Joe Shell

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Joseph Claude "Joe" Shell, Sr.

California State Assemblyman
In office
November 1953 – January 1959
Preceded by Laughlin E. Waters
Succeeded by David V. Easton
In office
January 1961 – January 1963
Preceded by David V. Easton
Succeeded by Harvey Johnson

Born September 7, 1918
La Conner, Skagit County
Died April 7, 2008 (aged 79)
Bakersfield, Kern County
Resting place Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) (1) Barbara Morton Shell (married 1940-1968, divorced)

(2) Mary Katherine Jaynes Shell
(married 1970-2008, his death)

Children From first marriage:

Barbara Stone
Joseph Shell, Jr.
David Morton Shell
Harold Shell
Diane Shell Morton
Lynn Shell
Stepson: Geoffrey Hosking (born 1951)

Residence Bakersfield, California
Occupation Oil and natural gas producer


Religion Presbyterian

Joseph Claude Shell, Sr. (September 7, 1918 – April 7, 2008), was an American oil producer and lobbyist who represented District 58 (the Wilshirea area of West Los Angeles) in the California State Assembly from 1953 to 1959 and again from 1961 to 1963. In the latter term he was the Assembly Republican Minority Leader. The conservative Shell is best remembered for having unsuccessfully opposed the more moderate candidate, Richard Nixon, in the primary election for governor of California, held on June 5, 1962. Shell, however, contended that Nixon actually opposed him, for Shell had been committed to the governor's race for a year before Nixon's own entry.[1]


Shell was born in tiny La Conner in Skagit County in northwestern Washington,[2] to Joseph Lieb Shell and the former Nell Schunemann. The elder Shell was an Indian agent for the United States Department of Interior in Washington State. When Shell was two years old, his family moved to San Diego, California, at which his father was a municipal and then a superior court judge, and his mother was a homemaker. He also had a sister, Cheryl. Shell graduated from Herbert Hoover High School in San Diego, at which he was senior class president and a key football player. One of his Hoover classmates was baseball superstar Ted Williams. Shell was recruited by the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, but instead he chose to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. In 1940, he procured his Bachelor of Science in business administration.[3]

Football champion

A halfback, Shell was the captain of the 1939 championship USC Trojans team, which played twice in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, having defeated the previously powerhouses Duke University in 1939 and the University of Tennessee in 1940. Among his teammates was quarterback and team Most Valuable Player Ambrose Schindler, with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. The "Thundering Herd", as the team was known, was coached by the legendary Howard Jones. It was not until the 2000s that USC finally acknowledged the national championship which had been won by the team, because newspaper rankings of the period – which over the years had come to be a more widely recognized standard – had been divided between two other teams.[4][5][3]

Military pilot

At the age of fourteen, Shell had begun flying lessons because a pilot who owed the senior Shell money offered to pay in-kind.[2] He secured his pilot's license at the age of sixteen. When World War II began, Shell had flown some 2,000 hours, was studying law at USC, and was already engaged in the oil business. At the start of the war, he was a civilian instructor for the United States Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force. When the Air Corps insisted that he remain an instructor, rather than enlist, Shell instead became a United States Navy pilot in 1943. After the war, he was a member of the Navy Reserves and continued to fly after the war a number of planes which he owned: a Grumman Wildcat, a Corsair, a P-51, a Beech Staggerwing, and a Beechcraft Model 18, or "Twin Beech".[3]


Shell first won his seat in the California State Assembly in a special election held on November 3, 1953, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Republican Laughlin E. Waters. Shell was reelected to full two-year terms in 1954 and 1956, but he was unseated by David V. Easton in the national Democratic sweep of 1958, which brought California Attorney General Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown, Sr., to the governorship in a stunning defeat of the Republican U.S. Senator William F. Knowland, who ran instead for governor that year. Shell made a comeback in 1960, when Nixon in defeat still carried California in the race against John F. Kennedy. Shell considered the California Scholarship Act to have been his crowning legislative achievement. The law helped thousands of young people secure an education at both private and public universities.[3]

In his last legislative term, Shell was chosen by his fellow Republicans as minority leader. The 58th District turned Democratic after Shell vacated the seat. No Republican has represented the district since 1992. In the 2006 general election, the Republican candidate drew less than 40 percent of the vote.

