May 9, 2004 by

Pete Knight


Categories: Military, Politicians

pknight.jpgWilliam J. “Pete” Knight, a California state senator who authored a controversial gay marriage ban, died on May 7 of leukemia. He was 74.
Born in Noblesville, Ind., Knight attended Butler and Purdue Universities. He enlisted in the United States Air Force, earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and graduated from the Air Force’s Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
During his 32-year tenure in the military, Knight flew and tested more than 100 types of planes. He made history in 1967 by flying an experimental X-15 aircraft at 6.7 times the speed of sound. After achieving the fastest manned airplane voyage in history, Knight earned his astronaut wings for another X-15 flight that reached 280,000 feet in altitude. By the time he retired as a colonel in 1982, he had flown 253 combat missions in Southeast Asia and received numerous commendations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.
In 1984, Knight was elected to the city council in Palmdale, Calif. He became Palmdale’s mayor in 1988 and was elected to the California Assembly four years later. The Republican then set his sights on the state Senate. He was elected in 1996, and represented the 17th Senate District until April, when he was forced to take a medical leave of absence.
While serving in public office, the staunch conservative authored legislation that ordered welfare recipients to undergo abstinence-only sex education, required children in every California elementary and secondary school to recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis and commanded handgun owners seeking concealed firearm permits to obtain a handgun safety certificate. He gained notoriety in 1993 for distributing a poem to legislative colleagues that characterized illegal immigrants from Mexico as lazy and greedy. But Knight was best known as the author of the state’s Defense of Marriage Act, which said that only marriages between a man and a woman should be recognized as valid in California.
After failing to get this piece of legislation through the Democrat-controlled Legislature, Knight took the issue to the voters in 2000. Proposition 22 passed by 61.4 percent, and is currently being tested in several courts. Although he was a vocal opponent of nontraditional marriages, Knight’s son David married his long-time partner, Joseph Lazzaro, when San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier this year.
Knight was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame. A new high school in Palmdale, Calif., is named in his honor.

22 Responses to Pete Knight

  1. Bart Vandamme

    I had the honour to meet senator Pete Knight during the annual Gathering of Eagles at Lancaster in 2001. He was a very nice gentleman! May God bless him and his family.

  2. Dave Edwards

    I knew Pete through his cousin, Bob, my father.
    I only met Pete maybe 4 or 5 times in my lifetime, but the Edwards clan has and will always hold him in the highest regard.
    Dave Edwards
    Kokomo, Indiana

  3. Bill Edwards Noblesville, Indiana

    I only meet Pete as an adult once – In 1988, Colonel Knight was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio. My uncle Jim and his son Boyd, my father John and I attended. My Dad and uncles, Ben, Bob, Charles, and Jim talked of him fondly. What a truly great American Hero!
    Bill Edwards
    Noblesville, Indiana

  4. Barry Davidoff

    You will always be remebered from your valued contributions as a pilot and as a legislator. Your achievements in either career are outstanding.
    Fly high in heaven.
    Barry Davidoff

  5. Briar-Rose

    Pete Knight was a great man. i was jr miss eastside of lancaster 2003 and out of all the important people i met he was on of the nicest. he was a great man and a great leader. and i know that he will be remembered forever.

  6. Jim Jerzycke

    I worked with Pete for about a year at a small company in Torrance. Always found him to be gracious, and willing to talk about his experiences. He happily signed all my X-15 books with personal inscriptions, and they are some of my most treasured aerospace items.
    Fly higher and faster, my friend.

