In the 1920s, Republicans dominated in the state of California, including, unthinkable now I know, San Francisco. The 5th district, based in portions of San Francisco and South San Francisco, had elected for almost ten years John I. Nolan, a popular Republican who would break with his party often and was strongly pro-organized labor. However, he died on November 18, 1922, at the premature age of 48 and his widow succeeded him as a placeholder for the next term. Then the district elected Lawrence J. Flaherty, who died in office at the premature age of 47. Elected in his place in 1926 was Richard J. Welch (1869-1949), a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who would last.
From the beginning, Welch, who had a considerable background both in state Republican politics and as an ironworker and machinist, voted independently of the Republican Party line and in his first two full terms was a moderate. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, he moved towards favoring more and more government intervention. In 1933, Welch voted for the major 100 Days Legislation save for the Economy Act, which cut spending and benefits as a means to fund the New Deal and had attracted a lot of conservative support. He would prove one of the most consistent supporters of the New Deal on the Republican side, resulting in him being thought of as a “New Deal Republican”. Welch voted for the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Tennessee Valley Authority, invalidating gold clauses in contracts after voting for a Republican substitute only prohibiting gold clauses in future contracts, confiscating privately held gold, the Securities and Exchange Act, Social Security, and the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, Welch refused to back certain power-grabs by Roosevelt, such as the 1938 reorganization bill, which further centralized authority in the president and met with a stunning defeat in the House. He also was a consistent non-interventionist up until World War II, voting against the repeal of the arms embargo in 1939, against the peacetime draft in 1940, and against Lend-Lease. Welch, like Nolan before him, proved a consistent friend to organized labor and would not back GOP efforts at limiting the gains of organized labor from the Wagner Act and from decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board. He voted against an investigation of the National Labor Relations Board in 1939, against the Vinson Anti-Strike Bill in 1941, and against the Smith-Connally Labor Disputes Act in 1943. Unlike Nolan, who had voted against the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill in 1922, Welch proved a consistent supporter of civil rights legislation, backing anti-lynching and anti-poll tax bills. In truth, it is safe to say that he was one of the was the most supportive Republicans of the New Deal who stayed in the party.
Welch seemed to get more liberal over time, and embraced, with perhaps some reservation, the post-war international consensus and voted for Greek-Turkish Aid and the Marshall Plan. He also had one of the lowest DW-Nominate scores for a Republican in American history at -0.174. Welch voted for the 80th Congress’ tax reduction proposals and for the Mundt-Nixon Communist Registration Bill but against the Taft-Hartley Act, staying true to his support for organized labor. During the 80th Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Public Lands. Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 45 in 1947 and a 60 in 1948, and in the following year he didn’t vote against the ADA position once. On September 10, 1949, Welch suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital. After his death, he was succeeded by Democrat Jack Shelley, president of the California American Federation of Labor, who easily beat his Republican opponent and would later be elected mayor of San Francisco. The district has not elected another Republican since.
Congressional Supplement. Americans for Democratic Action.
Political Notes: Fall Planting. (1949, October 3). Time.
Report Card for 80th Congress. Americans for Democratic Action.