my sister (and appointee) Joyce. Unfortunately, I was recuperating at 51 from emergency (non-planned) 4-way by pass open heart surgery at Scripps La Jolla. Today it is the 30th Anniversary of the final tally that elected the Governor in 1982 at approximatley 6:30 a.m. in the morning at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. An all nighter for all of us and I remember fondly that we were so thankful that the last two counties to report during the night were Alameda and Orange…and Thank God, Orange County brought it home for the Governor. And the rest, we can say is history, and yet, seems like only yesterday. I was 27 then, hailing from San Diego and having the privilege to manage the Governor’s campaign in the primary and general in San Diego and Imperial County..and then to be lead (and only) Deputy to The Honorable Marvin Baxter in Appointments handling everything except judicial. It was an honor to be serving Governor Deukmejian under Steve Merksmer’s guidance and direction at such a change of new direction for Appointments both in philosophy, automatation with a goal of making appointments a priority and timely that led to the expansion and automation of this department as it stands today! It was a true honor to be at ground level during the first two years and to work with all you wonderful people that I treasure as friends and colleagues forever. I stand ready and offer my help and assistance to help/plan next reunion at any time! My Best, Richard L. Flannery 619-721-1557

    Comment by Richard L.Flannery — 11.07.2012 @ 2:55 pm

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