  7. Ariella K

    A friend of mine was threatened by psychiatric social workers that she would be reported to “Child Protection Services” as an “abusive parent” and all three of her children would be taken from her if she continued to refuse to drug her daughter with those awful, sickening psychiatric drugs. Her daughter’s school teachers and vice-principal also refused to allow the child to attend class unless she was drugged into a zombie.
    She had nowhere to go, and all the agencies which were supposed to protect children and families said they couldn’t do anything to help her.
    In desparation, as a last resort, I took my friend to see Senator Knight. He was most gracious to us. He was alarmed by the story my friend told him. He asked for names and phone numbers. Despite all three children running around in his office he took the time to talk to her and get to know her.
    The next day my friend got a phone call from the school to say that they would accept her daughter back and she didn’t have to drug her. Turns out Senator Knight called them and gave them a what-fer.
    I will never forget you, Senator Knight. Thank you for your courage and integrity and compassion.
    Ariella K

  8. Dustin

    Glad to hear he died of disease. I hope it was painful. Even worms wouldn’t eat the festering, soulless corpse of this evil pig bastard. I hope his death was fraught with pain and tears, and he asked our Lord for forgiveness in his final hours, because Karmic debt no doubt has his eternal soul damned for immortality in Hell. Happy trails, Sen. Knight. Glad to hear you’re no longer inhabiting a place I call my planet.

  9. Cassandra

    We are heart broken that you had to leave us so soon.I am one of the students that attend your school and my graduating class is 2007 which is the first class ever to garduate.One of my wishes was to have you there the day we graduate and i know that if you were here with us you would.But i know in my heart that you will be there the day we gradutate through all of our hearts and you’ll be looking down on us being proud of our sucess.

  10. Ed Heft

    I was helo Rescue for Major Knight on many of his X-15 flights from EAFB in 66-67. His skills were honed to handle those most hazzardous flights and conditions. He was always soft spoken, thoughtful and kind. Later in the 70’s at WPAFB, our paths crossed and again he impressed me with his steady and wise judgements. I had only recently learned of his being Senator, and I foud this site during my search to congratulate him I do miss him!!! “Speedy Pete”, may your soul continue to push the envelope. ed

  11. Bart

    What a pitiful man that simply could not accept having a gay son. Through his unbridled narcissism that any child of his could “dare” not enhance his image, he became an embittered old man with no compassion or soul. I am afraid that the thousands who are glad to be rid of him, will outnumber those who think this was in any way a decent man.

  12. Fred Duarte

    While researching background on Col Knight, I learned of his passing. Years before I read of his exploits and knew of him as the pilot of the “white x-15”. I met him only once in my role as an Air Force IG team member with Joe Lovell in 1978. I recalled a remarkably thin man barely 5’6″ who chain smoked. Despite his busy schedule that day as Vice-Commander of AFFTC, he was amiable and pleasant and preferred to discuss how to improve the environment for those at the AFFTC.
    I may never agree with all his politics, but I’m certain that there are many that loved him and know he gave his best for his country, and his family and his community. May his family continue to know there are those that remember him and care.
    Fly High and inspire the best, Col Knight and, if you fly faster than your guardian angel, smile, and give a thumbs up.

  13. Ellen

    I admire Pete Knight the pilot, who couragously flew the X-15 and currently holds the world speed record. I am an aviation enthusiast with a great appriciation of what these early pilots did. I also happen to be a lesbian. The fact that Pete turned his back on his gay son is very disheartening. All people deserve rights and no one should be treated as a second class citizen.

  14. Phil Pendleton

    Pete was born in Indiana, but grew up and graduated from high school in Manfield Ohio. It’s a shame Pete didn’t have a PR team as good as Chuck Yeager’s. Pete flew higher and faster than any other test pilot, and flew hundreds of combat missions. What a guy!

  15. Steve Ward

    If this is who I think it is.. I went to elementary school in Fairborn, Ohio (WPAFB) with his son Stephen. School’s name is Mary Help Of Christians. Stephen lost his mother at a young age (I believe we were in 4th or 5th grade). My name back then was Steve Sizemore. I just learned of his dad’s passing, so Stephen, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
    I never forgot you, Steve

  16. Bruce Forrest

    I didn’t know the gentleman personally, but I know of his accomplishments. He did amazing things for this country as a test pilot, and for our space program. If the only thing you can say about this man refers to his policy about gay marriage, then he has made his point. You will be judged for your one accomplishment of stupid posts.

