Courken George Deukmejian Jr.Tuesday, October 1, 2019
Courken George Deukmejian Jr. (Armenian: Կուրկեն Ջորջ Դեքմեջյան; June 6, 1928 – May 8, 2018) was an American politician from the Republican Party who was the 35th Governor of California from 1983 to 1991 and Attorney General of California from 1979 to 1983. Deukmejian was the first and so far the only governor of Armenian descent of a U.S. state.
Deukmeiian was born Courken George Deukmejian Jr. in Menands, New York. His parents were Armenians who emigrated from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s to escape the Armenian Genocide. His father, George Deukmejian, who lost his sister during the Genocide, was a rug merchant born in Gaziantep. Deukmejian's mother, Alice Gairden, was born in Erzurum and worked for Montgomery Ward and later for New York State. Deukmejian graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Siena College in 1949. He then earned a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from St. John's University in 1952. From 1953 to 1955, he served in the U.S. Army, assigned to the Judge Advocate General's Corps.
Deukmejian moved to California in 1955 where his sister, Anna Ashjian, introduced him to his future wife Gloria Saatjian, a bank teller whose parents were also immigrants from Armenia.They married on February 16, 1957 and had three children: two daughters, born in 1964 and 1969; and one son, born in 1966.
Deukmejian entered politics in California after a short period of private practice in Long Beach alongside Malcolm M. Lucas. In 1962, was elected to represent Long Beach in the State Assembly. In 1966, he was elected as a state senator, serving from 1967 to 1979. He was a high-profile advocate for capital punishment. By 1969, he was the Majority Leader of the California State Senate. He first ran for Attorney General of California in 1970, finishing fourth in the Republican primary. He won the election for Attorney General in 1978 and served from 1979 to 1983. During this time, he led a high-profile campaign against cannabis in northern California. Additionally, he led a veto override against Governor Jerry Brown who had vetoed legislation to authorize the death penalty.
Deukmejian died at his home in Long Beach on May 8, 2018 at the age of 89. California Governor Jerry Brown said on Twitter: "George Deukmejian was a popular governor and made friends across the political aisle. Anne and I join all Californians in expressing our deepest condolences to his family and friends".