Gubernatorial primary race

When Shell declared his candidacy for governor, he did not expect Nixon to run, because the former vice president had vacillated for several months about a potential candidacy and had a national perspective, rather than extensive interest in state government. Shell remained in the race to carry the banner of the more conservative Republicans, with Nixon hence cast as the Moderate Republican candidate. Nixon defined himself in his own words as "a conservative — a progressive conservative."[6] The California primary race was covered nationally because Nixon was a national figure who was expected to run again for President in the future, and California was then on the verge of surpassing New York as the nation's most populous state. Shell was quoted in Time magazine that he had "gotten sick and tired of calling people liberals when they're basically socialists."[6] Among Shell's financial backers was A. C. "Cy" Ruble, former chairman of Union Oil Company of California.[7]

In Bakersfield, Mary K. Shell, then Mary Hosking of the Kern County Republican Women's Association, worked for the nomination of her future husband. In the same election, two other conservatives, including Howard Jarvis, the future father of California Proposition 13 (1978), challenged liberal U.S. Senator Thomas Kuchel in the primary. Kuchel easily prevailed to gain renomination. He had initially succeeded Nixon in the Senate in 1953. The 1962 elections were the first in California in which cross-filing across party lines had been abandoned.[8]

During the gubernatorial campaign, Shell's plane was sabotaged: somehow, barium was placed in the second fuel tank. Had the pilot not discovered the problem, the plane would have crashed.[9] Nixon's membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign policy interest group distrusted by many conservatives, became an issue in the race. Nixon arranged with the council that his name not appear on public releases as a member. The CFR (Page 42 of the 1952 Report) cautions that "Members of the Council are sometimes obliged, by their acceptance of government posts in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, to curtail or suspend for a time their participation in Council activities."

Having himself declared for governor before Nixon entered the race, Shell viewed his opponent as an opportunist who would use the governorship as a springboard to a second presidential campaign. Some of Shell's most conservative backers questioned Nixon's membership in the liberal Council on Foreign Relations, but Nixon was a strong critic of the John Birch Society, whose members Shell thought should be allowed to remain active in the party though its founder, Robert Welch, was a critic of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, under whom Nixon had served, was an agent of the "communist conspiracy."[10]According to Patrick J. Buchanan, Nixon's long-term aide, the former vice president long blamed Shell's candidacy as a leading factor in Nixon's defeat by Pat Brown in the gubernatorial general election.[11]

Nixon secured an easy primary victory: 1,285,151 votes (65.4 percent) to Shell's 656,542 (33.4 percent),[12]but he did not immediately consult Shell to seek rapprochement with the conservative wing of the party. Thereafter, he declared that "those who have supported Joe Shell will see that their differences with me are infinitesimal compared with their differences with Brown."[6] Shell first demanded that Nixon agree to trim state spending by at least $200 million (then 7 percent of the state budget) and to "espouse conservatism" as the price of his endorsement. He asked to be able to name a third of the delegates to the next national convention and to name the party's vice-chairman.[13]When a considerable number of Shell's Assembly colleagues objected to the demands that he imposed on the basis of having polled only a third of the primary vote, Shell relented and agreed to endorse Nixon and the entire Republican ticket, including liberal Senator Kuchel.

Two leading liberal Repubicans refused to support Nixon: Kuchel and former Lieutenant Governor Harold Jay Powers (1900-1998), who had served under former Governor Goodwin Knight (1896-1970). In retaliation, Nixon declined to endorse Kuchel's successful reelection bid in 1962.[7] Powers was particularly critical of what he called Nixon's "cheap attempt to win votes" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occurred near the end of the campaign.[14] It was unclear what Powers meant, because Nixon had hailed Kennedy's handling of the crisis.[15] Nixon's interest in the Cuban crisis during a gubernatorial race revealed to home-state voters that his concern lay with foreign affairs, rather than California domestic matters, a situation which worked to Brown's advantage.

