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Chapter Ten— Unruh
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Chapter Ten—

Sacramento has become not so much the capital of a great state, but the headquarters of the lobbyists.
Carey McWilliams
Journalist, 1949

Big Daddy . Jesse Marvin Unruh, the Speaker of the California State Assembly. There was no one bigger in the Legislature, maybe no one bigger in California. He was physically huge, standing over six feet tall and weighing three hundred pounds. "Jesse gained about ten pounds a session," his first wife, Virginia, once recalled.[1] His neck was so fat that he was constantly jutting forth his chin to keep his flesh from pinching his collar.[2] Unruh wore expensive shoes and shiny silk suits and painstakingly greased his hair into a pompadour each morning. He drove a gigantic gold Chrysler. He was a night person; he did not like to get up early. In the evenings he went to one of several hotel suites in Sacramento to gorge off tables piled high with fried chicken, roast beef, lobster, and liquor, all paid for by Capitol lobbyists. When he felt the need, women were provided, also courtesy of the lobbyists. Unruh's first law of politics was, "If you can't eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women, and vote against them, you don't belong here."

Unruh's friends nicknamed him "Big Daddy" for his resemblance to the domineering father in Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof .[3] "When you call me that, smile. I really don't care if someone wants to call me 'Big Daddy' or anything else," he said.[4] It was what people meant by it that counted. It was fine with him, he said, if it signified "the ability to get things


done." But if the name implied he was a "liar," that was another story.[5] And the wrath of Big Daddy was as sure as it was volcanic.

The world Willie Lewis Brown Jr. entered in January 1965 was Big Daddy's world. That the two would clash was foreordained. That they had much in common would take time for them to discover.

Unruh was born September 30, 1922, in Kansas, but he was reared a Texan. He was the youngest of five children born to German Mennonite parents.[6] His biographer, Lou Cannon, wrote of Unruh that "he was an unlovely child from the first, oversized and extra bright and with a lisp that made him the natural object of his fellow children's cruelty."[7] When the Depression hit, Unruh was seven years old, and his family moved to the Texas Panhandle town of Swenson. His father worked in a bank and was caught up in the bank failures that swept the nation. His father took up sharecropping, about the lowliest occupation there was. Although they were white, the Unruhs were probably considerably poorer than Willie Brown's family in East Texas. Brown's grandmother served fish, chicken, greens, and sugar-sweetened rice cereal. Unruh's mother served wheat gruel. Meats and sweets of any kind were rarities in the Unruh household.

When the price of wheat collapsed in Texas and most of the crop lay uncut on the ground, the Unruhs soaked it for cereal. When a window broke, they covered it with cardboard. Young Jesse Unruh rarely wore shoes; he did not own a pair of socks until he was twelve. "We were so poor I didn't know that other people took baths on Saturday night until I was ten," he once told a colleague.[8] He was limited to studying ninety minutes a day because his mother needed the light of a gas lamp to cook by. Somehow he became the only member of his family to complete high school; his mother had not gone past the third grade. Unruh did well in high school and, weighing 180 pounds, played on the football team. He graduated at the top of his class, and in Texas at that time all the top white graduates were automatically eligible for a college scholarship. He chose Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, 120 miles from home, a town about halfway between Amarillo and Lubbock. But he lacked self-discipline, and nothing went right for him in college. Unruh dropped out, and tried to join the Army. But he was excluded because of flat feet, so he returned to Swenson to help his father sharecrop in 1940, a year before the United States entered World War II. Hearing the stories about the defense buildup in California, Unruh hitchhiked west and got a job in the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica. The job lasted a year before he was back on the farm in Texas. In September 1942, with the war raging, Unruh was finally accepted into the Navy after winning an argument with a doctor about his flat feet. Unruh spent the war in the Aleutian Islands repairing airplanes from aircraft carriers, chafing under the Navy's caste system, which favored officers over enlisted men, and wondering why he had tried so hard to get in.


