Culbert Olson

29th Governor, Democrat

Inaugural Address

Delivered: January 2, 1939


It is an honor to be chosen the people's representative in any position of public service. It is a trust, the violation of which through word or deed, according to my concept, is a form of treason. How deeply I sense the honor of being elected by the people of California as their Chief Executive can be known only to me. Mere words could not express it. Words would fail me if I tried to utter them on this solemn occasion of taking my oath of office.

I approach my responsibilities with humility. I intend that faithfulness to the trust imposed in me shall ever mark my administration. It is my sincere desire that the record of this administration's accomplishments, with due allowance for honest mistakes, will in time convince the people of the sense of duty that weighs upon my heart and conscience.

I wish to assure every citizen that I enter the high office of Governor of our great State free of all prejudices, even against those who most bitterly, and sometimes unfairly, opposed my election. I respect honest differences of philosophy and viewpoint on public policies. Marked differences in partisan opinion, for the most part, arise out of differences in understanding our common problems and the methods necessary to meet them through government. These are but the natural and healthy attributes of a functioning democracy.

Every person in California, regardless of party, color, creed or station in life, must know that, not only am I without prejudice, but I regard it as my sacred duty, under the oath I have taken today, to protect every person's civil liberties, and equality before the law, with every power at my command. These are precious rights. The founders of our republic and the preservers of the Union made supreme sacrifices for these rights. They are the very cornerstone of our democracy.

As we witness destruction of democracy elsewhere in the world, accompanied by denial of civil liberties and inhuman persecutions, under the rule of despots and dictators, so extreme as to shock the moral sense of mankind, it seems appropriate that we Californians, on this occasion, should announce to the world that despotism shall not take root in our State; that the preservation of our American civil liberties and democratic institutions shall be the first duty and firm determination of our government.

America has built enormously productive facilities for manufacturing. Our scientists, engineers and technicians have literally recreated the world in which we live. It is now well known that we have both the capacity and the ability to produce abundantly for all. But these advances, wonderful as they are, have brought along their own new and extremely difficult problems. We are a long, long way from the goal of social justice. We have yet failed to solve the question of distribution that attends our newly developed productive skills and capacities. This failure has plunged us into hard times and depressionùthe longest and most persistent in modern times.

But with all of our seeming failure; with all our difficulties and economic mal-adjustments; despite the puzzling paradox of unemployment and poverty in the midst of potential plenty, every right-thinking citizen, native or foreign born, regards his American citizenship as his most precious possession. He knows that it is a part of the sovereign power of the people to guide their own destinies.

Confronted by economic and social crisis, are we going to move forward toward the destiny of true democracy, or slide backward toward the abyss of regimented dictatorship?

In the final analysis, this depends upon the intelligence with which the people exercise their franchise, upon the wisdom and integrity of their leadership; and upon the courage with which we face our problems.

Until all the electorate shall have the benefit of a free education to aid them in the expression of their citizenship, it may be expected that in the future, as in the past, a large proportion may be confused and guided away from their purpose to go forward for their collective welfare, by deliberately false or selfish propaganda, superficial considerations, or provincial circumstances. Such impediments may delay, but they must not be permitted to defeat the ultimate successful working of American democracy.

The seriousness of today's crisis in our economy brings home to the people in every walk of life the realization of their dependence upon each other and gives impetus to social progress. New social concepts are born through pain and distress brought upon the people by great industrial depressions such as we have been suffering. Every individual is forced to realize that he is a social being, not an independent self-sufficient entity.

This has given us a national administration with a social viewpoint, with a new deal program of government service to the immediate needs of a people left in despair by the total failure of the sterile policies of the old order that are wholly dependent for industrial activity upon the promotions, exploitations and aggrandizement of large scale private enterprise.

