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Chapter Eleven— Rock the Boat!
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Chapter Eleven—
Rock the Boat!

There's only one way for the cause of Negroes to be advanced in the Democratic Party, that is: Rock the Boat!
Willie Brown
January 1966
Bakersfield, California

Willie Brown's first year in office was rough. He found the boundaries of his district under legal attack, and he unwittingly stepped into a major controversy over the Vietnam War. Threatened with recall, Brown kept his cool, and won moderate success legislating. More importantly, he forged his own path outside the traditional power structure in Sacramento. By the end of his first term, he proved to be an emerging force Sacramento politicians needed to take seriously. He succeeded during a period of turmoil both in the Legislature and in California.

The Legislature was in a grumpy mood as it settled down to business in January 1965. Democratic majority leader Jerome Waldie glumly predicted the session would be "long, disturbing, tiring and probably non-productive."[1] He turned out to be right. Lawmakers were particularly temperamental on the day Governor Pat Brown came to deliver his annual state-of-the-state address. Legislators gave the governor their most hostile reception of his six years in office. Assembly members and senators sat in bored silence for most of his speech, and then burst into sarcastic laughter when the governor proposed repealing the two-thirds majority vote requirement for approval of the budget. They applauded only once, when the governor suggested that lawmakers needed a pay raise. Years later, Democrats and even some Republicans raised Pat Brown onto a pedestal, paying him homage as the


greatest governor of the second half of the twentieth century. But in the winter of 1965, legislators of both parties were weary of Pat Brown and ached for him to cede the stage to a new generation.

The most immediate reason for legislative sullenness in 1965 was a federal court order requiring California to redraw legislative district lines—again.[2] The Legislature was given until July 1 to comply. Reapportionment was painfully political under the best of circumstances, but this order had an extra bite: California was now required to draw legislative districts containing roughly equal numbers of voters. The districts could not deviate by more than 15 percent in population. The principle was devastatingly simple—"one man, one vote"—and it radically shifted the balance of power to Southern California, pulling power away from the rural northern and central counties. It was the biggest political earthquake since Governor Hiram Johnson broke the power of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the first decade of the twentieth century with the advent of the direct-ballot referendum.[3]

The most dramatic change was to the state Senate. The forty-member Senate was comprised of districts conforming to the borders of the state's fifty-eight counties, with no senatorial district containing more than three counties or fewer than one. The old system rendered an absurd result: Alpine, Inyo, and Mono counties, with a combined population of 15,600 people, shared one senator; Los Angeles County, with a population of 6,737,300 people, had one senator.[4] That meant that one Alpine County voter had as much voting power as 430 voters in Los Angeles. Demographically, the system gave disproportionate power to rural voters because fewer than half of the state's counties had more than 100,000 people. The majority of seats in the state Senate were held by senators representing only a tiny fraction of the state's population. The rural senators controlled the upper house, and their clout was far in excess of the population they represented. The state's booming metropolitan areas were ridiculously underrepresented in the state Senate. The powerful lions of the Senate included the likes of Randolph Collier, a silver-haired patrician who represented Siskiyou County, a mountainous, largely undeveloped region in the northern reaches of the state with a population of 35,300. It was no accident that his region had some of the best highways in the state even though it did not have many cars or voters.

Although the Assembly was more representative than the Senate, the Legislature as a whole did not come close to reflecting the demographics of the state it purported to represent. In 1965, the year Willie Brown took his seat, there were four blacks, one woman, and no Latinos in the eighty-member Assembly.[5] The Senate was composed entirely of white males, all of them middle-aged or older. The "one man, one vote" decision threatened to drastically change the complexion of the Legislature and completely tilt the political balance of power away from rural conservatives and place power into the hands of urban liberals. The grip of the rural senators was unavoidably about to be broken; they were now ordered to abolish their own districts. It was the


last hurrah for many of those taking their seats January 4, 1965; incumbents by the drove would not have a district in which to run in 1966. As it turned out, more than half of the Senate's forty seats and almost half of the Assembly's eighty seats changed hands, the largest turnover in the Legislature's history.[6]

Although the focus that winter was on redistricting in the Senate, there were implications for the Assembly as well. Theoretically, San Francisco was entitled to three and one-half Assembly seats—four at the outside, and certainly not the five it had. Willie Brown held the fifth seat, thanks to the handiwork of Phillip Burton, and it did not take a political genius to realize that Brown was the most at risk under the court's order. Brown had barely settled into his new, if small, office in the state Capitol before he had to scramble to save his hard-won seat. He began voicing fears that his Eighteenth Assembly District would be merged with the Twentieth Assembly District, pitting him against his good friend, John Burton.[7] There is no record of Speaker Jesse Unruh's reaction, but he was probably richly amused at the idea of the two upstarts pitted against each other for political survival. Brown's friends in the civil rights movement were shocked. "Jess kind of annihilated Willie," said Virna Canson, the lobbyist for the NAACP in Sacramento.[8]