After the war, Unruh enrolled as a student under the GI bill at the University of Southern California, majoring in journalism and political science. USC was flooded with returning veterans, and they transformed the campus from its traditional student base of sons and daughters of the rich. Unruh showed a particular antipathy to the fraternity-sorority axis and became active in radical politics. He was approached by Communists, but did not join the party, saying he could not afford the ten-cent monthly dues. "It's somewhat of a wonder, looking back, that I didn't get in."[9] Active in a group called "Trovets," Unruh led fights to alleviate a housing shortage for student veterans and win for them representation in student government. Unruh was opposed from both the Right and the Left. One of his chief rivals was Phillip Burton, who was four years younger and had spent most of the war on the USC campus in officer training programs. Although their leftist beliefs were similar, Burton's power base was the fraternities. Unruh wanted a seat for the Trovets in the student senate, but Burton worked hard to block him. Unruh eventually succeeded, winning a seat in the student senate in December 1946. By then Burton had graduated and was gone from USC.[10]

In 1948, the year he graduated from USC, Unruh conducted his first campaign for the California State Assembly. To run, he broke with his Communist friends after they supported the third-party presidential candidacy of former Vice President Henry Wallace while he supported President Harry Truman's reelection. His march to the political middle had begun. Unruh finished poorly in the Assembly primary. He tried again four years later and lost again. For the next two years he laid the groundwork for yet another Assembly campaign. He raised money from labor unions and in 1954 mounted a well-organized precinct operation in a central Los Angeles district that contained a large and growing number of Negroes. Unruh finally won. Unruh's campaign techniques were similar to those of Phillip Burton in San Francisco, who lost his bid for the Assembly that same year but won a seat two years later.

As a freshman legislator Unruh was consigned to a sixth-floor Capitol annex office next to the cafeteria, starting at the very bottom of the legislative ladder. The clatter of dishes frequently interrupted conversations in his closet-sized office. But being out of the way at that time was not necessarily a disadvantage. Unruh entered a Legislature deeply in turmoil, churned by a power vacuum created by the conviction on income tax evasion charges of lobbyist Artie Samish, the most powerful political boss in California.

Bosses were supposed to be a thing of the past in California, rendered obsolete by the reforms of Governor Hiram Johnson in the first half of the century. Johnson instituted the ballot initiative, thus breaking the political grip of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Legislature (the reason the state capital was swampy Sacramento, a place that was insufferably hot in summer and depressingly foggy in winter, was that the city was the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad). By the mid-twentieth century machine politics


was supposed to be a failing of easterners, not an indulgence of rugged, independent Californians. But antipolitics remained a California myth along with perfect weather and unlimited opportunity.[11] Then as now, California was periodically dominated by strong individuals, and not all of them elected.

Samish, a lobbyist for liquor and gambling interests in the 1940s and 1950s, once posed for a photograph for Collier's magazine with a puppet on his knee, quipping that it was "Mr. Legislature." He did not exaggerate the reach of his power. "Earl Warren may be the governor of the state, but I'm the governor of the Legislature." Samish produced results for his clients like no one before or since. "I can't recall an instance in which I had an important failure."[12] Samish was brought down by his vanity, bragging to journalists about his power. They called Samish "The Secret Boss of California"—and he relished in the tag so much that he borrowed it for the title of his autobiography. Author Carey McWilliams brought Samish into the public eye in an article for The Nation in July 1949 exposing how Samish worked, highlighting his flamboyance. But the magazine had a limited audience.

