Fifty-six years ago this month, Republican candidate Don Clausen and Democratic contender William Grader were in the midst of a well-watched bid to fill the seat of the late U.S. Rep. Clement Miller, who died Oct. 7, 1962, in a plane crash.
Miller — who was in office from January 1959 until his death — represented California’s 1st District, which at the time included Del Norte, Humboldt and other Northern California counties.
At the time he died, Miller was in the middle of a re-election bid, headed toward a victory in November 1962 over challenger Clausen, a Humboldt County native who was then a Del Norte County supervisor, according to Dan Walters.
Walters — who covered the campaign early in his journalism career — has been a journalist for more than five decades, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers — starting in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times in Eureka. He’s now an author and a political columnist for CALmatters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism venture based in Sacramento.
“… The long-serving incumbent congressman, Clem Miller, was killed in the crash of a small private plane carrying him to a campaign event in Crescent City,” Walters said in a Dec. 28 email. “The crash east of Eureka killed him, the pilot and the pilot’s 12-year-old son. It occurred about a month before the November 1962 election between Democrat Miller and Republican Clausen.
“The ballot was already set,” Walters said, “so Democrats campaigned for Miller’s name, while Republicans, sensing an opportunity to pick up a seat, ramped up the campaign for Clausen, who had been, prior to the crash, a very long shot to unseat the popular Miller, known as ‘Spendin’ Clem’ for his ability to bring home the public works bacon to his district.”
Although deceased, Miller won the November election, Walters said, and under the rules then in place, a special election was called by Gov. Pat Brown for about two months later, in early 1963.
“The two parties held ‘caucuses’ to name their candidates,” Walters said. “Republicans stuck with Clausen, because they already had poured a lot of money into increasing his name ID in the district, while Democrats bypassed the logical choice, Roger Kent, a Marin County activist whose family name was attached to Kentfield, and went, instead, with Grader, who had been Miller’s field rep.”
Both Clausen, 39, and Grader, of Fort Bragg, made several appearances in Humboldt County leading up to the Jan. 22 special election.
Clausen attended a free dinner rally on Jan. 16, 1963, at Redwood Acres in Eureka, which was attended by about 700 people, according to an article in the Humboldt Times. At the event, he “leveled blasts” at the U.S. tax structure, federal aid to education and “wasteful” foreign aid. He also said he’d been assured a seat on the House Public Works Committee if elected and that he’d secure introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives through Rep. Charles Guber to double the number of forest access roads and trails in the next two years as a way to benefit the forest products industries. He also said he would work to aid the logging industry by pressing the Forest Service to bring allowed timber cuts on government land up to sustained yield allowable cuts and also fight Canadian imports, which were “taking the industry away from West Coast lumbermen.”
Grader, who received the endorsement of Miller’s widow, Katherine, met with members of the Democratic Key Women of Humboldt County and other supporters at a luncheon at the Eureka Inn on Jan. 19, 1963, followed by dinner that night with 300 people at the home of State Sen. Carl Christensen.
At the luncheon, Grader said he knew well the needs of the 1st District and the techniques of getting things done in Washington, D.C., after working for Miller as a “field man” for four years. He also talked about developing “our unmatched natural resources” and the need to address problems related to flood control, schools, roads and water supply. He also touched on promoting federal research, particularly in the areas of lumber products and the development of recreational areas and said he was sure a better economic climate could be secured in the lumber industry with more diversified production.
Clausen ended up winning the January 1963 special election and received national attention for the odd manner of his win, Walters said. Clausen went on to serve 20 years in Congress. He died on Feb. 7, 2015, in Fortuna at age 91.
Heather Shelton can be reached at 707-441-0516.