The Massachusetts-based John Birch Society became an issue in California politics in 1962 as well, as three JBS members, including Representative John H. Rousselot, fought unsuccessfully for seats in the United States House of Representatives. Nixon was critical of the society's founder, Robert Welch, an erstwhile supporter of U.S. Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, who had declared Dwight Eisenhower, Taft's 1952 nomination opponent under whom Nixon had served as vice president, to have been a "dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy". State Republicans in their convention approved a watered-down resolution condemning the society leadership but not its rank-and-file. Shell was not affiliated with the JBS but opposed any attempts to remove society members from party activities.[16] Nixon supporters claimed that Shell partisans sat out the gubernatorial contest and enabled Brown to win a second term. Conservatives, however, disputed that assertion. Henry Salvatori, a southern California conservative operative, had convinced Shell to endorse Nixon.[17] Conservatives claimed that they labored unenthusiastically for Nixon, but it was liberal Republicans, such as Kuchel and Powers, whose refusal to endorse him in the general election that proved decisive. Moreover, Nixon did not draw sufficient Democratic support in a state in which the GOP was in the minority by registration.[7]

Though Nixon had attacked the JBS, he brought up the question of communist infiltration into government, including the California state government under Brown. He vowed to remove any employees found to be communist agents.[18]

Ultimately, Nixon lost the election to Brown and held his "You-won't-have-Nixon-to-kick-around-any-more" press conference. Six years later, Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, for the presidency.

Backing Goldwater

On April 22, 1963, Shell and Assembly member Bruce V. Reagan (no relation to Ronald Reagan) founded the United Republicans of California to promote the potential presidential candidacy of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who was not yet an announced contender. Bruce Reagan had been the unsuccessful candidate for comptroller in 1962 against the Democratic incumbent Alan Cranston. Unlike Shell, Bruce Reagan had been among those conservatives who had refused to endorse Nixon. The conservative dissidents opposed the "big-money" Nelson A. Rockefeller Republicans and launched a middle-class grass-roots campaign. In San Marino, for instance, fifteen groups went door-to-door in a registration drive that changed the composition of the California GOP. They distributed Goldwater literature and two conservative books, None Dare Call It Conspiracy by John Stormer and A Choice Not An Echo by Phyllis Schlafly. Ultimately, the activists gave away some two million copies of the books.[9]

In 1964, Shell was a Goldwater delegate to the Republican National Convention in San Francisco. Just a month earlier, Goldwater had narrowly won the California presidential primary on June 8 over Governor Rockefeller of New York. In working for Goldwater, Shell personally financed a particular speech which he thought would be helpful. Nancy Reagan contacted Shell and asked if her husband, actor Ronald Reagan, could deliver the speech to the Republican convention. Shell hesitated, but agreed when Mrs. Reagan persisted. This was not "The Speech", officially "A Time for Choosing", delivered on national television on October 27, 1964, in which Reagan paraphrased Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt in acknowledging the nation's "rendezvous with destiny". Shell was said to have regretted for the rest of his life having allowed Reagan to deliver the speech.[9]

Reservations about Reagan

Shell planned to run again for governor in 1966. Max Rafferty, a native of Louisiana, also considered running that year but instead successfully sought his second and final term as superintendent of public instruction, a nonpartisan position. In his 1998 work Triumph of the Right: The Rise of the California Conservative Movement, Kurt Schuparra called Shell "embittered" because the former Assemblyman believed that he should have the support of the conservative base that he had served so long and faithfully. Vernon Cristina, a Shell loyalist from 1962, tried to talk his friend out of running and instead to support Ronald Reagan. "You don't have the ingredients to win," said Cristina. Goldwater asked Rus Walton, who had been Shell's 1962 campaign manager, to convince Shell to defer to Reagan, but Walton declined to deliver the message to his old friend.[7]

Ultimately, Reagan sealed up conservative support. Shell hesistated to support Reagan: he questioned Reagan's late conversion to the party and some of the leftist associations that Reagan maintained during the 1950s, when he had nevertheless supported Eisenhower for President. Reagan went on to secure the nomination by defeating former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, a Greek American who had been Nixon's lieutenant governor running mate in 1962. Shell claimed[19] that Reagan had earlier promised to support him for governor, an assertion that Reagan denied.[20][7] Reagan financial backer Holmes Tuttle pleaded with Shell to support Reagan and offered him a leading role in the campaign, but Shell demurred.