The dam broke a month later when the widely circulated Collier's published a two-part exposé of Samish by Lester Velie.[13] The stories sparked a grand jury investigation, and Samish eventually was convicted and sent to a federal penitentiary. McWilliams, a lawyer and journalist who was perhaps the most astute observer of California of his generation, made an almost timeless comment in 1949 in the context of the Samish scandal: "Interests, not people, are represented in Sacramento. Sacramento is the market place of California where grape growers and sardine fishermen, morticians and osteopaths bid for allotments of state power. Today there is scarcely an interest group that has failed to secure some form of special legislation safeguarding its particular interests."[14]

Samish's downfall sparked a feeding frenzy among Sacramento lobbyists to fill the power vacuum and pick up his clients. Politicians grown accustomed to taking their cue, and their cut, from Samish were thrown off guard. The waters were treacherous, particularly for a freshman like Unruh. Taking his Assembly seat, Unruh kept his distance from the lobbyists at first. It was all he could do just to hang onto his hard-won seat in the 1956 election. Staying away from the lobbyists' trough was not easy. The Legislature met only part-time, and lawmakers were paid a small stipend, nothing close to a living wage. Unruh had little outside income, although he listed his occupation on the ballot as "economist." Lou Cannon, his biographer, wrote that the designation was imaginative because "Unruh was an economist only in the sense that he was forced to economize."[15]

Unruh was well-liked by his colleagues from the start. He stood out during a convoluted legislative battle over revenues generated by oil drilling in state-controlled coastal tidelands, a $60 billion issue. Unruh aligned himself with insurance lobbyists who were fighting oil lobbyists over the state's


tax structure. To outsiders such a war may have seemed odd. But it was one of those political dogfights, common in California, pitting seemingly unrelated industries against each other. The result in this case was taxes favorable to the insurance industry. The oil industry was forced to give a larger percentage of its tideland oil revenue to California than in any other state.[16]

Another day, another fight, and the oil industry might have won (and on another day, Unruh would have sided with oil). Of greater importance to Unruh than the actual outcome was that his skill in maneuvering through the thicket of interest groups won him praise among his colleagues and marked him as a comer. The political payoff came in 1957 during a leadership fight. Unruh backed the winning faction and was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Finance and Insurance Committee. The key to Unruh's advancement was not ideological purity, which he lacked, but an ability to work with colleagues and special interests coupled with his skill in picking the right horse in leadership votes.

Unruh's personal finances gradually improved. In 1958 Unruh was put on the campaign payroll of Attorney General Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, a Republican turned Democrat who was mounting a run for governor. It was then that Unruh uttered his most enduring quote: "Money is the mother's milk of politics."[17] Oil lobbyists, the losers in his first big legislative battle, put up the money for Unruh's salary in the gubernatorial campaign. Unruh's new role moved him close to the center of power in Sacramento. He was reelected to his Assembly seat in 1958, the same year that Pat Brown was elected governor. The Democrats took control of the Legislature, and they stood poised to enact the most far-reaching liberal programs of the century. In the next few years Pat Brown and the Democratic Legislature presided over the massive construction of a water project bringing melted snows from the far northern corners of the state to the burgeoning metropolis of Southern California. The freeway system was expanded, and the University of California grew from two campuses with satellites to nine major research universities.

By now Unruh had a loyal, if mischievous, following of colleagues in the Assembly that variously dubbed themselves the "Praetorian Guard" or the "Cub Scout Den." He used his group to line up votes in 1959 to elect a new Speaker, mild-mannered Ralph Brown, a Democrat from Modesto who was chiefly noted as the author of the state's open government laws. Unruh was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the Legislature with jurisdiction over the state budget and all legislation appropriating money.

The Ways and Means Committee in California was something of a super-committee with no parallel in Washington, D. C. Most bills of any significance generally had something to do with a state appropriation somewhere, so nearly all legislation had to pass through not just a policy committee, but also


Ways and Means, before reaching the Assembly floor. The committee was thus the chief hurdle that all legislation needed to get over. That made the chairman of Ways and Means second in power only to the Assembly Speaker, who appointed him and all the members of the committee. In reality Unruh was more powerful because he was willing to play the power game that the gentlemanly Ralph Brown was not. In 1959 Unruh used his power to write California's first comprehensive civil rights law, an act that still stands as one of the crowning achievements of the California Legislature in the twentieth century. Notably, the civil rights bill, widely considered Unruh's finest legislative work, was passed when he was Ways and Means chairman, not Speaker.

