PASADENA — For the first time in the 117-year history of Rose Parade grand marshal announcements, both the grand marshal and the Tournament of Roses president wore pearls. Both dressed conservatively: President Elizabeth “Libby” Evans Wright in a scarlet blazer and matching lipstick; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a royal blue St. John-style knit and sensible, wedge-heeled shoes. Devoid of the marketing synergies of last year’s choice –Mickey Mouse — the selection of O’Connor was pitch-perfect: It reaffirmed the Tournament’s politics and traditions while tweaking its patriarchal legacy. It was both self-confident and self-critical. It made a statement without making a fuss. “I really do think it is an inspired choice,” said former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole, once one of the Tournament’s fiercest critics. “It’s edgy without being edgy.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The Tournament instinctively recoils from politics, and for good reason. Its last brush with controversy, in 1992, was so catastrophic that Tournament members openly mulled removing the parade from Pasadena forever. In the years since, Tournament presidents have avoided politics altogether, picking such marshals as Carol Burnett and Kermit the Frog. It was not always thus. The first grand marshal from outside the city’s borders, in 1930, was a politician: James Rolph, a Republican mayor of San Francisco whose nickname was Sunny Jim. (As governor, darker shades emerged. After praising a lynch mob, he became known as “Governor Lynch.”) In succeeding years, political dignitaries were as much a part of the grand marshal rotation as athletes and Hollywood stars. The politics of the marshals reflected the character of the city, which was, until recently, solidly Republican. Five Democrats have ridden down Colorado Boulevard (one switched parties three years later), but the high-wattage political figures have all been Republicans: Herbert Hoover, Earl Warren (twice), Richard Nixon (twice), Dwight Eisenhower, Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford. O’Connor shares much with those old-school eminences. Before she was a justice, she was a Republican state senator from Arizona. But on the court, she has been a disappointment to the right, embracing moderation and reaffirming Roe v. Wade. When she announced her retirement this year, the loudest voices praising her belonged to Democrats. “Sandra Day fits into the long line of moderate, country-club Republicans who have been grand marshals of the Rose Parade,” said Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College. As with the two most recent political figures to be named grand marshal, Sen. John Glenn and then-Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, O’Connor was not picked primarily for her politics, which have always been overshadowed by her gender. In picking the first female Supreme Court justice to lead the parade, Wright, the first female Tournament president, was telling women there are still “opportunities to be first.” Indeed, if only the most hidebound institutions have yet to admit women — other than the presidency and Augusta National, can you think of one? –then it remains an act of something like contrition for Wright to be making this point. After all, it was not until 1992 –1992! — that the Tournament made its first serious stab at diversity. The organization still awaits its first non-white president. “They tend to lag,” said Cole, who was at the center of the controversy in 1992. “But they get there eventually.” Any institution that hews to the Mos Maiorum as closely as the Tournament is bound to be out of step with the times. In 1945, with victory imminent in Europe, the parade was led by Hoover, blamed by many as the architect of the Great Depression. In 1968, with the anti-war movement and the Vietnam body count nearing their respective apexes, the Tournament chose Dirksen, one of the Senate’s most devoted hawks. But the Tournament was at its most tone deaf in 1992, when it chose Cristobol Colon, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. In retrospect it remains an inexplicable act of naivete. The organization was apparently simply unaware that the Columbian legacy had undergone significant revisions and had not escaped unscathed. The outcry that followed caught its members entirely off guard. By the time it was over, the Tournament had instituted a diversity committee, promised to hire more minority contractors, and installed Campbell, for a time the only Native American in Congress, as co-grand marshal. It has avoided politics ever since. The 14-year absence of political figures from the head of the parade is the longest in Tournament history. The selection of O’Connor was praised on both sides of the spectrum as a noble and dignified way to return to the world of politics. “I am utterly ecstatic,” said Lynn Gabriel, president of the Pasadena Republican Club. “I think it’s fabulous. I’ve read her biography and followed her for 25 years. She’s a remarkable woman and exemplifies what the Tournament tries to do.” Cole, now the left-leaning city manager of Ventura, said the choice would please conservatives and feminists alike. “It gives young ladies growing up in Pasadena something to shoot for beyond being Rose Queen,” he said. Some liberals, like Occidental’s Dreier, might have been happier with a more liberal choice. (He suggested Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers.) But O’Connor’s politics are unlikely to seriously offend anyone, anymore. The national Republican Party has moved well to the right since O’Connor’s time, and the Tournament, as is so often the case, has not kept up. Gene Maddaus can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4444, or by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!