Former California Governor George Deukmejian has died

FRESNO, Calif. -- Former California Governor George Deukmejian has died at 89 years old. Deukmejian, a Republican, served as the 35th Governor of California in two terms from 1983 to 1991.

His former chief of staff told the Associated Press that he died of natural causes on Tuesday.

Deukmejian was born June 6, 1928, in New York, not far from the state capital of Albany. After earning his law degree at St. John's University, Deukmejian was drafted into the US Army, where he was assigned legal duty.

After ending his service, Deukmejian returned to the US and established a law practice in Southern California.

FULL VIDEO: Kim Bardakian remembers former California Governor George Deukmejian and his legacy
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Former California Governor George Deukmejian has died at 89 years old. He served as the 35th Governor of California from 1983 to 1991.

Deukmejian spent three decades in California politics. He was elected to the Assembly in 1962 and served in the lower chamber until 1967. That year, the voters of Los Angeles sent him to the State Senate where he would serve until 1979. He followed that up by serving as the State Attorney General from 1979 to 1983.

Deukmejian was elected Governor in 1983, defeating Democrat Michael Curb, who served as Lieutenant Governor under Jerry Brown. Deukmejian would go on to serve two terms, being reelected in 1986.

Deukmejian ran a law-and-order administration, expanding the state prison system, bringing the left-leaning California Supreme Court to the center and supporting tough, anti-crime legislation.

Steve Merksamer, who worked with Deukmejian in the attorney general's office and later as his gubernatorial chief of staff, described the former governor to the Associated Press as "decent, humble and gracious" and someone who "demanded honesty and integrity."

Deukmejian's greatest moment, he said, was his advocacy for California to divest from South Africa during apartheid, a move that was controversial at the time.

Despite a few notable exceptions, Deukmejian made his opposition to new taxes and increased government spending a focus of his political career.

He earned the nickname "The Iron Duke" from his Republican supporters in the Legislature for his resistance to spending increases and his willingness to veto spending proposals.

But his reputation for prudent fiscal management was based in part on the robust national economy of that time. In the final months of his administration, a nationwide economic slowdown eroded state tax receipts, leaving his successor, Pete Wilson, with a deficit greater than the one Deukmejian inherited from Democrat Jerry Brown.

Deukmejian was notable for being the state's first governor of Armenian descent.

Since serving as Governor, Deukmejian remained active in the community, particularly around his home in Long Beach.

Deukmejian is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Gloria May. The couple had two daughters and one son together.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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