Even as he rolled up impressive legislative achievements as a committee chairman, there was no doubt that Unruh wanted the top legislative prize. Indeed, after Ralph Brown was appointed a judge by Governor Brown (largely through Unruh's behind-the-scenes machinations), Unruh was elected Speaker on September 30, 1961, his thirty-ninth birthday. In holding the job over the next seven years, Unruh became the longest-reigning Assembly Speaker in the state's history—until his record was broken in 1987 by Willie Brown.

Contrary to later misconceptions, the election of an Assembly Speaker was rarely a strictly partisan affair. Such elections were partisan to the extent that Speakers came from the majority party, and for Unruh that was the Democrats. But Speakers have been elected by putting together forty-one-vote majorities in the eighty-seat Assembly in any combination the winner could find. And they have found some improbable combinations. Successful candidates for Speaker have almost always had to reach across the aisle to win votes in the opposition party. Although Republicans would later spin a revisionist view of history to cover up their complicity in electing Willie Brown, only two speakership elections before 1969 were strictly partisan: the election of Paul Peek in 1939 and Unruh's reelection in 1968.[18] Every other speakership election featured members of both parties forming a coalition to elect the winner. The reason stemmed from California's peculiar system allowing candidates to cross-file for office in as many political parties as they dared. Until the practice was abolished in 1959, there was virtually no party discipline in the Legislature and lawmakers in leadership fights could freelance deals with impunity.

Following that tradition, with help from Republicans Unruh put together enough votes to become Speaker in 1961. His chief Democratic rival, Carlos Bee, fell short with thirty-eight votes and then withdrew after getting Unruh's promise that he would get the ceremonial post of Speaker pro tem. One other Democrat, the floor whip Gordon Winton, tried to stop Unruh, but he won only thirteen votes, twelve of them from Republicans and the thirteenth his own. Unruh then triumphed on a 57-13 vote. Unruh put together his winning combination by promising committee chairmanships and


going out of his way to protect a handful of friendly Republicans from hostile redistricting plans.[19] The internal politics of the 1961 reapportionment was pivotal to Unruh's success with both Republicans and Democrats. Unruh's chief lieutenant in the Assembly, Democrat Robert Crown of Alameda, had presided over the 1961 reapportionment as chairman of the Elections and Reapportionment Committee. In addition to helping Phillip Burton with the "fifth seat" in San Francisco (and winning Burton's vote for Unruh's speakership), Crown had favorably gerrymandered numerous districts for incumbents in both parties in return for their votes for Unruh as Speaker.[20]

From the start, Jesse Unruh transformed the office of Speaker, and with it, the dynamics of power in the Legislature. Lobbyists remained powerful, but their role became more fluid as they played the unaccustomed role of supplicant to legislators. Unruh established a professional staff for the Legislature, giving both Republican and Democratic lawmakers their own corps of policy experts. Lobbyists and the executive branch had previously held a stranglehold on information flowing into the Legislature on policy issues. Lobbyists even drafted the legislation for the elected lawmakers. That now changed. Unruh also pushed for a full-time, full-salaried Legislature to free elected officials from having to rely on lobbyists for income. Unruh's reforms succeeded with a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 1966, Proposition 1-A. Unruh was truly the national architect of a modern legislature, for his reforms were enthusiastically emulated by other states.

