Controller Hugh

Submitted by jjcho on September 27, 2016 - 8:40am

Fifty years ago this fall, a little-known assemblyman and political science professor— our Houston I. Flournoy ’50 O-649— was railroaded into running for California State Controller. He won.

He was only 16 when he came to Cornell in 1946, and probably became Omicron's youngest-ever member when he was initiated, on Founder's Day, March 22, 1947. He served as High Gamma, and sang with the Glee Club, but the Debate Society was probably the activity most predictive of his future career(s). He served in the Air Force as an intelligence officer during the Korean War, and earned his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1956. The next year he decamped to the West Coast to teach at Pomona College.

He was elected to the state Assembly in 1960, but wanted to leave politics after two terms— he could not support a family on the meager salary of a part-time professor and part-time legislator. The story goes that two colleagues raised the filing fee and secretly entered him for Controller two days before the deadline, a frat prank for the ages. No one thought he would win in 1966. He would be re-elected with a plurality of 1.4 million votes in 1970.

Here's a campaign ad:

He might not have been elected today— too liberal for Republicans, too Republican for Californians— though even then it was tough going for moderates. The unlikely 1974 GOP nominee for governor, he ran neck and neck with Jerry Brown. Tarred by Ford's pardon of Nixon though, his political career ended that November, except for a brief reappearance two decades later. In 1996, he emerged to endorse Proposition 198, the open primary, seeking to curb the influence of the extremes in state politics.

He taught public administration for many years at the University of Southern California, and endowed the Houston Flournoy Professorship in State Government there. He never forgot his time at Cornell and Lambda Chi, however. He last visited Edgemoor at his 55th Reunion in 2005, and taking a seat in the Mitchell Room and surveying its tired finishes, he sighed, "This old place." Then he smiled, and rising, said brightly, "This old place— let's get together and do something for her."

Brother Flournoy passed away on January 7, 2008.