Thomas Kuchel

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Thomas Kuchel
Kuchel c. 1956
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1959 – January 3, 1969
Preceded byEverett Dirksen
Succeeded byHugh Scott
United States Senator
from California
In office
January 2, 1953 – January 3, 1969
Preceded byRichard Nixon
Succeeded byAlan Cranston
Controller of California
In office
February 11, 1946 – January 2, 1953
GovernorEarl Warren
Preceded byHarry B. Riley
Succeeded byRobert C. Kirkwood
Member of the California Senate
from the 35th district
In office
January 6, 1941 – February 11, 1946
Preceded byHarry Clay Westover
Succeeded byClyde A. Watson
Member of the California State Assembly
from the 75th district
In office
January 4, 1937 – January 6, 1941
Preceded byEdward Craig
Succeeded bySam L. Collins
Personal details
Thomas Henry Kuchel

(1910-08-15)August 15, 1910
Anaheim, California, U.S.
DiedNovember 21, 1994(1994-11-21) (aged 84)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Betty Mellenthin
(m. 1942)
EducationUniversity of Southern California (BA, LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Battles/warsWorld War II

Thomas Henry Kuchel (/ˈkkəl/ KEE-kəl; August 15, 1910 – November 21, 1994)[1] was an American politician. A moderate Republican, he served as a US Senator from California from 1953 to 1969 and was the minority whip in the Senate,[2] where he was the co-manager on the floor for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[3] Kuchel voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957,[4][5] 1960,[6] and 1964,[7] as well as the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,[8] the Voting Rights Act of 1965,[9][10] and the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court,[11] while Kuchel did not vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1968.[12]

Early life[edit]

Kuchel was born in Anaheim, Orange County, the son of Henry Kuchel, a newspaper editor and the former Letitia Bailey.[3][13][14] Kuchel attended public school as a child.[2] While he was at Anaheim High School, he was student body president, a yell leader and a member of the debate team. While there, he debated a team from Whittier High School, winning his own debate against his opponent and later intraparty rival, Richard Nixon.

Kuchel graduated from both the University of Southern California in 1932[2] and the University of Southern California Law School before he entered the state government.


Kuchel served in the California State Assembly from 1937 to 1941, in the California State Senate from 1941 to 1945, and as California State Controller from 1946 to 1953. During World War II, Kuchel was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

In 1953, Kuchel was appointed to the US Senate by Governor Earl Warren to fill the vacancy created after Republican Senator Richard Nixon was elected Vice President. Kuchel was elected to the remainder of Nixon's term in 1954 and to full terms in 1956 and 1962.

As a U.S. Senator, Kuchel had first attempted to steer clear of the factional infighting within the California Republican Party, which took place in the 1950s between Vice President Nixon, US Senate Republican Leader William F. Knowland, a conservative, and Republican Governor Goodwin J. Knight, a liberal. Known as a moderate, Kuchel eventually backed Knowland in his campaign to oust Knight in the Republican primary for governor in 1958. Knight then ran for the United States Senate, but he and Knowland both lost that year.

While running for a second full term in 1962, Kuchel pointedly refused to endorse ticket-mate Nixon's candidacy for governor in a heated race against incumbent Democrat Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr.[3] The 1962 election favored incumbents, as Brown beat Nixon by a comfortable margin and Kuchel coasted to victory. To date, Kuchel is the last Senatorial candidate to win all 58 California counties in a single election.

However, Kuchel broke with Knowland in 1964 when Knowland asked him to endorse Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination for president, and Kuchel instead endorsed Nelson Rockefeller, who narrowly lost the California presidential primary to Goldwater.[3] During his campaign for Rockefeller, Kuchel warned in campaign ads that the control of the right-wing movement in the California Republican party would lead to the destruction of the two-party system.[15]

Senator Kuchel with President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office, June 1968

While Kuchel was campaigning against Goldwater, a "vicious document" circulated that purported to be an affidavit signed by a Los Angeles police officer, saying that in 1949, he had arrested Kuchel. The document said that the arrest was for drunkenness while Kuchel had been in the midst of a sex act with a man. Four men were indicted for the libel: Norman H. Krause, a bar owner and ex-Los Angeles policeman, who had actually arrested two people in 1950 who worked in Kuchel's office for drunkenness; Jack D. Clemmons, a Los Angeles police sergeant until his resignation two weeks before his arrest; John F. Fergus, a public relations man for Eversharp, who was charged with possession of a concealed weapon and given a suspended sentence in 1947; and Francis A. Capell of Zarephath, New Jersey, the publisher of a right-wing newsletter.[16][17][18]

During the 1966 California gubernatorial primary, Kuchel was urged by moderates to run against conservative actor Ronald Reagan. Citing the hostilities of the growing conservative movement, Kuchel decided not to run. He instead issued a negative statement about the conservatives: "A fanatical neo-fascist political cult of right-wingers in the GOP, driven by a strange mixture of corrosive hatred and sickening fear that is recklessly determined to control our party or destroy it!" In May 1963, Kuchel attacked the right-wing movement in the Senate in a speech, describing them as not conservatives, but "radicals with a capital R" and that the movement defiled conservatism.[19][20]

Kuchel was one of thirteen Republican senators to vote in favor of Medicare. In 1981, he described himself as a progressive Republican, a type of Republican that governs for the many.[21]

Kuchel was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary in 1968 by conservative state Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Rafferty, who went on to lose the general election to Alan Cranston, the former State Controller, a position that had once been held by Kuchel himself. Kuchel returned to practicing law in California until his retirement, in 1981.[2]

He was appointed by the Supreme Court to represent the appellee in United States v. 12 200-ft. Reels of Film.[22]


He died of lung cancer on November 21, 1994, in Beverly Hills.[1][3][14]


Secretary of Defense and former White House Chief of Staff and CIA Director Leon Panetta began in politics as a legislative assistant to Kuchel. Panetta would cite Kuchel as "a tremendous role model."[23]

In August 2010, the Beverly Hills City Council paid tribute to Senator Kuchel on the 100th anniversary of his birth. His widow Betty Kuchel and daughter Karen Kuchel accepted a proclamation from then Councilman and now mayor William Warren Brien, a grandson of Governor Earl Warren, at the August 17th council meeting.