But there was much more to Unruh. He stood out as a larger-than-life character in a state where politicians were often two-dimensional and bland. His flaws were enormous, his ego and appetites gargantuan. He was easy to caricature—or demonize. Democrat Jim Mills, who later became one of Unruh's chief supporters in the Assembly, recalled his first impression of Unruh operating on the Assembly floor in his memoir:

One of the first things I noticed about him was that he seldom sat at his desk. Most of the time he stood up in the aisle between it and the north wall, turning his ponderous bulk this way and that way upon his expensively shod feet, surveying all the rest of us in our places levelly, like a straw boss overseeing a gang of hired hands. Occasionally, he would raise a thick hand up to his pastel shirt collar, and he would hook two of his big fingers over it and take two tugs at it. Obviously it was too tight. I thought there probably weren't any shirts made that didn't have collars that would be too tight for that neck. Sometimes he would raise his chin and thrust it forward at us in the manner of Benito Mussolini.[21]

The job of Assembly Speaker in the 1960s was far more powerful than its counterpart in Congress, and Unruh made it even more so. Unlike the Speaker of the House in Washington, the Speaker of the house in


Sacramento could dispense committee chairmanships at will and take them away again. Unruh decided which bills would be heard by which committees, thus controlling the flow and fate of legislation. He could do anything he wanted as long as his forty-one-vote majority held firm, and to ensure that it did, Unruh did favors big and small for his members. Ed Gaffney liked to play the ponies, so Unruh sent him track passes.[22] Unruh put legislators' relatives on the Assembly payroll despite the squeamishness of his aides.[23] Unruh made "suggestions" to lobbyists about where to send their campaign donations, and the money flowed. Unruh held a series of dinners to raise money for a centralized campaign war chest for Democratic candidates to the Assembly.

Unruh kept copious files on each member; he dissected their strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and political interests. Nothing seemed to escape his gaze. Unruh also operated an "Assembly Contingent Fund" with state money that members could draw from with no oversight. An alarmed Kenneth Cory, Unruh's chief administrative officer, privately reported to him in January 1964 that the slush fund appeared to be $400,000 short from what the state controller's records showed it should have.[24] The problem was kept quiet.

As Unruh's power and effectiveness increased, so did tensions with Governor Pat Brown. The governor needed Unruh to win passage of his water projects, freeways, and university campuses, and he resented having to go to the rough-hewn Unruh to get it. Pat Brown's resentment was deeper still because John F. Kennedy's White House went to Unruh if it wanted to get anything done in California. Pat Brown let his insecurities show with petty snubs of Unruh and his legislative allies. John FitzRandolph, the attorney who drafted Unruh's full-time Legislature constitutional amendment, observed, "Jesse Unruh knew where he was going and knew what he wanted. Nobody accused him of being a waffler. He was a power in his own right, and the governor was almost incidental and a figurehead that got in the way. Pat Brown let that happen."[25]

But from his suite in the northwest corner of the Capitol, Unruh was envious of the governor's stature, and he let it show.[26] In-house, Unruh had problems with Phillip Burton, who was actively working to defeat an Unruh loyalist, Ed Gaffney, and elect Willie Brown. Although Burton did not openly oppose Unruh for Speaker, he was a constant thorn in Unruh's side and something of a prima donna. Burton threatened to withdraw support at the slightest provocation. Typical was a note Burton sent Unruh in November 1962 congratulating him on his reelection. Scrawled across the bottom, Burton wrote "I refuse to serve with John Knox as co-chairman of Engrossment & Enrollment—Unless I can call the meetings to order."[27] Unruh's relations with the Young Democrats were equally terrible, especially after he unsuccessfully opposed Phillip Isenberg, a student from Sacramento State College, as the Young Democrats' president in 1961.[28]


Pat Brown was forced into the role of supplicant to the Legislature, but outside he had strong allies. The governor remained popular with the Democratic clubs of California and with Democrats in general. The "club Democrats," as they became known, resented Unruh's bosslike rule and his increasing tilt toward the lobbyists for corporations and trade associations. Student activists sided with the governor as well. Isenberg and the YDs made it abundantly clear that they were Pat Brown Democrats, not Jesse Unruh Democrats.

