New oral history: Hon. Kevin Murray
Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about his political role models and becoming more a legislator than a politician:
Kevin Murray represented regions of Los Angeles as a member of the Democratic party in the California State Assembly (1994-1998) and in the California State Senate (1998-2006), until he retired due to term limits. Murray and I recorded over five hours of interviews about his life and career in May 2021 as part of the Oral History Center‘s contributions to the California State Government Oral History Program. Murray’s oral history reveals ways he capitalized on opportunities as they arose throughout his life. In the process, he became an influential leader in the California Legislature, including as chair of the state’s Democratic Caucus and the California Legislative Black Caucus.
Many of Kevin Murray’s life stories reflect a kind of American dream narrative for Black middle-class families in Los Angeles. Murray was born in the spring of 1960 in the westside community of View Park, where he still lives and now raises his own family. Both of Murray’s parents graduated from college, and around the time of his birth, Murray’s father transitioned from work as an aerospace engineer to working in Los Angeles city politics and eventually in state politics. Around that time, their View Park neighborhood experienced white flight, which according to Murray resulted with an influx of middle and upper-middle class Black families of doctors, lawyers, dentists, and political figures who became his role models. At his parents’ insistence, Murray attended elite Los Angeles middle and high schools. During college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from California State University, Northridge, Murray began booking music and entertainment acts on campus. After graduating in 1981, Murray’s college entertainment experiences led to him start work in the infamous mail room at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills. While working at William Morris, Murray earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University in 1983, and in 1987, he earned a Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School. Prior to his political career, Murray provided consulting and management services to artists in the entertainment industry while also practicing law in the areas of entertainment, real estate, insurance, and dependency.
Due to his father’s work in L.A. politics, Murray recalled as a child attending barbecues and breakfasts at the homes of legends in California politics like Big Daddy Jesse Unruh and Black political leaders like Mervyn Dymally, Julian Dixon, and Tom Bradley. From his young exposure to powerful politicians, Murray learned they were simply people, not intimidating icons. Eventually, Murray came to believe, rightfully, that he, too, could become a political leader. When an opportunity to run for the California Assembly arose in the early 1990s, Murray seized that chance and won his first election to the California Assembly in 1994. His father was, by then, also serving in the Assembly, which made them the first-ever California Assemblymembers to serve as father and son.
Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about California’s North-South power politics:
Murray described himself as more of a legislator than a politician. In the Assembly, Murray worked with Speaker Willie Brown and quickly became a leader who, over the next twelve years, served in both the California Assembly and Senate. Murray was elected as a Democratic member of the California State Assembly from the 47th District in Los Angeles from 1994-1998, where served as Chair of the Transportation Committee. In the California State Senate from 1998 to 2006, Murray represented the 26th District based in Culver City, California, and served as chair of the influential Appropriations Committee, the Transportation Committee, the Democratic Caucus, and the California Legislative Black Caucus. Murray also served on the California Film Commission.
Most of Murray’s oral history explored his years of political work in Sacramento where he passed numerous bills, including one of the nation’s first laws on identity theft (AB 157, the Consumer Protection: Identity Theft Act); bills on “Driving while Black”; education bills to address the digital divide and ensure California students had access to the internet (then called “the information superhighway”); bills protecting victims of domestic violence; a bill protecting houses of worship from hate crimes; and many others, including a bill eventually vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson that would have enabled Californians to register to vote online, to sign a petition online, and to vote via the internet as early as 1997.
While Murray’s oral history details his legislative efforts, he also reflected broadly on a variety of topics, including key differences between the California Assembly and Senate; on influential committee assignments; on intra-caucus relationships between the Black Caucus, Latino Caucus, API Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus; on North-South power politics in California; on his distaste for term limits and the importance of legislative staff; and on his political role models. Murray concluded his oral history with brief a discussion of his post-legislative life in Los Angeles with his wife and their two children, including reflections on the 2008 election of Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter marches of 2020.
Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about intra-caucus relationships in the California Legislature:
About the California State Government Oral History Program
Kevin Murray’s oral history was conducted in collaboration with of the California State Government Oral History Program, which was created in 1985 with the passage of AB 2105. Charged with preserving the state’s executive and legislative history, this state Program conducts oral history interviews with individuals who played significant roles in California state government, including members of the legislature and constitutional officers, agency and department heads, and others involved in shaping public policy. The State Archives oversees and directs the Program’s operation, with interviewees selected by an advisory council and the interviews conducted by university-based oral history programs. Over the decades, this collective effort has resulted in hundreds of oral history interviews that document the history of the state’s executive and legislative branches, and enhance our understanding of public policy in California. The recordings and finished transcripts of these interviews are housed at the State Archives. Additionally, Kevin Murray’s oral history is available online in the Berkeley Library Digital Collections.
About the Oral History Center
The Oral History Center of The Bancroft Library preserves voices of people from all walks of life, with varying political perspectives, national origins, and ethnic backgrounds. We are committed to open access and our oral histories and interpretive materials are available online at no cost to scholars and the public. You can find our oral histories from the search feature on our home page. Search by name, keyword, and several other criteria. Sign up for our monthly newsletter featuring think pieces, new releases, podcasts, Q&As, and everything oral history. Access the most recent articles from our home page or go straight to our blog home.
Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about California Senate and Assembly differences and good committees:
Video clip from Kevin Murray’s oral history about term limits for California legislators and the role of legislative staff:
Hon. Kevin Murray, “Kevin Murray: Member of the California State Senate from the 26th District, 1998–2006.” California State Government Oral History Program. Conducted by Roger Eardley-Pryor in 2021, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2022.