Independent businessmen who find themselves bankrupt after years of constructive effort begin to wonder whether the profit, or capitalistic system, is doomed to final and complete failure. But they look with distrust and misgiving upon any radical change to a new order in our industrial life. The American people are slow to make drastic changes. They feel their way, and they are feeling their way under President Roosevelt's progressive administration and courageous effort to reform our economic system, by providing measures for the protection of labor, direct aid to the farmer, to industry, to home owners, low cost housing, social security, work relief and other social welfare programs. Whether all such progressive activities are wholly or partially successful, either as temporary expedients or as permanent programs, they have saved and are saving the present economy from utter collapse. They point the way forward--toward the achievement of the aspiration of the people for an economy that will afford general employment, abundant production, equitable distribution, social security and old age retirement, which our country, with its ample resources, great facilities and the genius of its people, is capable of providing.

Progress toward that goal is the purpose of all true liberals and of the liberal movement within the party to which I belong.

The results of recent elections in certain of our States are interpreted by a few as indicating a set-back to these liberal and progressive policies. By more impartial observers, they are attributed to local factors unrelated to any issue as between liberalism and reaction.

However those incidents may be interpreted, it is certain that the American people can not go backward, if our democracy is to endure. They must go forward with further measures calculated to improve their general welfare and eliminate every form of special privilege or class control in our economic system.

The people of California emphatically declared in our recent election that this State shall go forward, not only in support of the new deal measures of the National Government under President Roosevelt, but also with State measures having the same objectives.

The people approve the sound, sensible and thoroughly progressive platform of principles and policies upon which my associates and I were elected. They have given a mandate to you and to me to translate those principles into law and sound government procedure as promptly and effectively as it is possible to do.

There should be little room for doubt in our minds as to the kind of government the people of California demand. The issues were clear and the decision rendered at the polls was so conclusive as to leave each of us no false or shadowy concept as to the road we are to follow. There is none among us who can doubt that the people have voted for a government that shall honestly place human values before material values; that they want a government that will do the human thing in a sound and workable way, unswerved by pressure from any self-seeking group or special interest.

With that mandate, I approach my duties as Chief Executive, confidently relying upon your fullest cooperation. The people expect such cooperation from you and I shall rely upon your willingness to cooperateùyour willing assistance in performing that mandate. I am certain that you, as well as I, deem it a solemn duty to respond to the will of the people. Good faith, unselfish, nonpartisan cooperation between the legislative and executive branches of our government is expected of us. We must not fail in our duty!

All of us, of all parties, employers, employees, the professions, the unemployed, the youth, the aged, and the helplessùare primarily concerned in the achievement of a common goal; a higher and more equitable standard of living, a higher and more cultured standard of thinking; the replacement of prejudice with reason; the eradication of the causes for class consciousness and group antagonisms, and a citizenship motivated by a sense of social and civic responsibility.

The people of California want employment, a decent standard of living, education, opportunities for youth, social security, old age retirement, protection against pauperism and starvation. Activities in private industry and individual enterprise must be guided by these social objectives, if our present economy is to survive.

Owners of capital and means of production and distribution must realize their responsibility to societyùnot to radically engage in human exploitation, but to conservatively engage in management for human advancement. They must be satisfied with stability and permanency of investments for strictly conservative and safe returns. Our policies in the field of industrial relations will be to aid in establishing this sound basis for industrial activity.

With assurance guaranteed by our Constitution that no confiscatory purpose will be found in any of our acts as representatives of the people, who are sworn to uphold their Constitution, honest business has nothing to fear from this administration. But any and all efforts, in the name of business, to defeat the general welfare, to obtain special or selfish privileges, will be vigorously opposed. Any effort to extend a corrupting tentacle into any department of our State government will be pilloried and those responsible for it will be found and punished to the full extent of the power given the executive branch.

This administration will function both on behalf of the economically submerged part of our population, whose poverty presents the greatest challenge to the success of democracy and the preservation of the present economy, and on behalf of California's industries, employers and employees, and all citizens dependent for their well-being upon the healthy normal growth of the economic life of California.