It was not long before the clever architect of San Francisco's redistricting Congressman Phillip Burton, proclaimed that someone else would have to go—not John Burton and not Willie Brown. "Under no circumstances would my brother run against Willie Brown," said Phillip Burton, speaking for his brother. The message was clearly aimed at Unruh: the Speaker had better carve up someone else's district.[9]

Brown's troubled winter of 1965 was just beginning. On the same day that Phillip Burton was shooting a warning shot across Unruh's bow about redistricting, brother John unwittingly opened a second front. While Willie Brown was away from the Capitol undergoing an agonizing rabies treatment because of a dog bite, John Burton was sitting in his Capitol office ruminating about the Vietnam War with Bill Stanton, one of the four who had refused to vote for Unruh's reelection as Speaker. They were talking about the prospects for peace and about Soviet premier Aleksei Kosygin, who was about to depart Moscow for talks in Hanoi.

John Burton and Bill Stanton decided they had to do something about the war and do it then and there.[10] They sent a telegram to French President Charles de Gaulle and to Konnie Zilliacus, an obscure left-wing backbench Labour member of the British Parliament, who had long had ties to the East European Communist bloc.[11] The telegram said, "We earnestly ask you to use your influence to halt any further escalation of the war in Vietnam. The only answer to world peace is a peaceful Southeast Asia. This cannot be accomplished by American air strikes while it is visited by the premier of the Soviet Union."[12]

Burton and Stanton signed their names, and for good measure, they signed Willie Brown's name. "We just put Willie's name on it 'cause he


would want to. If he were in the room, he would have said yeah," said Burton. In reality, the telegram was mild, especially compared with the protests that came later. But in February 1965 some believed that it was rebelliousness bordering on treason for three obscure Democratic state legislators to challenge the president of the United States, the leader of their own party, by sending a telegram to foreign leaders.[13] On February 12 they got a reply signed by fifty-three Labour members of Parliament, including Zilliacus and Michael Foot, the pacifist socialist who, years later, became the Labour opposition leader to Margaret Thatcher. The choppy telegram said, "Believe our government should respond growing demand for British-Soviet initiative as cochairman international supervisory commission reconvene 1954 Geneva conference powers vie [sic] arranging armistice concluding treaty guaranteeing withdrawal all foreign forces advisers complete military neutralisation whole Vietnam."[14]

A day later Brown got a telephone call from a reporter asking him why he had sent a telegram to Konnie Zilliacus. Brown was totally ignorant, and he played for time. "I have no clue who Zilliacus is," Brown recalled. "I was of course smart enough to say, well, yes, that's an appropriate place to send it or something to that effect. I had to keep pulling 'til I could figure out what I was supposed to do." The reporter finally mentioned John Burton. "Ahh! Then the light went on! So I said, 'Mr. Burton, of course, is clearly the person you ought to chat with.' Then I called up John: 'You son of a bitch, I will kill you.' "[15] But Brown never snitched on his friend. "He took all the shit and never said a word," said Burton.[16] Even years later, Willie Brown kept the secret.

By the time Willie Brown became Speaker, California legislators routinely —and self-importantly—wrote letters and passed resolutions on all matters of foreign policy, their missives often bordering on the ridiculous and rarely noted in the press. But in 1965 it was still unusual for a California legislator to take a public position on foreign policy. The firestorm of criticism that the Burton-Stanton-Brown telegram ignited against the three appears excessive by the standards of a later time, but it was very much in keeping with the mainstream standards of 1965.

Newspaper editorialists skewered them. By now they were becoming a favorite target of columnist Jack McDowell in the News–Call Bulletin , who ripped, "Their new ruckus brings up once again this simple, practical question: How effective can these men be in behalf of the people they are elected to represent?"[17] The Examiner called them "the Meddlers" in a headline, and branded their conduct "outrageous," adding that "the public shouldn't forget it."[18] The Chronicle was perhaps mildest: "If San Francisco's freshmen Assemblymen, Willie Brown Jr. and John Burton, will accept a word of well-meant advice, we don't think their recent essay in foreign policy expression has helped them at all to do the job of representing their city in Sacramento." It went on to call them "amateurs" and "presumptuous."


