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Inventory of the Robert Presley Papers
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Robert Presley papers
    Dates: 1973-1994
    Collection number: See series descriptions
    Creator: Presley, Robert B.
    Collection Size: 23.5 cubic feet
    Repository: California State Archives
    Sacramento, California
    Abstract: Robert Presley, Democrat, was a California State Senator from 1975-1994. The Robert Presley Papers consist of 23.5 cubic feet of records reflecting Presley's activities during his 19-year Senate career. The records contain Bill Files, 1975-1994; Subject Files, 1973-1994; and Correspondence, 1985-1990.
    Physical location: California State Archives
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English

    Administrative Information


    Several items are restricted from bill file SB269 (1993-1994) due to restrictions under California Penal Code, sec. 3515 and from bill file SB1218 (1991-1992) due to restrictions under California Insurance Code, sec. 1877.3-1877.4. The following subject files are restricted. LP347:362 is restricted under the Public Records Act, California Government Code, sec. 6254 (f). LP347:368 and LP347:370 are restricted under the Public Records Act, California Government Code, sec 6254 (c).

    Publication Rights

    For permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the California State Archives. Permission for reproduction or publication is given on behalf of the California State Archives as the owner of the physical items. The researcher assumes all responsibility for possible infringement which may arise from reproduction or publication of materials from the California State Archives collections.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Robert Presley Papers, LP[number]:[folder number], California State Archives, Office of the Secretary of State, Sacramento, California.

    Acquisition Information

    The California State Archives acquired the Robert Presley Papers following his final term in the California Legislature.


    Robert Presley, Democrat, was a California State Senator from 1975-1994. In 1974, Presley was elected to represent California's 34th Senate District, which included cities within Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Following redistricting in 1982, he represented California's 36th Senate District that encompassed Riverside County only. Robert Presley served Riverside County exclusively until another redistricting in 1992 shifted the 36th district to include a portion of San Diego County.
    Robert Presley was born on December 4, 1924 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He was the first-born son of Doyle and Ann Presley who had lived in the Tahlequah area their entire lives. His father supported his family through farming and later in his life he acquired a job with the Oklahoma State Parks Department. His mother spent her days with her children as a homemaker. For most of his childhood, Presley attended local public schools. However, for ninth and tenth grade he attended boarding school at Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, then returned to Tahlequah to complete high school at the Central High School in Tahlequah. His parents stressed the importance of education, especially given the disruptions of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Senator Presley remembered his mother describing education as "something they can't take away from you" (Presley Oral History, 4). He credited his parents with giving him both determination and a strong work ethic.
    When Presley graduated from Central High School the world was in the midst of World War II. After graduation, he quickly signed up for the Army at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma and served in the Medical Corps. Presley was honored for his service when he received a Bronze Star for heroism in Italy. The military also exposed Presley to California for the first time when he was stationed at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, California. When he was discharged in January 1946, Presley went to Riverside County for the first time to visit relatives for a few months. (Presley Oral History, 6-7)
    Also at this time Presley married his wife Ahni with whom he had three children: Marilyn, Donna, and Robert Jr. (Who's Who in the California Legislature, 1994, 69).
    It was during this time that Presley became involved with the Sheriff's office and remained in Riverside County for the next 36 years. While Presley worked for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, he attended Riverside City College where he earned an Associate of Arts degree and took courses in police science. Presley attended the FBI National Academy in Washington, D.C., the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Riverside; however, he never completed the requirements for his Bachelor's degree. Presley holds a lifetime Designated Subjects Teaching Credential.
    Presley worked for 24 years with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, and served as Undersheriff for 12 of those years. Presley began his law enforcement career in a patrol car, and quickly worked his way up through the ranks. He specialized in homicide cases. In the detective division, he was promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, and captain. Presley's promotion to criminal division chief positioned him for appointment to undersheriff when the current sheriff died in office and the current undersheriff took his place. Presley's experiences as a detective remained with him forever and greatly influenced his legislative policies. In particular, he focused on domestic violence and the flaws he observed in treating victims of that crime. As a Senator, Presley worked diligently to reform this portion of the penal code and established domestic violence shelters (Presley Oral History, 8-15; Who's Who in the California Legislature, 1994, 69).
    With no significant political experience, Presley ran for the California State Senate in 1972 in a special election. The special election was held because Governor Reagan had appointed Riverside County's Republican Senator, Gordon Cologne, as a justice for the California Appellate Court. The Democratic Central Committee convinced Presley to run for the open seat and the Democrats fought hard to beat the incumbent Republicans. However, in his first attempt at the State Senate Presley lost to Assembly Member Craig Biddle by 2,586 votes. Nevertheless, the close race finally convinced Presley that he was a serious contender and the following election year, 1974, he sought out the Democratic nomination for Senate. On his second attempt, Presley fully committed himself to the campaign and beat Biddle by 253 votes (Presley Oral History, 15-19; California Legislature at Sacramento (Handbooks), 1973, 76).
    Although Presley's transition into politics was abrupt, he succeeded in his new profession. Throughout nearly 20 years of service, Presley remained active in his representation of his district as well as in his commitment to improve and reform California's government. This commitment coupled with his moderate political attitude allowed Presley to pass the majority of the bills he introduced. His reputation and work ethic also made him a favorite candidate to serve as Chair on numerous legislative committees such as the Joint Prison Committee and the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which he chaired from 1987-1994 (Who's Who in the California Legislature, 1994, 69).
    In addition to his political activities, Robert Presley was also a member of the Lions Club, Riverside Family Services Association, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Loyal Order of Moose, and the Elks Club. By 1982, Presley had been named as one of Ten Outstanding State Legislators in the United States by the National Assembly of Governmental Employees, and twice named "Legislator of the Year" by the California Peace Officers Association. During his twenty years in office, he received numerous awards including a special award from the California State Sheriffs Association, the Sierra Club's Distinguished Legislative Achievement Award and the League of California Cities' Special Services Award (California Legislature at Sacramento (Handbooks), 1982, 35; 1983, 35).
    According to the California Legislature at Sacramento (Handbooks), Presley served on the following committees:

