Click here for information on the life of Ronald Reagan prior to his political career.
As a result of his travels on behalf of General Electric (who had hired him as a home office goodwill ambassador), he became convinced that big business was not the problem in the economy, it was big government. As a result, more Republican groups began to extend him speaking invitations. In the fall of 1962, he officially joined the Republican party. In 1964, he acted in his final film, playing a villain for the first and only time in “The Killers.” He also filmed 21 episodes for TV’s “Death Valley Days” but his career was shifting from the screen to the political stage.
On October 27, 1964, he delivered a speech “A Time for Choosing,” for Barry Goldwater unsuccessful run for President, catapulted him into a place of prominence within the Republican party—and that his “time for choosing” had also come. He never sought political life, but rather, it sought him. The more he spoke against the flaws of big government, the more people around him wanted him to fix those problems. He was full of ideas and solutions and was now being given the chance to implement them.
In 1965, his supporters convinced him to run for California Governor against Pat Brown, a liberal Democrat who would be seeking a third term. With the support of Holmes Tuttle and his group (“Friends of Ronald Reagan”), he won the election. He set about answering what was best for California—not about what was best for him in popularity—and a true leader was born. He faced a legislature was still dominated by the Democratic party who didn’t like the new governor telling them how to spend the taxpayers’ money.
While he wanted input on how these changes were being met and implemented, he was never concerned about the “political ramifications” for him personally. Because of his confident leadership, he was being considered as a leading presidential nomination contender as early as 1968. By that year, the spending cutbacks and additional income had begun to put Sacramento’s financial house back in order. He learned how to take advantage of the “line-item-veto” to remove unnecessary spending items from a bill. He also learned that the best way to get a stubborn legislature moving was not to go through them but go over their heads—right to their constituents—the people of California. He called legislators to explain why they should vote for his bills and with Nancy mastered the importance of socializing with, and getting to know, political opponents.
He was asked to enter the 1968 Presidential race as a “favorite son” candidate. This technique nominated a candidate based on their regional appeal and recognition, not necessarily for their specific political views or their likelihood of winning a nationwide election. He would only stay a candidate until the national convention, at which time he would free his delegates to support another candidate. However, at the August 1968 Convention, the California delegates decided to keep his name in as an official candidate and voted for him. When the convention showed a clear majority for former Vice President, Richard M. Nixon, Reagan took the floor and made a motion that the delegates nominate Nixon by acclamation. Reagan was now a name on the national scene.
The late 1960s was a time of great unrest, especially on college campuses. Students of the University of California’s (UC) nine campuses were unhappy with their large classes, often taught by teaching assistants rather than professors and started to protest. What began as a legitimate complaint, evolved into a dangerous upheaval—jeopardizing the safety of everyone on or near these campuses. The UC Berkeley campus was especially volatile and within one eleven-month period, there were eight bombings and attempted bombings on this campus alone. The president of the University, along with the mayor and police chief asked him to declare a “state of emergency.”
While he supported the Constitutional guarantee to the right of free speech and expression, there was nothing noble about a mob that injured others and burned and destroyed property. His response was, “Obey the rules or get out,” and he called in the National Guard to restore order. After that, there were no more attacks by rioters and peace began to return to the campuses again.
By the end of 1969, he felt that one term would not provide enough time to accomplish all the goals he had set. He would not be stopped until he accomplished his most important goal—reforming California’s bloated welfare program. In November 1970, he was elected to a second term as Governor of California, defeating the Speaker of the State Assembly, Jesse Unruh, a tax-and-spend liberal who from the beginning had been opposed to reforms.
To start his second term, he continued with his commitment to statewide reforms, turned his sights to the bloated state welfare program. The Welfare Reform Act (WRA) was signed into law in August of 1971 and included tightening of eligibility requirements for welfare aid and requiring those who were able to seek work to do so rather than continuing to receive benefits. His administration turned the tide of seeing welfare as an “entitlement” and moved toward the concept of “mutual obligation.” The WFA was called by many as “probably the most comprehensive” such initiative in American history and was the forerunner to eventual reforms at the federal level.
Reflecting on his eight years as Governor, he was proud of all he had accomplished: the state government was smaller, less costly, and more business-like; the government’s growth rate was less than the population growth, and the bureaucracy was more responsive to the public and much of the power and taxing authority that had been usurped by the state was returned back to the local communities. Although many wanted him to run for a third term, he felt that he had accomplished most of what he had set out to do, and in early 1975, Reagans left Sacramento and returned to Los Angeles.
The Ford Administration had offered to appoint him as Ambassador to the Court of St. James, or name him Secretary of Transportation or later Secretary of Commerce—but he declined all these offers. Instead, after leaving office, he worked with a consulting and public relations firm that began to book speeches for him and provide him with opportunities to write newspaper columns and give radio commentaries.
After toured a cattle ranch near Santa Barbara, CA., he purchased it in 1974 and named it “Rancho del Cielo” —Ranch in the Sky. This enabled him to return to his love of horseback riding and physical, hard work. He renovated much of the existing home and trails on the property himself. Although planning on spending the rest of his life there, he was constantly reminded that “a candidate doesn’t make the decision whether to run for office, the people make it for him.”
It soon became clear that people nationwide wanted him to run for President, so he sought the nomination. He was going after the Democrats and big government, not Gerald Ford. Reagan remained steadfast in his commitment to what was called the “Eleventh Commandment”—"Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”. He lost the nomination, but his strong showing laid the groundwork for the 1980 election.
On November 13, 1979, he became a candidate for the Presidency. Even though he abided by the “Eleventh Amendment,” he did a series of debates with the other candidates. After outshining them all, he selected George H. W. Bush (after being turned down by Ford) as his running-mate and announced his intention to defeat Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.
Carter had refused to meet Reagan in a nationally televised debate, but one week prior to the election, public pressure forced him to do so.