  17. John R. Schmid

    I new Col. Knight through his son Stephen, Stephen and I where friends in grade school at Mary Help of Christians. I have only good memories of Col. Knight one such memory was getting to see one of the instruments that was actually in the cockpit of the x-15, when it caught on fire while Col. Knight was flying. My thoughts and Prayers go out to his family. P.S. Stephen if you ever read this please get a hold of me John Schmid

  18. mike kelley

    I also went to school with one of Col Knight’s son, Pete Knight. Later I joined enlisted in the USAF and one of my duty stations was Edwards Air Force Base. In 1982 I was lucky to have Col. Knight reenlist me for four more years. Pete sorry for your loss.
    Mike Kelley

  19. Bert Pierce

    I worked for and with “Pete” Knight at WPAFB OH on the F-4 and F-5 fighter programs. He was the best boss I ever had and I miss him a lot.
    Bert Pierce (Lebanon OH and Springdale OH)

  20. jack

    As a teen the pilots of the X-15s were larger than life heroes. As usual with heros, especially military ones, they should stick to the hero business and leave public policy to people who heroes in that field. In other words, here is a career military man, warrior and expert pilot who should have stayed out of public policy. Being a person who buys the whole god and country shtick makes perfect sense for someone who aspires to a military career, the rest of us however deserve lives with more options. His story as a politician is of one who wants to force the people to lead the same god, country straight and narrow lives as he supposedly led. If life was that simple for him, more power to him, but don’t forget, this is a but when he wants to invest the peoples money as state promotion of “Abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the
    expected standard”, and “A mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” and “Sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, as law, with his name on it, it become state sponsored conservative propaganda and goes beyond state responsibility of the education of children.
    Then there was the poem.. then there was prop 22.
    So, in closing, he leaves with the record speed for winged flight at 4,520 MPH, and in his political life, he leaves it more racist and homophobic than he found it.

  21. jack

    For the record, this is the poem he passed around the California Assembly in 1993. Versions of it have been used by racist anti-immigrants in Britain and Australia, and anywhere blatant racism is tolerated since the days of mimeograph machines. There is no running for his responsibility for it despite his apology which was the boilerplate racist non-apology apology that usually starts with “I’m sorry if anyone was offended… “, which translates to “I’m sorry I got caught.”, not “I’m sorry for.. ” actually doing the act, or understanding why it was wrong or apologizing for it’s horrendous, despicable content.
    I come for visit, get treated regal,
    So I stay, who care I illegal?
    I cross border, poor and broke,
    Take bus, see employment folk.
    Nice man treat me good in there,
    Say I need to see welfare.
    Welfare say, “You come no more,
    We send cash right to your door.”
    Welfare checks, they make you wealthy,
    Medicaid it keep you healthy!
    By and by, I got plenty money,
    Thanks to you, American dummy.
    Write to friends in motherland,
    Tell them come as fast as you can.
    They come in rags and Chebby trucks,
    I buy big house with welfare bucks.
    They come here, we live together,
    More welfare checks, it gets better!
    Fourteen families they moving in,
    But neighbor’s patience wearing thin.
    Finally, white guy moves away,
    Now I buy his house, and then I say,
    “Find more aliens for house to rent.”
    And in the yard I put a tent.
    Send for family quick like bunny,
    Then they too draw the welfare money!
    Everything is mucho good,
    And soon we own the neighborhood.
    We have hobby—it’s called breeding,
    Welfare pay for baby feeding.
    Kids need dentist? Wife need pills?
    We get free! We got no bills!
    American crazy! He pay all year,
    To keep welfare running here.
    We think America darn good place!
    Too darn good for the white man race.
    If they no like us, they can go,
    Got lots of room in Mexico!

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