Let me assure all business men and business organizations that in their transactions with the State they need neither political pull nor political lobbyists in order to obtain a fair hearing and a fair and a square deal under the law. Legitimate business concerned only in honest intelligent enactment, and honest and efficient administration of law, may only injure its own cause before the people and with this administration, by employing professional political lobbyists to represent it in its dealing with the State.

We need,we must have,a larger production and use of consumer goods in California. Increased business and the steady employment of all our employable citizens upon a decent American standard of living is necessary to that accomplishment.

We must reduce the burden of taxes which private industry and those employed in it are now required to bear in order to support in pauperism those for whom employment can not be found.

That part of the Federal Government's work relief spending allotted to our State, generous though it is, finds employment for only about one-fifth of the unemployed employable residents of California, and the discontinuance of even this inadequate relief work is threatened.

New avenues of employment must be created by California's industries or by the State, or by both. To this end, business, labor and government must cooperate with a new sense of their individual and collective responsibilities. We must work hand in hand for the general welfare.

We know, of course, that the problems and responsibilities of California industry in recent years have been multiplied in number and complexity as State and national incomes have decreased and general unemployment has been met only by doles, debt, and increased taxes.

Instead of idly theorizing on causes, we must face conditions and meet them with common sense and practical action. Unemployment and poverty is assuredly a condition which need not prevail in bountiful California.

I am not speaking of the unemployment of that negligible few who are drones in society, unwilling to work. Society owes them no obligation. We are concerned with honest, American citizens, looking for a place in our economic structure, willing to work; unwilling to accept or unwillingly accepting charity from government or private sources; all eager for an opportunity to engage in useful service and to live a life which expresses a natural personal pride and a natural aspiration for self-support. If we were facing impossible physical conditions: if we were not blessed with ample natural resources and productive power, our problem would indeed be distressing. Poverty might then be unavoidable, even to the most industrious. But our unbounded natural resources, our great productive powerùhuman and mechanicalùchallenge our intelligence to find the methods for general employment, for ample production and distribution of the things of life, for the needs and comforts of every deserving person, for educational advancement, and a cultural development to a higher, a more sensible, a more reasonable, a more enlightened and worthwhile civilization.

It is of supreme importance that we take actionùaction on the part of the government in cooperation with private industry to provide general employment, industrial activity and increased production and consumption by our own population of the various and sufficient commodities which our rich natural resources, plant facilities and man power amply afford.

Your government's part in this action should supplement, stabilize, stimulate and increase the growth of private industry, rather than injure it. Honest cooperation is all that is needed for peaceful progress toward general prosperity. A detailed study of the requirements of our various State agencies and institutions in preparation of the budget for the next biennium, soon to be presented to the Legislature, shows that we have inherited from previous administrations a deficit which will amount to a total of about forty-five million dollars by June 30, 1939, the end of the current biennium. California is and has been in the "RED" during the past two administrations. I do not refer to this for the purpose of placing blame on those previous administrations for an unbalanced budget, but to call attention to the serious financial problem we are facing, as will be more fully explained when our essential budget requirements are presented to the Legislature.

Our efforts have been and will be to eliminate all unnecessary costs, to abolish overlapping and duplicating agencies of government, and to practice every reasonable and practical economy, without crippling or eliminating necessary State services.

With all possible economy, a heavy tax burden, during the next biennium, can not be avoided.

The distressing problem of mounting taxes is, of course, directly linked with the problem of unemployment and relief.

We face the continued necessity of meeting nearly one hundred million dollars per biennium, to pay small cash doles to those now on State relief, without furnishing any relief to some two hundred and seventy-five thousand eligible applicants who, with their families, can not now find a place on our relief rolls. Only a definite policy of tax relief through self-help employment can relieve the taxpayers of the State from this staggering and increasing burden.

In order that we may discontinue, as soon as possible the maintenance of employable people in idleness, I submit to the intelligence of the legislators, to the intelligence of the taxpayers, to the intelligence of the industrialists and business men of the State, to the intelligence of the unemployed themselves, that we should substitute for the present policy of paying niggardly cash doles for unemployment relief, a new policy of placing the unemployed at productive work to support themselves.

