By Becky Morrow, Daily Nexus, November 21, 1975
Thomas M. Storke had always been involved with politics, but never as an office seeker. As a newspaper editor and convention delegate, he was instrumental in determining the candidacies of other men, yet he himself never contended for any office. Thus, when he was asked to complete the Senatorial term of William McAdoo in November of 1938, Storke was thrust into a new facet of the political scene.
His political orientation first began at age 13 when Storke’s father, a two-term state legislator who courageously protested the flagrant abuses of California’s infamous Southern Pacific Railroad political machine, traveled with Thomas to an extra session of the legislature in the summer of 1889.
As Storke recounted these younger days, “I was only 13 at the time, a highly-impressionable age, and I believe my life long interest in politics — as an observer, never as an office seeker — stemmed from the boyhood contact.”
Even though Storke was a tremendous aid to McAdoo throughout his term, McAdoo was under tremendous pressure as Senator. The first few years of the New Deal saw millions clamoring for jobs and many migrated to California with expectations of receiving parts of the numerous pension plans which the state had to offer — “EPIC”, the Townsend Plan, “Ham and Eggs”, etc.
Mail poured into Washington at an astounding rate of 7,000 letters a day. Constituents were hungry and jobless and they directed their appeals to their Washington representative.
Rumors began to spread very slowly that McAdoo’s time in the Senate was limited. One autumn day in 1937, Storke met with Harry Chandler of the LA Times, at which time Storke was informed of Governor Frank Merriam’s definite intentions to appoint Storke to complete McAdoo’s unexpired term.
Didn’t Want Job
Storke responded with disbelief. “Mr. McAdoo would never resign, Harry, and even if he did, I am not a politician. I never sought a political office in my life,” Storke claimed. “I am not prepared to go to the United States Senate and frankly, I wouldn’t want to if I got the chance.”
The rumor began to gain substance with Storke when he received a confidential correspondence from McAdoo stating his hesitancy about running for office again in 1938. After all, McAdoo had recently turned 70 and he was ruining his health by diligent application to the responsibilities of his job.
It seems to be the case, however, that men in public office rarely leave of their own accord and McAdoo proved no exception. He entered the 1938 campaign a tired and sick old man with a lack of the energy required for such a fight.
Storke backed McAdoo in his campaign and traveled to numerous political rallies throughout the state with the incumbent Senator. Despite Storke’s backing, McAdoo’s refusal to back the “Ham and Eggs” machine cost him the nomination.
Thus, in a lame duck position, McAdoo decided to resign his Senate seat on November 1 and accept the Chairmanship of the Board of the then government-owned American President Lines steamship company.
The Senatorial seat was vacant and it was Governor Merriam’s responsibility to fill the position. Although in the opposite political party from Storke, his long-time support of Merriam helped land him the appointment.
Storke’s response was one of amazement. He recalled, “I sat there in a daze. I had never, at any time or in any manner, solicited this high honor. In all my life I had never run for elective public office. I had turned down many offers of appointment, including an ambassadorship. Yet, despite this record of reluctance, here I found myself the junior United States Senator from California, teamed up with my long admired friend Hiram Johnson!”
Leaving his long-time home in Santa Barbara, Storke proceeded to Washington for a short term of two months to assume the unfinished business left by McAdoo.
Flood of Requests
Upon his arrival, Storke was already immersed in a stack of mail encompassing a variety of requests from school, sanitation, and flood control districts for funds to carry out their various projects.
The only way to get such appropriations was to visit the man in control — Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes. Thus, with the difficult task before him of requesting $10 million for California projects, Storke met with Ickes on the evening preceding the December 30 deadline.
Ickes had a reputation of being an irascible character, and the task which lay before Storke had little hope of success.
He proved to be everything his reputation had alluded to and Storke’s requests were strenuously argued. Recognizing the futility of continuing on that vein, Storke chatted about personal matters, such as his friendship with Senator Johnson and Ickes’ political involvements with the Bull Moose Party in Illinois in 1912.
After a few minutes of pleasantries, Storke left with these parting words, “Mr. Secretary, I don’t mind saying I’m disappointed. Before I was appointed Senator, I used to get a lot of help from Washington. Now that I’m here as Senator, I have to go back home in two weeks empty-handed. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to explain this to my constituents back in California.”
As Storke recalled, “I thought I (then) detected the faintest glint of a twinkle softening the steely glare of the ‘Old Curmudgeon’s’ eyes.”
On Ickes’s suggestion, Storke also spoke to the Interior Secretary’s assistant. However, the next morning to his great surprise, there lay on his desk a lengthy memo from the Secretary himself.
The message advised Storke that every project except one on his list had been approved. California had been allocated over $10 million to begin numerous projects including three schools in Ventura county, $250,000 for an addition to the Salinas courthouse, $600,000 for a public project in San Diego and items for Shasta, Monterey and various other counties.
The rest of Storke’s brief Washington fling passed quickly. On January 3, Senator-elect Sheridan Downey took office and Storke and his wife returned to their California residence in Santa Barbara.