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Honoring Orange County’s Political Leaders

Center for Oral and Public History Recognizes Four Political Powerhouses
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Nearly 150 university leaders, supporters and community politicos gathered recently to honor Orange County political game-changers Howard Adler, Marilyn Brewer and Jim Morrissey, and Jerry Patterson whose oral histories became part of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Oral and Public History. 

“Tonight we are able to honor four individuals whose personal and professional narratives are central to the fabric of Orange County political history,” Sheryl Fontaine, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, told the crowd. 

The four honorees follow Marian Bergeson, Lynn Daucher and Lois Lundberg, whose oral history interviews were shared last year for the inaugural event of the center’s Orange County Politics Project. 

“The great thing about this project is that it records Orange County’s history in all its diversity,” said Natalie Fousekis, director of the center and associate professor of history. 

Dick Ackerman, retired state senator and a member of the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors, introduced a bipartisan group of speakers — all colleagues, mentees and staffers of the night’s honorees. 

Adler began his political career on the staff of the California State Assembly Rules Committee and served on a Congressional staff for eight years, specializing in finance and housing legislation. He helped draft the Truth in Lending Law, Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Savings and Loan Holding Company Act. Adler, who died in 2011, was a past chairman of the Democratic Party, a former member of the Orange County and California State Central committees, and an Orange County co-chair for five Democratic presidential campaigns. In 1983, he co-founded the Democratic Foundation of Orange. 

Adler’s compassion, his laugh and his vision made him the “heart and soul” of the party, said Wylie Aitken, a former Democratic Foundation chairman. “He was the Kevin Bacon of Orange County. Everything about politics in Orange County was about six degrees of separation from Howard,” he said. 

Former state Assemblywoman Brewer’s political career launched after building a plastics manufacturing company from a business in her garage. She was elected to the 70th Assembly District seat without holding any prior public office and is a founding member of Women in Leadership. She is one of Cal State Fullerton’s 50 Women of Distinction, a governor on the CSF Philanthropic Foundation and vice chair of its Advocacy Committee. 

Brewer, said her life in politics was filled with life-changing experiences.  “I didn’t ever start out wanting to go into politics; it’s just where my life took me,” she said. 

Former State Assemblyman Morrissey said he was inspired when his wife caught him shouting at a politician on television, and she encouraged him to stop yelling and “do something.” He served two terms and authored several bills, including the Morrissey Retirement Income Protection Act, and was instrumental in securing $6.75 million in state funding for the Discovery Cube (formerly Discovery Science Center). 

His former staffer Brenda Quintana shared stories of how Morrissey doled his pay raises in donations to nonprofit groups, walked his district regularly, and once insisted that staffers rush over to hang a constituent’s front door when he discovered it precariously propped up.  

“When you do something good, and it passes, it makes you feel good,” Morrissey said at the end of the short video of his oral history.

Patterson, a former Congressman and current trustee for Coast Community College District, previously served as assistant city manager in Garden Grove, Placentia’s city attorney and as a councilman and mayor in Santa Ana. He led the push to acquire land and buildings for the city’s civic center and state and federal courthouses. While serving on a task force on the auto industry, Congress adopted long-term changes to the industry’s safety, fuel efficiency and air pollution standards. 

A champion for the middle class, Patterson said he was drawn to politics and became deeply interested in the inequality of the world. Initially, his goals were simple — a better life for his family, a bike trail near his home.

As a freshman Congressman in 1974, he noticed determination. “We all got there — committed to do something, the right thing — and fast,” he said.

Patterson has volunteered more than 15 years with Congress to Campus, a bipartisan program started in 1976 that brings former lawmakers — one Democrat and one Republican — into classrooms, to explain the democratic process. 

The Center for Oral and Public History, the largest regionally focused oral archive in the state, holds 5,700 recorded interviews, related transcripts, photographs and other materials. 

In 2011, the center was awarded a $425,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant for the renovation and expansion of the center. The center continues to raise funds for its expansion and climate-controlled storage, said Fousekis.

More information: 

Contact Natalie Fousekis, director of the Center for Oral and Public History

Media Contact:

Cerise Valenzuela Metzger, 657-278-3708