Ghost of Nixon’s past

Maybe it’s something in the water, but many of San Diego’s top Republican political players have lived to a ripe old age. Banker C. Arnholt Smith, the town’s preeminent Daddy Warbucks — who owned a bank, tuna fleet, airline, hotels, the Padres, and, as more than one wag cynically observed, the city council — died peacefully in 1996 at age 97. A close friend to Richard Nixon, Smith served a brief time in state confinement after his empire collapsed in ruin. Tomorrow another Nixon intimate will celebrate his 90th birthday with a bash at the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines. Herbert G. Klein, Nixon’s onetime press aide and fixer for Jim Copley’s newspaper empire, will bask in praise provided by a roster of history-laden GOP names, including ex-Congressman Jack Kemp and ex-Governor Pete Wilson. The event is being chaired by Karen Hutchens, a former political consultant to GOP San Diego mayor Susan Golding, who is now a lobbyist with clients including Aaron Feldman and his infamous Sunroad office tower. Klein was a key player in lobbying Golding and the city council for new pro sports stadiums.

“For years, Mr. Herb Klein has selflessly contributed in numerous ways to his communities, and his ‘love-thy-neighbor’ attitude is present in his everyday life,” says an invitation to the event, modeled after the old 1950s-era Ralph Edwards TV show, This Is Your Life. As editor of the Copley-owned San Diego Union in the 1950s, Klein was lent by Copley to Nixon at election time to serve as a political operative. “Ostensibly a working news reporter, Klein would be remembered for his…extraprofessional contribution to the campaign,” noted Nixon biographer Roger Morris of Klein’s role in Nixon’s first congressional race in 1946.

In 1956, Nixon wrote Copley, “This is just a note to tell you what an outstanding job Herb Klein did for us during the campaign. I want you to know, too, how much we appreciated the sturdy, never wavering support we received from the Copley papers in Illinois and California. My only regret is that you don’t have a paper in every one of the forty-eight states!” Two years later, Nixon sent another thank-you note to Copley, saying, “I deeply appreciate your kindness in releasing Herb Klein to us during the campaign period.” In a 1959 letter to Nixon, Copley said, “I feel [Klein] is doing the job he should be doing, but if there is anything our organization can do to help you, please don’t hesitate to let us know.”

A former sports editor of the Daily Trojan, the student newspaper of the University of Southern California, his alma mater, in the early 1960s Union editor Klein once advised Nixon to meet a UCLA alum. “While you are in Los Angeles,” Klein wrote Nixon, “it would be a good gesture to invite up for a brief talk Rafer Johnson.… He is a very fine colored lad who, you will recall, won fame by beating the Russians in the decathlon.”

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About 40 years ago I lived in La Jolla and my parents were good friends of Herb Klein and his wife. When my mother died in November 1966, at the young age of 54, Herb and Marge made the extreme effort to attend her funeral, although he had much more pressing issues to attend to. I know it meant the world to my father that they were there.

Years later, when I worked at the Union-Tribune, Herb was always happy to see me and asked about my dad and brothers. He was a true gentleman and I respect him to this day. Even though now I am a democrat. Happy Birthday Herb!!! I wish my dad was here to help you celebrate!

Susan Childs Hancock

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