By the 1963 session liberals were chafing at their inability to get even the simplest of progressive legislation out of the Unruh-controlled Assembly. Typical was the fate of Governor Brown's broad series of consumer-protection bills: most were bottled up in committee. One example was a truth-in-lending bill introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Charles Warren that would have required disclosure of loan interest rates to consumers as annualized percentages. The bill would have given consumers a basis for comparison shopping at banks and savings and loan institutions. But Warren's bill was killed in the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee because of opposition from the California Retailers Association, Wells Fargo Bank, and the California Savings and Loan League. In despair, Frontier magazine observed, "Not since 1952, when Artie Samish left Sacramento for federal prison, have the lobbies been so influential."[29]

There was, in fact, one major accomplishment in the 1963 session, and it stood as a testament to what Unruh could do with his power if he so chose to use it. The high point of the session was passage of the state's first law prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. The landmark open housing bill, AB 1240, was authored by black Assemblyman Byron Rumford of Oakland and was backed by the governor. But nothing happened until Rumford wore down Unruh's initial resistance. Unruh feared a white backlash, and believed that the courts would eventually resolve the open housing issue without the need for new legislation by applying his own 1959 civil rights law. But Unruh did not want to be outflanked on the issue either, and certainly not by the governor, so he got on board the Rumford bill. Unruh's support proved crucial in forcing the bill through the Legislature. Larry Margolis, his chief of staff, later recalled that Unruh supported the open housing law out of political expediency: "[Unruh's] feeling was that if the Legislature would leave matters alone, the courts would gradually apply his Civil Rights Act to housing, and you would not get it all at once and you wouldn't get a backlash. But if you pass the Rumford Act, there's the possibility of a backlash because it's too hard-edged, specific, and happens all at once. However, the movement for civil rights in housing with the governor's support was too strong, and so Jess felt that he couldn't afford not to be with it."[30]

Assembly members voting in favor of the Rumford Fair Housing Act on June 21, 1963, included San Franciscans Phillip Burton and Ed Gaffney. Those voting against it included Republican George Deukmejian of Long Beach.[31]


The measure was signed into law, but Unruh's instincts were right: the Rumford Act sparked a vicious white backlash in California that ultimately brought about its repeal at the ballot box by initiative.

The rest of 1963 was a disaster for Unruh. As he grew fatter and more powerful, Unruh relied less and less on his "Praetorian Guard" of legislative cronies and more on his staff, directed by Larry Margolis. Colleagues noticed that he increasingly drank more and indulged his huge sexual appetite, bedding willing young women from around the Capitol.[32]

Unruh's "Big Daddy" image was indelibly set in July 1963 when the Assembly met to vote on the state budget. Ironically, the episode revealed Unruh at his weakest. The episode began when Republicans demanded to know the details of Unruh's agreement with the state Senate over a school finance measure. When he would not tell them, the Republicans refused to vote on the budget. Neither side would budge. Finally, at 1:40 A.M. on July 30, after an evening of heavy drinking, Unruh ordered the Republicans locked into the Assembly chambers until they voted. The move badly backfired on Unruh, the biggest political blunder of his career.

That night Republican State Chairman Caspar Weinberger swiftly issued a press release denouncing the lockup as the tactics of "Stalin, Hitler and other dictators." The press ate up the melodrama. Meanwhile Unruh's allies pleaded with him to release the Republicans, but he would not relent. Unruh retreated to a bar at the El Mirador Hotel and got even more drunk. As the situation spun out of control, Deukmejian quietly went to Democratic Assemblyman Jim Mills and told him, "You guys should really try to get yourselves out of this situation, you know." Finally, after twenty-two hours and fifty minutes, Unruh caved in and showed the Republicans the school bill. The Republicans then voted to approve the budget.[33]

By night's end what really mattered to Republicans was not the school bill or the budget, but that they had succeeded in showing Unruh as tyrant. In the aftermath, not only was Unruh denounced by editorial writers but his political opponents now included influential Democrats who were appalled by his poor judgment. He seemed weakened, wounded, and destined for a dustbin built with his own hubris. Phillip Burton rivaled him from the left and might well have challenged him for Speaker except that his sights were set on Washington. In February 1964 Burton departed from Sacramento after winning a special election for a congressional seat.

