George Skelton does 'curmudgeon' well.
Readers of the Los Angeles Times know him as a sage Sacramento veteran who's been skewering politicians and offering observations on California's often wacky political scene for decades. He's a venerated elder among the Capitol press corps.
So it was no surprise that the Sacramento Press Club recently devoted an evening to honor Skelton, who first came to Sacramento to cover politics for UPI in 1961, when Pat Brown was governor and the legislature was a part-time body.
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Long-time Los Angeles Times colleagues flew up for the event, which was attended by lawmakers, lobbyists and journalists.
Skelton, in keeping with his persona, seemed a bit uncomfortable with all the attention. In a recent column, he wrote that the Press Club recognition might be considered "a citation for over-parking."
But that night, the regard with which he's held by the political world was evident. There was a tribute video in which former Gov. George Deukmejian predicted he would outlast the Times, calling Skelton "the consummate survivor."
Former Gov. Gray Davis chimed in, saying, "You stepped on toes, you prodded us, you pushed us, occasionally you maligned us. But...you did it for one reason, to get the best out of us."
Then there was former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who said, "I look back on the days when we were boy reporters in California. I don't think anybody who cared about this business like you and I did ever had a better start."
Skelton hasn't spent the last fifty years entirely in Sacramento. He went to Washington to cover Ronald Reagan's presidency, famously asking the president once about his sex life during an interview aboard Air Force One.
It was during the Reagan presidency that I met George, who was part of the traveling press corps with the "heavy" burden of covering Reagan during his frequent visits to his Santa Barbara ranch.
During my time at California's Capitol, Skelton was the one with the institutional memory who often asked the most provocative and insightful questions at news conferences.
Even after this long a tenure, chronicling a chaotic and dysfunctional political system, Skelton has no interest in taking a buy-out, retiring, hanging up his writing skills.
And his readers are fortunate.
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