    California State Senate, 1974-1994

    • Standing Committees
    • Agriculture and Water Resources 1975 -1994
    • Appropriations 1987-1994
    • *Chairman 1987-1994
    • Budget and Fiscal Review 1985-1986
    • Business and Professions 1977-1978
    • Finance 1980-1984
    • Health and Welfare 1977-1979
    • Industrial Relations 1975-1976
    • Judiciary 1975-1976, 1980-1994
    • *Vice Chairman 1980
    • Local Government 1975-1976, 1993-1994
    • *Vice Chairman 1975-1976
    • Natural Resources and Wildlife 1981-1990
    • *Chairman 1981-1986
    • Rules 1979-1980
    • Toxics and Public Safety Management 1985-1986
    • Transportation 1977- 1979
    • *Chairman 1977-1978
    • *Vice Chairman 1979
    • Subcommittees
    • Subcommittee on Auto Repair 1981
    • Subcommittee on Social Services and Welfare 1978-1979
    • Subcommittee on Corrections 1980-1983
    • *Chairman 1980-1983
    • Select Committees
    • Select Committee on Children and Youth 1977-1994
    • *Chairman 1977-1994
    • Select Committee on Political Reform 1978-1979
    • Joint Committees
    • Joint Committee on Job Development 1978-1979
    • Joint Legislative Audit Committee 1980-1983
    • Joint Legislative Ethics Committee 1980-1983
    • *Chairman 1982-1983
    • Joint Committee on Peace Officer Classifications 1979-1980
    • *Chairman 1980
    • Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations 1984-1986
    • *Chairman 1984-1986
    • Joint Prison Committee 1987-1994
    • *Chairman 1987-1994
    Senator Robert Presley did not run for re-election in 1994. This decision was based on the new term limits that would only allow him to stay in the Senate for one more term. Presley personally disliked the amount of effort and fundraising necessary to win an election campaign. Since the boundaries of Senate District 36 were again moved to include more Republican communities, another reelection campaign would have required considerable effort. Therefore, Presley retired from his Senate seat in 1994. He had served as a California Senator for 19 years (Presley Oral History, 134).
    Following the conclusion of Presley's legislative service, he continued to participate and influence California politics. Initially, Presley returned to Riverside County to serve as the Chairman of the Board of the Crime Control Technology Research Center at the University of California, Riverside. However, his desire for the quick pace of politics lead him back to Sacramento in 1995 when Governor Pete Wilson appointed him Chairman of the California Youthful Offender Parole Board. In 1999, Governor Gray Davis appointed Presley as Secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency. He served until 2003 when Governor Schwarzenegger appointed Roderick Q. Hickman in his place. In January 2004, Presley filed lobbying papers with the Secretary of State and established his own lobbying firm in Sacramento to provide legislative representation for his clients, which included the County of Riverside (Presley Oral History, ii, 136-137; http://cal-access.ss.ca.gov/Lobbying).
    The California Legislature and Riverside County have shown their gratitude for Robert Presley's civil service. In September 1989, the county renamed the Riverside County Jail located in Riverside, California the Robert Presley Detention Center. Then in 1994, Presley's aspiration to provide more advanced training to criminal investigators was realized when AB1329 (Stats. 1994, ch. 43) added Penal Code section 13519.9 and formalized the Robert Presley Institute for Criminal Investigation under the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) (http://www.post.ca.gov/training/ici/default.asp; http://www.riversidesheriff.org/corrections/rpdc/).