In the field of private industry, the right of organized labor to honest collective bargaining must be protected; minimum wages must be established and vigorously enforced to maintain a decent American standard of living; vocational training must be extended, and the doors of employment and of opportunity for advancement, through useful and meritorious service, must be opened to the eager, splendid youth of our State. Youth's social-minded ideals, developed while in training for lifetime service, must not be shattered upon their entrance to adult life by a selfish, cold unwelcome world.

California's elderly citizens have taken the lead in bringing the general public to the realization of the plight of those who, having served their best years in American industry, must be left to spend their declining days in poverty and misery, unless social security programs provide for their retirement in health and comfort.

Old age pensions must be furnished by those who are producing and by the machinery of production.

Public support of the old or the young can only be furnished by taxation in one form or another.

When other states fail to provide aid for their aged, equal to ours, it may naturally be expected that their citizens approaching the eligible age will seek residence here. This places a disproportionate share of the tax for this worthy social purpose upon our State. For the purpose of uniformity, it is necessary that old age pensions, in their entirety, be financed by the Federal Government. We shall continue to urge an adequate Federal old age security program. Meantime we shall favor State aid for pensions to the aged to the limit that State finances will permit. That limit, however, because of the tax necessary for present unemployment relief, may for a time at least, be very nearly reached. But as our tax burden is linked with unemployment, so is it linked with the need for old age pensions. More liberal old-age pensions may be anticipated when the unemployed are placed at productive work for their own support and the heavy tax burden for unemployment relief is thus reduced.

That great and important part of our State's populationùthe farmers who are compelled to market their products at a price below the cost of production, have patiently carried on their struggle, but with just discontent over this unnecessary condition. In recent years, the California farmer has bravely faced the impact of overwhelming economic forces. He has stood by while his export markets have rapidly dwindled. He has suffered the shock of innumerable technological developments, in both industry and agriculture. He has been affected by the same powerful and unrelenting swings in price and supply which have wrought havoc in the lives of our city people as well.

The courageous endeavors of the farmers of California in meeting their problems, shall receive every deserving service within the power of this administration to render. Assistance on the part of the State shall be to develop markets and marketing methods which will bring the products of the soil to the consumer with the least possible toll to intermediary agencies; to protect the former's[sic] income against demoralizing competitive trade practices; to find an outlet for those surplus products of the farm for which a market has not heretofore been found.

If minimum prices for our farm and dairy products are safeguarded against selfish, unfair trade combines in the retail distributive field, and if the spread of profit between producer and consumer is placed on an equitable basis, a greater consumer demand is certain to result. Low cost distributionùwhich means the elimination of excessive and exorbitant profits to the nonproducing elements in our economic systemùis a matter which demands a new spirit of cooperation and active governmental service. It shall be the business of this State administration to see to it that unjustified distributive profits shall not be exacted at the expense of either the producer or the consumer. In this we shall seek and expect the cooperation of those engaged in legitimate distributive services, to insure a fair and reasonable return to all concerned.

We shall work hand in hand with the national administration, in aiding our farmers in flood control, in the prevention of waste by erosion, in afforestation and reforestation; in rural resettlement; in providing decent, healthy living conditions for agricultural labor; in obtaining money and credit at minimum interest rates; and in securing water and power through government owned and operated utilities, at the lowest possible cost.

I have long been committed to the proposition that where a service is or becomes necessary to the daily life or existence of all the people and is in effect a monopoly it should be owned and operated by the people through their own government. In this field of public utilities I see no justification for pyramiding private corporations owning or controlling the natural resources of the State and exacting tolls and profit, often exorbitant, out of a business which should be no more than a nonprofit service to the general public for its health, comfort, and welfare. The people can and should use their democracy and their government for their own well-being. In accordance with this principle this administration will, in all possible directions further public ownership and operation of public utilities.

There is a marked analogy in the circumstances of the present change of administration in the government of California and that which occurred over twenty-five years ago.