  1. ^ a b "Social Security Death Index". United States: The Generations Network. 2009. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d "Thomas Henry Kuchel". Retrieved 2009-12-12. Senator from California; born in Anaheim, Orange County, Calif., August 15, 1910; attended the public schools; graduated from the University of Southern California in 1932 and from the law school of the same university in 1935; admitted to the bar the same year and began practice in Anaheim, Calif.; member, State assembly 1936-1939; member, State senate 1940-1945, and while serving as State senator volunteered and was called to active duty in the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade), serving until 1945; State controller 1946-1953; appointed on January 2, 1953, and subsequently elected on November 2, 1954, as a Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Richard M. Nixon; reelected in 1956 and again in 1962 and served from January 2, 1953, to January 3, 1969; unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1968; Republican whip 1959-1969; resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C. and California, until his retirement in 1981; resided in Beverly Hills, Calif., until his death on November 21, 1994.
  3. ^ a b c d e Binder, David (24 November 1994). "Thomas H. Kuchel Dies at 84; Ex-Republican Whip in Senate". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-12. Thomas H. Kuchel, a Californian who spent 16 years in the United States Senate and who as Republican whip there played a vital role in enactment of major civil rights legislation in the 1960s, died on Monday night at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 84. He had been under treatment for lung cancer, said Dick Arnold, a former law partner.
  4. ^ "Senate – August 7, 1957" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 103 (10): 13900. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  5. ^ "Senate – August 29, 1957" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 103 (12): 16478. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  6. ^ "Senate – April 8, 1960" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 106 (6): 7810–7811. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  7. ^ "Senate – June 19, 1964" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 110 (11): 14511. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  8. ^ "Senate – March 27, 1962" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 108 (4): 5105. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  9. ^ "Senate – May 26, 1965" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 111 (2): 11752. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  10. ^ "Senate – August 4, 1965" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 111 (14): 19378. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  11. ^ "Senate – August 30, 1967" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 113 (18): 24656. Retrieved February 5, 2022.
  12. ^ "Senate – March 11, 1968" (PDF). Congressional Record. U.S. Government Printing Office. 114 (5): 5992. Retrieved February 18, 2022.
  13. ^ "Fourteenth Census of the United States (1920), Anaheim (8th Precinct), Orange County, California, Enumeration District: 54, Page: 1B, Lines: 27-30, household of Henry Kuchel". United States: The Generations Network. 1920-01-02. Retrieved 2009-10-01.
  14. ^ a b "California Death Index, 1940-1997". United States: The Generations Network. 2000. Retrieved September 29, 2009.
  15. ^ Nelson A. Rockefeller [Republican] 1964 Campaign Ad "Kuchel"
  16. ^ "The Smear". Time. 5 March 1965. Archived from the original on January 5, 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
  17. ^ "Surrenders On Charges In Kuchel Libel". Chicago Tribune. 25 February 1965. Archived from the original on 2012-10-24. Retrieved 2009-12-14. Francis. A. Capell, 57, one of four men indicted by the Los Angeles county grand jury for conspiracy to criminally libel Sen. Thomas H. Kuchel...
  18. ^ "Publisher Appears In Coast Libel Case". The New York Times. 25 February 1965. Retrieved 2009-12-14. Francis A. Capell of Zarephath, N.J., surrendered voluntarily here today to face an indictment charging him and three others with conspiracy to commit criminal libel against Senator Thomas H. Kuchel Republican of California.
  19. ^ Kabaservice, Geoffrey (2012). Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Studies in Postwar American Political Development). Oxford University Press, USA. p. 220. ISBN 978-0199768400.
  20. ^ Column: In late Orange County senator, one finds a Republican who would have stood up to Trump; Gustavo Arellano, The Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2021
  22. ^[bare URL]
  23. ^ Conversation with Leon Panetta, p. 2 of 5

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

California Assembly
Preceded by Member of the California Assembly
from the 75th district

Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Controller of California
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by United States Senator (Class 3) from California
Served alongside: William Knowland, Clair Engle, Pierre Salinger, George Murphy
Succeeded by
Preceded by Senate Minority Whip
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Nixon
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from California
(Class 3)

1954, 1956, 1962
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Everett Dirksen
Senate Republican Whip
Succeeded by
Hugh Scott
Preceded by Response to the State of the Union address
Served alongside: Howard Baker, George H. W. Bush, Peter Dominick, Gerald Ford, Robert Griffin, Mel Laird, Bob Mathias, George Murphy, Dick Poff, Chuck Percy, Al Quie, Charlotte Reid, Hugh Scott, Bill Steiger, John Tower
Title next held by
Donald Fraser, Scoop Jackson, Mike Mansfield, John McCormack, Patsy Mink, Ed Muskie, Bill Proxmire