They were castigated in a Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper, which distorted their telegram to allies Britain and France by accusing them of being "flagrantly unpatriotic to want to establish relations and communications with foreign governments which, in addition to being enemies, are at present in bellicose conflict with our country."[19]

Even the tiny Alameda Times-Star got into the act, wildly distorting the telegram by linking it to antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco and attacks on U.S. embassies abroad. "There is simply every indication of a certain directed action, an action that has as its source the apparatus that consistently and unequivocally supports the principles and objectives of Communism." The newspaper could not believe that a trio of state legislators were opposed to the war unless they were Communist agents. "Only one answer makes sense at all. It is that these pickets and these legislators believe in the Communist side of the struggle and are opposed to our side."[20]

Only one newspaper loudly defended them: the Negro Sun-Reporter: "Three young, stalwart liberals have shown the courage to and the fortitude to articulate the basic needs and desire of the people. . . . They are voices of warning in our wilderness of shame."[21]

The editorials were just the opening chorus. Things became still rougher. It was one thing to have Brown, Burton, and Stanton roasted in the editorial columns. But the flap was beginning to prove an embarrassment to the Assembly as a whole.

Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Burns, the powerful leader of the Democrats in the state Senate, and Senator John F. McCarthy, the leader of the Republicans, jointly introduced a resolution calling on the federal Justice Department to prosecute Brown, Burton, and Stanton under a 1799 law banning American citizens from conducting private relations with a foreign government.[22] Known as the Logan Act, the law was enacted to stop American citizens from privately negotiating a dispute with the French government. The law was of dubious constitutionality, but the resolution signaled that the three delinquent assemblymen would be treated roughly in the state Senate. More important, the Burns-McCarthy resolution spurred Republicans to take things a step further by demanding that Brown, Burton, and Stanton be prosecuted for treason. The Young Republicans organization from the Bay Area filed petitions with the secretary of state to recall the three legislators.[23] A Republican activist in San Francisco filed a lawsuit to have Brown removed from office for "insurrectionary actions tending toward treason"—all for having his name at the bottom of a telegram sent to other democratically elected officials in Britain and France.[24]

Brown did his best to bring reason back into the controversy. "I suppose in the eyes of those Young Republicans, de Gaulle and [British Prime Minister] Harold Wilson are part of the North Vietnamese government." He headed toward the middle, which indeed is where he really was on the war. Brown was not an antiwar crusader; he considered it John Burton's issue. Indeed,


Brown was still unsure where he stood on the Vietnam War, although not for much longer. In the midst of the telegram controversy, Brown said, "I am as critical of the Viet Cong killing Americans as I am of Americans killing the Viet Cong. I am equally critical of any conduct which causes death, whether it be in the name of law, or communism, or in the name of patriotism."[25]

The Democratic-tilting Sacramento Bee , which had ignored the telegram for three weeks, published a backhanded defense of the three, arguing that "legislators must not have enough work to do" if Hugh Burns had time to introduce resolutions condemning other legislators for sending telegrams to Britain and France.[26]

At first Phillip Burton tried to make light of the flap in public. With John Burton and Willie Brown looking on at the annual dinner of the San Francisco Chinese-American Democratic Club, Phillip Burton joked that the Vietnam conflict was a congressional issue and that John Burton "should not invade his brother's jurisdiction."[27] But the mess was getting seriously out of hand, and Phillip Burton was highly irritated. "We were kind of in bad shit [with Phillip] that we would be getting in this fucking trouble," recalled John Burton. "[Phillip] wasn't for the war anyway, but he thought, 'What do you need this shit?' And I remember getting in arguments [with him]."[28]

The congressman placed a call to Unruh and asked him if he would put out the fire.[29] Unruh was a close friend of Senate leader Hugh Burns, and Phillip Burton asked Unruh to talk with Burns about withdrawing his resolution against the three. Enough was enough; these were Democrats under attack and the Republicans were having too much fun with it. This was now partisan politics, pure and simple. Phillip Burton also called Burns and half-jokingly threatened never to take him on another bar crawl to topless joints in San Francisco's North Beach if he persisted in attacking John Burton and Willie Brown. Burns reportedly replied, "Hell, Phil, I've always been an ankle man anyway, that ain't going to bother me."[30] But Burns got the message.

