Birthday: June 6, 1928
Died At Age: 89
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Courken George Deukmejian Jr.
Born Country: United States
Born in: Menands, New York, United States
Famous as: Former Governor of California
Spouse/Ex-: Gloria Deukmejian (m. 1957)
father: Courken George Deukmejian
mother: Alice Gairden
Died on: May 8, 2018
place of death: Long Beach, California, United States
U.S. State: New Yorkers
education: Siena College, Rittenberg Law Library St. John's University, St John's University Queens Campus
Who was George Deukmejian?
George Deukmejian was an American Republican politician who served as the 35th Governor of California. A well-respected, honest and down-to-earth man, his approval ratings as governor surpassed that of former governor Ronald Reagan. He was the son of Armenian immigrants who fled to the USA to escape the genocide in the Turkish Ottoman empire. It is probably because of his family’s history that public safety became paramount in his governorship. He was brought up in a small village near the Hudson River. After his school years, he studied sociology and law and became involved in the Republican party. Drafted into the army after his university education, he spent a couple of years in Paris. Returning to USA, he settled in California and soon got involved in public life. Starting as a state senator, he gradually rose the ranks to win the governorship of California. As a governor, his tight-fisted approach to fiscal matters earning him the sobriquet ‘Iron Duke’. He also used an iron hand in matters of law and order, building prisons, appointing hardliner judges and banning assault weapons. Never the one to seek limelight, he refused to be considered as a running mate for George H.W. Bush deciding that governing California was a bigger priority. After serving as governor for two terms he did not run again and joined a law firm. After retiring from the firm, he served in various special committees. He passed away at the age of 89.
Childhood & Early Life
Courken George Deukmejian Junior was born to Armenian immigrant parents on June 6, 1928, in a small village called Menands, New York, USA. His father Courken George Deukmejian and mother Alice Gairden had escaped from the Ottoman empire in the early 1900s.
While his parents spoke Armenian, Turkish and English, George and his sister Anna were taught only English. This made him oppose bilingual education in classrooms all his life.
Deukmejian’s childhood home was next to the local police station and a volunteer fire department. He would often hitch rides to school on the sidecar of the officers’ motorbikes. While at school he was a choir boy and an acolyte.
At home, the children were bought up with old-world values of respect to elders and hard work. Young George was expected to stand up whenever his mother entered the room.
Deukmejian did odd jobs throughout his high school days. At different times he worked at a butcher, made coat hangers and also picked crops at a farm.
Deukmejian majored in Sociology from Siena College, Loudonville, New York in 1949. His inclination towards politics started during his college days when he attended a Republican Convention in Philadelphia as a sergeant of arms for the Albany contingent.
He volunteered for the 1948 presidential campaign of Thomas Dewey and also worked for the 1952 campaign of Dwight Eisenhower.
He went to St. John’s University in New York City where he earned a Doctorate in Jurisprudence. During this time, he earned money by working as a building pipe-fitter in New York.
He was then drafted into the Army and trained at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He was supposed to be sent to Europe as part of an infantry unit but he was able to get the commission changed to Army Judge Advocate Corps in Paris for two years.
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After returning from Paris in 1955, George Deukmejian moved to California to be near his sister. He got a job at ‘Texaco’ in the land and lease department. He then got a job at the Los Angeles County as the deputy county counsel.
In 1958 George Deukmejian opened a law firm in Long Beach. During this time, he also got actively involved with many civic groups such as the ‘Lion’s club’, the ‘Red Cross’, the ‘Boy Scouts’ etc. He soon rose to prominence in the area and was named the ‘Man of the Year’ in 1959.
Deukmejian entered active politics in 1962 when he won the elections to the Assembly after fighting the election on the platform of reducing crime and communism. One of his first acts after moving to Sacramento was to introduce a crime bill with the intent of imposing the death penalty for armed robbery.
In 1966, he moved from the Assembly to the Senate as a State Senator and stayed in this position for the next 12 years.
Through the 1970s, he campaigned for the death penalty which had been suspended by the Supreme Court and was successful in restoring it in California.
In 1970, he announced his candidacy for Attorney General but was unsuccessful in winning the election. He finally got elected in 1978 and served his term till 1983.
Deukmejian made sure that he stood out as a crime fighter during his tenure as Attorney General. He once even accompanied police officers in a raid of marijuana fields in North California.
Deukmejian became the governor of California in 1982 when he defeated Democrat Tom Bradley, Mayor of Los Angeles, by a narrow margin.
He took office with a 1.5 billion budget crisis left behind by his predecessor Jerry Brown. He, however, strongly opposed raising “general taxes”. Luck favoured him and an economic upturn during the year took care of the budget deficit.
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Deukmejian ran for the governor’s office a second time in 1986 and defeated Tom Bradley yet again. As a governor, he used his veto power for 2298 bills during his tenure and earned the nickname ‘Governor No’.
Restoring law and order remained his primary focus. During his terms, he oversaw the building of 8 prisons which cost $3.3 billion and is considered the largest prison construction program in the United States.
As a governor, Deukmejian had the power to make judicial appointments and he used it to appoint judges who took a strict stance on crime. He also overturned the appointment of Rose Bird, the controversial chief justice of California’s Supreme Court who opposed the death penalty.
Deukmejian ruled with an iron hand in fiscal matters, the downside of it was that he was constantly proposing budget cuts in state-funded education and health programs. Things changed slightly towards the end of his second term.
One of his most significant contributions was a 10-year transportation improvement plant costing $18.5 billion which was financed by increasing the gas tax to 9 cents per gallon.
In 1988, Deukmejian was being considered as a possible running mate of George H.W.Bush. Deukmejian refused to give up the governorship and requested that he not be considered for nomination.
Under Deukmejian’s governorship military-style assault weapons were banned in California making it the first state to do so. This was precipitated by an incident on January 17, 1989, where 5 children were killed at a Stockton school by a person named Patrick Purdy carrying an AK-47.
On October 1, 1989, Deukmejian approved a health insurance program which made it possible for people suffering from serious illnesses like AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart disease to buy subsidized health insurance.
George Deukmejian chose not to run for governorship for the third time. He retired on January 7, 1991.
George Deukmejian had said that it took him about five minutes to settle into a normal private life after his governorship got over. He had said it was a relief to not have to wake up with the cares of 30 million people on his shoulder.
He joined the ‘Sidley & Austin’ in Los Angeles in 1991 and worked there for the next ten years.
As a senior statesman, he counselled and advised several GOP candidates and continued to attend Republican events.
Awards & Recognitions
In 2008, he received an honorary doctorate in Law from the California State University, Long Beach.
In 2013 a Long Beach Courthouse was named in his honor.
Family & Personal Life
George Deukmejian met his wife Gloria Saatjian through his sister Anna Ashjian at a wedding. Like himself, Gloria was also a daughter of immigrant parents and a graduate of Los Angeles Art School. They married on February 16, 1957.
George and Gloria Deukmejian had two daughters Leslie Gebb and Andrea Pollak and a son George Deukmejian Jr.
Deukmejian died on May 8, 2018, in Long Beach, California. He was 89 years old.