Stu Spencer—The Way We Were; The Way We Should Be

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist


Recently, a bevy of political “pros” gathered in Palm Desert to celebrate the 90th birthday of Stu Spencer, the pioneering political consultant who guided Ronald Reagan into the Governorship of California in the 1960s and then into the Presidency in 1980.  The event was a reminder of how things have changed in the political game—and not for the better.

Spencer is very much an old-school pol.  He is irreverent, profane and sensible.  That doesn’t mean that he lives in the past.  Spencer has long been one of the loudest voices calling for the GOP to reach out to Latino voters or risk electoral irrelevance—witness California.

The party-goers were mostly Republicans—headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Governor Pete Wilson—plus a smattering of Democrats and journalists.  One wag described the revelers as “the gang who could shoot straight.”

There was no love lost in this crowd for President Donald Trump and his modus operandi—mostly head shaking and some pure bewilderment.  Spencer, in his remarks, made it clear that “Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan” and alluded to the importance of “class” in political winners and losers.  He also lamented the court decisions that have opened the floodgates of money that have swamped our political system.

After joking that a good thing about turning 90 is that “all your enemies are dead”, Spencer fondly remembered some of his longtime Democratic adversaries, like the late Assembly Speaker and State Treasurer Jess Unruh, for whom, ironically, Spencer consulted when Unruh ran for L.A. mayor in 1973.  Spencer’s musings were a reminder that there was a time when political fights could be put aside for civility and even camaraderie.

Stu Spencer succeeded not just because of his strategic brilliance, but also because of his great, good sense, his perseverance and his ability to reach out beyond grudges and political warfare.  He stands for an era when politics was a joyful profession and competition didn’t equate with personal animosity.  At 90, he remains a voice of reason in an unreasonable political world.

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