Shell said that his reservations about Reagan were vindicated as early as 1967, when the newly-inaugurated governor's appointment list reflected none of the conservatives recommended by Shell, but were instead mostly individuals who had backed Rockefeller over Goldwater in 1964.[9] One of the appointees was Caspar Weinberger of San Francisco, whose career would culminate as the United States Secretary of Defense under President Reagan. Shell opposed Nixon's selection of Weinberger as state party chairman in 1962.[21] In his 2001 memoir In the Arena, Weinberger said that Nixon had been "substantially weakened" because of Shell's challenge: He was a former football player at USC, which in Southern California was practically a passport to political advancement. . . . Nixon won the primary, but he did so without generating much GOP enthusiasm." Over the years, most conservatives considered Weinberger, originally a liberal Republican, to have become one of their own.[2] Another such appointment was Houston I. Flournoy, who in 1974 would carry the GOP banner in an unsuccessful bid to succeed Reagan as governor, having been defeated by Brown's son, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown, Jr.

Shell attended the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida, which nominated his old rival Nixon on the first ballot with relatively little opposition coming from Governors Rockefeller and Reagan. Shell said that later events proved Nixon unfit for the presidency: "I felt then that Nixon was bad for the party, and Watergate and the subsequent stain he left proved me right."[22]

Oilman and lobbyist

Thereafter, Shell retired from politics to concentrate on his business and his remarriage. Right after the war, Shell had entered the petroleum field as an independent oil producer. He drilled wells in the Bakersfield area even though he lived at the time in Los Angeles. Later he was an industry lobbyist and argued passionately for expanded drilling and refinery capacity to keep down the cost of fuel to consumers and to strengthen the American economy during the Cold War. As a lobbyist, he commuted between Bakersfield and the capital city of Sacramento.[2]

As an energy lobbyist in 1975, Shell fought the attempt of Governor Jerry Brown to repeal the "depletion allowance," a tax break for the state's oil industry. Brown aimed his fire at "big oil" in an era of popular environmental activism on the West Coast. The decisive vote against the allowance was cast in the California Senate by the usually pro-business Republican Senator Robert S. Stevens (c. 1916-2000). Shell claimed that Stevens had promised him that he would support keeping the allowance: "He had shaken my hand and told me he was with me." recalled Shell, who considered a handshake a bond of honor. Brown later rewarded Stevens with a judicial appointment, but Stevens was driven from the bench for making salacious telephone calls.[23]

In 1982, Shell opposed the gubernatorial candidacy of Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb, a recording company executive, though Curb had the backing of many conservatives in southern California. Shell recalled that some of those backing Curb had also been Nixon loyalists two decades earlier. Instead, Shell recruited Attorney General George Deukmejian to enter the race. Deukmejian defeated Curb and then narrowly beat the African American Democrat Tom Bradley, the then mayor of Los Angeles. In that same election, Shell nemesis Jerry Brown lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Republican Pete Wilson of San Diego. According to The Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, Shell adhered to the golden rule of politics that "what goes around comes around."[24]

Family life

In 1940, Shell married the former Barbara Jean Morton (1919-1995). The couple divorced in 1968, and she married a man named "Pearson."[25] Joe and Barbara had five children: Barbara S. Stone and husband Harry Stone of Whittier, California; Joseph Shell, Jr., of Dana Point, David Morton Shell and wife Merrilee of Elk Grove, California; Harold Shell and wife Patricia Shell of San Ramon, California; Diane Shell Morton and husband Paul Morton of Alamo, California, and Lynn Shell of Porterville, California. Lynn was an adopted son and the blood nephew of Barbara Shell. Joe Shell then married the former Mary Katherine Jaynes, previously Mary Hosking (1927-2018) by her first marriage, and relocated to her home city of Bakersfield. Mary had three children: son Geoffrey Hosking and two others who died in their twenties.[2]