The Assembly Democrats met in caucus behind closed doors on February 24. Unruh turned the flap into an issue of the Senate meddling in the affairs of the Assembly. Burton and Brown did not withdraw their telegram, but they apologized for causing any embarrassment to their colleagues.[31] Unruh then pronounced the affair over. After the caucus adjourned, Unruh issued a prepared statement: "This action was taken by only three of the eighty Assemblymen. It is their privilege to choose this method to show their concern. I think they may have done it this way because they knew that any resolution saying in effect what their telegrams did would not have the support of a vast majority of legislators, both Republican and Democratic."[32] He also told reporters, "The whole thing is at an end."[33] Brown and Burton quietly slipped out and kept their mouths shut with reporters. "That's when we became friends with Unruh," Brown said. "He stepped up to the plate and said, 'I don't give a shit what these guys did, or who they are, you can't


censure a member of my house.' He told Hugh Burns that, and they backed off."[34]

But Stanton would not play along and be quiet. Taking the Assembly floor, Stanton demanded to be allowed to speak as a "point of personal privilege." Unruh cut Stanton off and would not allow him to speak. Unruh then took Stanton to his office and told him to shut up because things were being smoothed over quietly with the Senate leaders.[35]

Stanton would not take the advice. The next day he spoke again on the Assembly floor, demanding that Burns press his resolution forward. "It's my intention to take this to the very end. I'm going to be fully vindicated." Stanton even suggested that Burns should leave the Democratic Party. "I can't see where he has done much to defend the principles of the Democratic Party."[36] Democratic leader Jerome Waldie, who was presiding, angrily ruled Stanton out of order.

"I'm not going to be gagged!" Stanton shouted.

"You're going to be gagged if you're not speaking to the point," Waldie retorted.[37]

Stanton stood on a principle that some other legislators eventually embraced as the Vietnam War dragged on.[38] But in confronting Hugh Burns so openly, Stanton committed political suicide. His legislative career was over. Brown and Burton kept their silence; their careers were just beginning. "I saw the shit coming and Willie saw the shit coming," said John Burton. "We sort of ducked and laughed and weaved, and Stanton wanted to do battle. Well, fuck him. I wasn't going to do battle when I knew we were outnumbered. But Bill [Stanton] just kept going."[39]

The lawsuit against Brown was dismissed, and the recall efforts against the three eventually fizzled. But Stanton was punished through reapportionment. As legislative leaders drafted their plans to comply with the court order equalizing legislative districts, Stanton found his district carved to pieces.

In the long run Willie Brown benefited by the affair. Lawmakers respected him for his loyalty when they privately learned that Brown had not signed the telegram but had stood by his friends. That kind of loyalty was highly prized in the closed world of the state Capitol. He had taken a huge beating in public and not lost his cool. His earlier brushes with controversy in San Francisco stood him well now.

The affair paid off for Brown outside the Capitol as well. He was now a hero of the budding antiwar movement. "I became an instant peacenik overnight, made by John Burton," said Brown. "All the left-wing organizations around the world came to my defense. I didn't even know these people." As the Democratic Party inched its painful way toward opposing the Vietnam War, Brown was increasingly well placed as something of a founder of the antiwar movement, however accidental his initial involvement was. His status would pay a rich dividend four years later when he became involved in


the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy, and later as an important figure in the antiwar presidential candidacy of George McGovern. But in the days immediately following the telegram controversy, having dodged Hugh Burns's bullet, Brown reverted to caution. He declined to appear at an antiwar rally in April and instead issued a statement supporting President Lyndon Johnson. "The President's offer of unconditional negotiations has been made. I think it's time now to support that call and see what answer is given by the other side."[40]

The episode also had its social dividends. "I became one of the biggest items at the University of California. Oh, it was fabulous. I mean, the young women—oh God!"[41] Brown lived a frenzied life, and was by now partaking of the social benefits of being a legislator in a male-oriented world, enjoying the young women who were so freely available.

Brown frequently traveled the ninety miles between Sacramento and San Francisco, although he saw little of his family. In May he was in the first of a number of automobile wrecks he would have over the years on the highway connecting the two poles of his life. He suffered a bruised shoulder in a three-car accident near Davis.[42]

As life settled down after such a bumpy start in the Capitol, Brown threw himself into his job, offering up legislation at an audacious rate for a freshman. He introduced bills to prohibit police officers from using dogs to control demonstrators and another bill that would require delaying until the conclusion of the legislative session any criminal case in which the defense attorney was also a legislator.[43] The latter bill was designed to delay the Auto Row and Sheraton-Palace criminal trials for Brown's clients, but the tactic ultimately failed. Most of Brown's bills were related to welfare and poverty housing. One bill would have directed the state welfare department to publish a newsletter for welfare recipients. Another bill would have provided supplemental payments to welfare mothers to put their children in nursery schools. Three of his bills were designed to help housing agencies acquire land and build new low-rent apartments. Another bill would have authorized low-cost home loans for the elderly. He also threw into the hopper a bill to raise the state's rental subsidy from $62 to $73 for those on a state pension.[44] Brown's bills were consistent with his platform in his unsuccessful first election campaign in 1962.

