People running for elected office in Santa Clara County often asked Alan Cranston for his endorsement. The former U.S. senator’s answer was always the same:
“What does Don Edwards say?”
Even though Cranston hailed from Los Altos, he would never presume to endorse anybody in this county without checking with Congressman Edwards or his counterpart, Norm Mineta. All together, Edwards, Mineta, former State Senator Al Alquist and Assemblyman John Vasconcellos were the liberal leaders for Silicon Valley and the state of California.
As the most experienced, Edwards held a special place in the political prism of San Jose. He served as a mentor for many, including Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Supervisor Ken Yeager—both of whom served as his aides. Sarah Jannigan, the much more popular wife of a Mercury News columnist, also worked for the congressman, as did many others.
Edwards, who died last week at the age of 100, was an inspiration to those who knew him. He was an expert in the Constitution, a copy of which he carried on his person. His legacy includes his son, Len Edwards, a well-respected Superior Court judge.
He became a national figure during the Watergate crisis that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. This was a time when impeachment was not a political ploy, but serious business. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Edwards voted to impeach the president—not based on political calculation, but on clear evidence that Nixon committed serious crimes. He would never have supported using the process of impeachment as a political tool under the current circumstances.
And though Edwards was an avowed liberal—after being an FBI agent in the 1940s—he worked alongside and gained the respect of all lawmakers. As the dean of the California delegation, he worked with Republicans for the interest of the state, regardless of ideology. In his later years he was personally appalled at the divisiveness and lack of civility exhibited by later congresses. He was from a different era.
Edwards’ legacy continues, especially in those who knew him. As a newly elected congressman, Mike Honda once asked Edwards for advice. He gave a simple answer:
“Do the right thing.”
For 32 years in Congress, and many more away from it, that was the standard Edwards set.