Every politician, it seemed, took the measure of Unruh in 1963 and 1964, including two young freshmen from San Francisco—Willie Brown and John Burton. The pair arrived in Sacramento on January 4, 1965, six months after the lockdown, to be sworn in and to take their seats. Brown was assigned a seat in the third row from the rear near the northwestern corner. On his left was Bill Stanton, a San Jose liberal activist from the Democratic clubs in his second term. On Brown's right was Carl Britschgi, a Republican from


Redwood City who was beginning his ninth year in the Assembly. John Burton was seated in the far southwestern corner in the very last row, next to Unruh, no less. Like mischievous school boys who talk too much, Burton and Brown were placed at opposite ends of the room.

Burton and Brown were about to commit mischief, and they were about to badly underestimate the headmaster, Jesse Marvin Unruh.

In their first opportunity to cast votes in public office, the two freshmen abstained from voting for the reelection of Unruh as Speaker of the Assembly.[34] In later years they promoted the story that they had courageously voted against Unruh. In truth, they were not quite that courageous, for they abstained. But for all practical purposes they may as well have voted against Unruh because that is exactly how Big Daddy took it.

Columnist Jack McDowell seriously questioned their political competence, writing at the time, "This achieved about as much as belting the principal in the eye on the first day in a new school."[35] Even all the Republicans voted for Unruh. The hold-outs were four Democrats: Brown and Burton; Gordon Winton, who had run against Unruh for Speaker in 1961; and Stanton, who cryptically said, "I am not an Unruh Democrat or a [Pat] Brown Democrat but a member of a third force."[36]

John Burton, awkwardly seated next to Unruh, sat silently, and then told him he could not vote for him as Speaker because Unruh had supported his Democratic primary opponent. Cornered later by reporters, Burton said "I'm not here to be anti-Unruh. I am here to do a job in the Legislature for my district and my state, and I shall support liberal causes."

Willie Brown was more explicit with reporters: Unruh had supported Gaffney, not him, and he had "evened the score." Unruh had made a bet with Phillip Burton that Brown would lose. "I would be letting my supporters down if I voted for Mr. Unruh. We invested $37,500 in this seat. Now I think we've cleared the air and evened the score. And now that Mr. Unruh is the Speaker again I intend to work with the Assembly as it is constituted. I shall vote my conscience on all matters. I do not anticipate any reprisal," Brown said.[37]

The unanticipated reprisal came, and came swiftly.

"Unruh immediately shit on us like you wouldn't believe," Brown recalled.[38] Unruh assigned Brown to the Committee on Municipal and County Government, a nowhere land of drudgery and boredom. John Burton was assigned to the Committee on Agriculture, a meaningless assignment for an urban lawmaker. Brown did not even get an office of his own, but had to share one with another freshman legislator, Jack Fenton. There was barely enough room for the two of them, let alone desks and telephones. Brown later said he didn't mind; the office was something of a badge of honor. "I was so happy to be elected and holding office and having a seat on the floor. I didn't know about all these perks. I wasn't on the in-


side, so nobody told me about the perks. So his [Unruh's] efforts to insult me didn't succeed because I didn't know. You really can't insult anybody unless they know you're insulting them, you know? Not 'til I learned how to insult did I realize it was an insult."[39]

As freshmen, Brown and Fenton were consigned together in a sixth-floor Capitol annex office next to the cafeteria, starting at the very bottom of the legislative ladder. "Unruh assigned me to the worst place in the world," Brown recalled.[40] The clatter of dishes interrupted conversations in his closet-sized office. He was as low as a legislator could get, and his climb up was going to be long. Years later, when he finally reached the pinnacle of legislative power, it was a point of considerable pride to Willie Brown that he had started his Assembly career in the exact same office as Big Daddy.


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