    Scope and Content

    The Robert Presley Papers consist of 23.5 cubic feet of records reflecting Presley's activities during his 19-year Senate career. The records contain Bill Files, 1975-1994; Subject Files, 1973-1994; and Correspondence, 1985-1990.
    The bill files document his legislative activity during his term as a member of the California State Legislature. The bills introduced by Robert Presley include a wide array of subjects. He authored bills concerning prisons and corrections; child safety, education, and rights; professional ethics; and environmental issues. Senator Presley's primary issue while in the Legislature was corrections. He regularly introduced and supported legislation that attempted to modernize and improve California's Penal Code. Presley looked at every aspect of the correctional system beginning with the Peace Officers who enforce the laws to the problem of overcrowding in California's prisons. In 1982, he became Chairman of the Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations and served in this capacity until 1994. As Chairman of this joint committee, Presley consistently introduced bills to improve California's prison system. From 1982-1994, California opened sixteen new state prisons (www.corr.ca.gov/InstitutionsDiv/INSTDIV/facilities).
    Senator Presley also regularly introduced legislation concerning the environment. Being that he was from the inland county of Riverside, Presley was acutely aware of Los Angeles' chronic air pollution problems as much of that region's smog blew directly into his eastern county. In 1981, Presley passed SB33, establishing the Motor Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Program that required motorists in certain urban districts to get annual emissions inspections in order for California to comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency standards (Stats. 1982, ch.892). Because of Presley's commitment to his constituents and his genuine concern for the environment he annually reintroduced legislation to control car emissions with mandatory statewide smog requirements. The subject files series provides further detail on Presley's policy towards corrections and environmental issues.
    The correspondence series represents a sampling of his office's active communication with his constituents. For every letter or group of letters that Senator Presley's Sacramento or Riverside office received, he would send a response. The content of these letters range from angry constituents with certain needs to thank you notes from constituents who were pleased with Presley's representation. This series illustrates Presley's continued professionalism and his respect for his district's concerns.


    The Robert Presley Papers are arranged into three series: bill files, subject files, and correspondence.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Presley, Robert B.
    Prisons Law and legislation
    Family violence
    Correctional law
    Air pollution
    California. Legislature. Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations
    California. Legislature. Joint Legislative Prison Committee

    Related Material

    Robert Presley, Oral History Interview, conducted 2001 by Patrick Ettinger, Oral History Program, California State University, Sacramento for the State Government Oral History Program available at the California State Archives and some other repositories.