Mary Shell had managed Joe Shell's gubernatorial campaign in Kern County and became the first woman mayor of Bakersfield, having served from 1980 to 1984. Thereafter, she was a member of the nonpartisan Kern County Board of Supervisors from 1985 to 1996, having first been elected in a contest against the son-in-law of the Hispanic labor organizer Cesar Chavez. Joe Shell walked precincts tirelessly on his wife's behalf, but he never again placed his name on a ballot.[26] In the same election in which Mary won the supervisor's seat, Joe Shell, Jr., lost a publicized race for the California State Assembly to liberal activist Tom Hayden, former husband of leftist celebrity Jane Fonda.[1]

Shell in perspective

Among his varied interests, Shell was a sailing enthusiast. He once placed third in the TransPacific sailing race in his boat called the Khamsin. His obituary says that he "liked all dogs."[3] Joe Shell's health began to deteriorate late in 2007 when he broke a hip in a fall. He rallied with use of a walker, but he broke two ribs in another fall early in 2008. He also developed dementia.

Then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger extended condolences to the Shell family. In a proclamation, he called Shell “a dedicated, loyal public servant, who contributed years of service to his district and was thoroughly committed to bettering the lives of Californians.”[27] Shell was interred at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield. A memorial service followed at the First Presbyterian Church of Bakersfield though he was a member of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, also in Bakersfield.[3]

Dan Walters summed up Shell's political legacy in The Sacramento Bee in an article entitled "For Joe Shell, character trumped ideology in California politics": "[George] Deukmejian persuaded Shell to take a seat on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board in 1989, but Shell resigned two years later, saying he was embarrassed to be paid for doing almost nothing. It was vintage Joe Shell, a crusty, old-school politician to whom character was more important than ideology. "Shell died Monday at his home in Bakersfield – the same day that old enemy Jerry Brown was celebrating his 70th birthday and contemplating another run for the governorship. It's too bad Shell won't be around to see what happens."[28], the return of the Brown to two more terms as governor.


  1. 1.0 1.1 John Gizzi (April 21, 2008). Gizzi on Politics. Human Events. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Valerie J. Nelson (April 11, 2008). Joe Shell (1918-2008):Ex-legislator challenged Nixon. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Joe Shell. The Bakersfield Californian (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  4. Joe Shell: Captain, American Hero. (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  5. Joe Shell, Captain of USC's 1939 Championship Football Team, Dies. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Nation: "Progressive Conservative". Time magazine (June 15, 1962). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 F. Clifton White and William J. Gill (1967). Suite 3505: The Story of the Draft Goldwater Movement. Ashbrook Press. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  8. The New York Times, June 7, 1962, p. 1.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 How the Neocons Stole Freedom. (July 19, 2007). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  10. Patrick Buchanan, The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority (New York City: Crown Forum, 2014), pp. 11-12; ISBN: 978-0-533-41863-7.
  11. Patrick Buchanan, Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever, (New York City: Crown Forum, 2017), pp. 46, 228, 239; ISBN:978-1-101-90284-4.
  12. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, p. 1549.
  13. The New York Times, June 17, 1962, p. 60.
  14. The New York Times, October 26, 1962, p. 12.
  15. The New York Times, October 27, 1962.
  16. The New York Times, January 15, 1962, p. 14; January 19, 1962, p. 18.
  17. The New York Times, June 22, 1962, p. 30.
  18. The New York Times, September 14, 1962, p. 21.
  19. San Francisco News, May 18, 1965.
  20. UROC Resolution on Reagan 1975. (September 13, 2007). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  21. The New York Times, June 17, 1960, p. 60.
  22. Joe Shell comments on Nixon.; link no longer available. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  23. Myra Oliver (September 15, 2000). Robert S. Stevens, Judge and State Legislator. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  24. Sacramento Bee, date missing.
  25. Barbara Morton Shell.
  26. The Sacramento Bee, date missing.
  27. Gov. Schwarzenegger: Joe Shell Loyal Public Servant: Funeral Planned for Friday, April 11. Channel 23 in Bakersfield, California (April 9, 2008). Retrieved on May 13, 2018.
  28. The Sacramento Bee, April 2008.