A Capitol Valentine’s Day Story

Over the years, members of the Legislature have engaged in any number of trysts, affairs and relationships, licit and illicit. Some were discovered, some weren’t.

But few resulted in anything remotely permanent.

One of the few was Jean Moorhead, formerly Macpherson, and Gordon Duffy.

 A Stanford grad with a masters in public health, Moorhead, a nurse, met Duffy, an optometrist who had been a Republican lawmaker from Hanford since 1964, in the mid 1970s when she was a Sacramento State nursing professor. Moorhead, who knew nothing of the Capitol, was charged with trying to change the mind of Assemblyman Duffy, chair of the lower house health committee, on legislation he authored which her nursing department colleagues opposed.

Jean Duffy

The bill would have allowed nursing aides to take courses and work their way up to become the equivalent of a baccalaureate nurse with a four-year college degree. 

On the day of her meeting, Moorhead was accompanied by her 5-year-old son, Glenn, who had an afternoon dentist appointment shortly after her scheduled meeting with Duffy.

In her 1994 oral history at the State Archives in Sacramento, Moorhead says she was in a bade mood – annoyed at having to meet with Duffy, at dragging her son around and getting him to his afternoon appointment.

“Finally then Gordon Duffy comes in and ushers me into his office,” she recalls in the oral history. “(He) asked me my little boy’s name, seated me across the room and then said, ‘Glenn, come here.’ Gordon opened his desk and he took out crayons and paper and said, ‘Here, maybe you’d like to draw.’ My jaw just dropped. He looked at me and said, ‘Well, I have four kids, you know.’  I thought, he’s a father, he’s not an arrogant legislator … there’s hope for this guy.”

Ten days after the meeting, Moorhead and a colleague from the nursing department are walking through Sacramento airport and spot Duffy. Moorhead tells her colleague he won’t remember me, legislators see all kinds of people everyday.

Duffy spots here, walks over and asks, “Did you get to the dentist on time?” Then he changes his seat assignment so he can sit with the two women on the flight and directs the sergeant-at-arms picking him up at the airport to drop them at their meeting.

“That was sort of the beginning,” Moorhead says.

Later, she sought his advice about her running for the Eastern Sacramento County centered 5th Assembly District. Duffy, who didn’t know her political registration until she told him, encouraged her.

He became her mentor, introducing her to political types.

“(Gordon) opened the door. He’d arrange a lunch and whatnot. Out of that some the movers and shakers in Sacramento got interested and they said, ‘Maybe this woman has some kind of chance.’ “

Running as a Republican, she won the seat in 1978 with 62 percent of the vote. She switched parties in 1981, the first sitting lawmaker to do so in 22 years after being wooed by Democrats and angering Republican lawmakers by making a 30-second radio ad endorsing the re-election of Democratic Assemblyman Lou Papan of Millbrae.

She was close to Papan and empathized with him.  Papan’s only son, John, was dying of rare congenital condition that is now named after him.

Prior to taping the radio ad, Papan had helped Moorhead when she was filming a campaign commercial which called for a lawmaker to walk with her down a Capitol corridor. She had planned on it being Duffy but as vice chair of Ways and Means he was stuck in committee.

She prevailed on Papan to step in which he quickly agreed to do.

Democrats, in particular Moorhead’s opponent, were furious with Papan and called on him to demand the ad be pulled, he refused.

“He stood up to the Democrats that wanted (the ad) pulled,” Moorhead recalls. I felt that he’d probably give me the shirt off his back if I really needed it and I decided to return the favor.”

Her endorsement, as she remembers it, was basically:

“I’m a freshman legislator, I am a Republican and I just want to say Lou Papan is a caring, compassionate person who helped me through my first term.”

She kept her party switch a secret, even from Duffy who she told in the member’s elevator as she descended to the Capitol’s first floor to the press conference at which she would announce it.

“I feel like one of my kids has just told they’re on dope.”

Three-fourths of the way through Moorhead’s press conference, Gov. Jerry Brown strode into the room to welcome her to the Democratic Party.

“Oh no,” Moorhead remembers thinking. “I’m not that kind of Democrat.”

Gordon Duffy

Moorhead and Duffy’s friendship did not blossom into romance – even though as a freshman Assemblywoman, her Capitol office was next to his.

In fact, he ceased being her confidante and mentor.

“The mentee outgrew the mentor,” Moorhead says.

In 1981 Moorhead became the lead author of legislation that for the first time required jail time or license suspension for drunk driving. She became the lead author because a woman named Candy Lightner, whose 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver.

Lightner, a founder of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, was walked into Moorhead’s office by B.T. Collins, then head of the California Conservation Corps.

In 1981, her marriage to George Moorhead collapsed. They tried to reconcile in 1983 but failed.

By 1984 she knew she would marry Duffy.

Duffy had left the Legislature in 1982 and was defeated by March Fong Eu for Secretary of State.

Gov. George Deukmejian named him his environmental affairs secretary.

Moorhead recalls social events were awkward with Republicans worrying she might overhear their “secrets.” Moorhead countered that the two had far more interesting topics to discuss than politics.

She and Duffy waited the “minimum appropriate time” after her divorce from became final and were engaged in February 1985. They eloped and were married in a chapel in Reno shortly afterwards.

“Just our families alone was 30 people, Moorhead told the Modesto Bee in March 26, 1985. “We already have 750 on the invitation list for our reception and we’re still not sure that we haven’t left some people out.”

 The third marriage for both, they had 10 children between them and, today, probably more than twice that number of grandchildren.

The reception was held in the Capitol Rotunda. Moorhead – now Jean Duffy – was told by her staff to get close to Deukmejian so they could have a photo of her with the GOP governor for use in her next campaign. Deukmejian kept trying top avoid her, standing instead with her husband.

“Even at the height of this wonderful wedding reception there were still all the political overtures getting ready for the next race.”

Realizing one reason her last marriage collapsed was because of politics, the New Mrs. Duffy didn’t want that to happen again.

A few months after their marriage, returning from a fall honeymoon in Scotland, Duffy announced she would not seek re-election the following year.

“I’m very, very happily married,” she told the Los Angels Times. As a politician, she said, “you’re expected to join every Chamber of Commerce, go to every local function and have the clothes for it. It’s time for me to spend time with my children.”

The couple opened a lobbying firm – Duffy & Duffy – then retired to Sea Ranch in 1988. The State Archives say the two were still living there in 2001.

They now reside in Santa Rosa where Gordon, 87, and Jean, 74, are still living happily ever after 27 years.

Said Gordon in a 2010 bio as a director of the National Church Library Association: “We enjoy travel and have for the past decade spent about half the year in the highlands of Scotland where we hike the hills of the Cairngorm National Park.”

Sometimes politics make strangely compatible bedfellows.



Filed under: California History

1 Comment »

  1. Gordon Duffy was a fine and able legislator. He conspired with Willie Brown in the days when Republicans and Democrats could do such for good policy. Together they created that which did not exist and which was opposed by both Doctors and Nurses. Physician Assistants and Nurse Practioners. They created high quality pathways for foreign trained dentists to become dentists in California and they forced the University of California to locate their Medical Training Hospitals in core urban areas rather than isolated suburban locations that the University had insisted on. I am greatful that he is still alive and happy with his wonderful wife. John Mockler

    Comment by john mockler — 2.14.2012 @ 11:27 pm

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