In 1910 the entire State government was under the almost complete domination and control of the principal public utility of the State and its affiliated interests. The people then drove this control from power. Since then, privately owned public utility interests and powerful oil and gas producing and distributing interests, have again moved in and have been exercising control of legislation and administration to such an extent that the natural resources of water, power, oil and gas have been exploited primarily for the enrichment of such interests. These resources have not been protected and their exploitation has not been regulated in the interest of the people.

With the aid of a subsidized daily press, and cleverly designed and costly publicity methods, they have from time to time influenced the people to vote against their own interests, through false and misleading propaganda.

As recent as the last November election will be found an illustration of this misguidance of the people by such false propaganda, resulting in their voting against ratification of the Garrison Revenue Bond bill passed by the Legislature in 1937, which would have enabled communities to finance the acquisition or building of their power plants or other public utilities by the issuance and sale of revenue bonds. A thoroughly organized campaign, financed from moneys received from the people for public utility services, was carried on, which falsely told the voters that under this measure their homes and farms would be subjected to the lien of such revenue bonds. No agency of the common people was organized or had the necessary finances to meet this false propaganda. The past State administration failed to speak out in favor of the people's interests and against the perniciously false propaganda of the private utility corporations. It remained to some of us in the Legislature who supported this measure, and to a few other understanding citizens, to reach as many voters as we could with the truth.

Similar false propaganda defeated Senate Bill 579, for the protection of the people's interests in tideland oil and gas deposits at Huntington Beach. With the misleading slogan of "Save the Beaches," applied to a segment of the beach already ruined by oil wells, voters were misguided on that issue.

It shall be the policy of this administration to conserve and protect our great natural resources and control their exploitation in the common interest. The use of these resources and their products is essential to the lives of all of the people of the State, and must be obtained at the lowest possible cost to the people.

The construction of the great Shasta dam of the Central Valleys Project was instituted as a Federal Government project. The Federal Government looks to this State and to its subdivisions to be prepared to receive the benefits of this project, not only in the equitable distribution of its water, but in the utilization of its hydro-electric power, through public agencies. Unless public agencies are prepared with distributive facilities to receive such power upon the completion of this great project, a monopolistic power trust would be the only entity ready to contract with the Federal Government for the distribution of this power, with the result that the people of this and future generations would be forced to pay unnecessary and exorbitant tolls.

It shall be the purpose of this administration to promote the means for public ownership and operation of plants and distributive facilities for the distribution of this electric power to the people at cost.

During the next twelve months, millions of men, women and children will come as welcome visitors to our great Golden Gate International Exposition which opens on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay next month.

Symbolic as it is of the modern achievements of a progressive people, this Golden Gate International Exposition means for us something greater than a material display of the pride of human accomplishment. It is a fitting monument to the integrity and character of the people of this commonwealth. And it must signalize for all of us the permanent virtues of a united faith in the future destiny of California.

Fervently do we hope that the spirit of true friendship so magnificently exemplified by this exposition of modern progress will engender in each of us, as public servants, a noble appreciation of the everlasting value of unselfish devotion to the cause of honest, liberal, constructive, humane government.

For the successful accomplishment of the task confronting us, we shall call forth the best in each of us in a spirit of genuine devotion and supreme fidelity to the oath of office we take as we enter the service of our State.

Our hopes for progress are high; our desire for unity of action and accomplishment through a conscientious application of our respective talents and energies, is a grave concern of all alike. Surely, in each there is a full measure of loyalty and patriotism which will find expression during the months to come in advancing the welfare of the people of California.

Preelection battles are behind us. Let them remain behind us. Let us now approach our duties and our problems without bias or selfish purpose.

Memorable indeed should be this new year upon which we are embarking with courageous purpose to meet and solve our common problems.

With solemn recognition of my sacred duty to the people of California, I enter upon the Governorship, deeply conscious of the great work which lies before us in the interests of social and economic progress through liberal government.

Governor of California