Republicans especially found Brown and Burton scary. "Johnny and Willie would go into the Legislature, and Johnny would come down the aisle waving a resolution to unilaterally disarm America, and Willie would object on the grounds that it would put too many blacks out of work. That's how we sort of saw their first time up here," said John Mockler, who was working for Republicans at the time although he was an old friend of both Brown and Burton.[45] Mockler later returned to his roots to become one of Brown's most trusted advisers.


Relations between Unruh and the two upstarts improved for a time after the telegram controversy. So did the committee assignments. Burton said that his sitting next to Unruh on the floor helped. However, it probably did not matter where he sat. Unruh's consistent pattern was to ease up as quickly as he could on those he punished. His affability won over many of the most virulent anti-Unruh Democrats. It also helped Unruh that Pat Brown was standoffish with Assembly members and that his staff treated legislators with barely concealed contempt. "Willie and I came up there as Pat Brown people and not Jesse Unruh people," said Burton. "It's a tribute to the ineptness of some of the people around Pat Brown . . . that we ended up with Unruh, because Pat's people never did anything for us. They didn't know how to schmooze us, and we ended up with Unruh because it was more fun. You could sit down and bullshit with Unruh."[46]

Brown won several good assignments, including a seat on the Judiciary Committee—of central importance to civil rights legislation—and on the Elections and Reapportionment Committee, in which he could protect his district in the upheavals of the 1965 redistricting. Brown was also offered a slot on the Assembly Education Committee, but turned it down in a cordial letter to Unruh because it would "conflict in terms of meeting time" with the Judiciary Committee.[47] John Burton was also sending cordial notes to Unruh thanking him for "the friendship and consideration you have extended me" and adding, "Coming to the Assembly with the label of 'Phil Burton's little brother' made me rather apprehensive at the beginning of the session."[48]

Brown's success at legislating that first term was mixed. His bill proposing trial delays in legislator-lawyer cases, AB 377, won approval in the Assembly 45-19 on March 3. Most of the lawyers in the house lined up behind it, but Republican Assemblyman George Deukmejian was one of two lawyer-legislators voting no.[49] The bill died quietly in the Senate Judiciary Committee without a vote that spring.[50]

"Willie and I used to cosponsor each other's bills, and . . . try to change the world," John Burton recalled. "We never quite did it. There wasn't a hell of a lot Willie could do for me or I could do for Willie except be friends, you know, in a place where we were outnumbered. The only vote I could give him was mine; the only vote he could give me was his. I mean, we were looked upon as being kind of wild anyway."[51]

Brown joined forces with one of Unruh's principal lieutenants, Assemblyman Jim Mills, of San Diego, with a proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 49, to make improvements on dwellings exempt from increased property taxes. The purpose was to give slumlords an incentive to improve their property without getting hit with a tax increase for doing it. Brown showed his touch for showmanship with a series of full-page advertisements in newspapers around the state promoting the bill. The ads had a huge headline: "Thank You, Mr. Brown!" and were signed by Sidney Evans, a retired real


estate developer from San Diego who backed the bill.[52] Evans reportedly spent $25,000 on the ads. The proposal, however, was defeated by rural legislators who argued it would be the ruin of agriculture in California as they knew it. They maintained that the bill would provide an incentive for land speculators to buy up farmland and develop it into houses or shopping malls with no increase in property taxes. The argument was persuasive, so to counter the rural objections, Brown amended the bill to exempt unincorporated areas.[53] In effect, the bill applied only to cities, not rural areas. But although his amendment protected farmers, the rural legislators would have none of it from an urban liberal such as he. The bill needed a two-thirds majority— fifty-four of the eighty votes in the Assembly—but it garnered only thirty yes votes to thirty-three no votes in the Assembly. The rest of Brown's colleagues sat on their hands, abstaining, and the bill died.[54] Brown did not yet have the clout to overcome determined economic interest groups.

Brown began to focus on what turned out to be his most important piece of legislation for 1965: a bill that would regulate when and how insurance companies could cancel auto insurance policies. The issue was not just a technical matter. As it stood, motorists who believed they were covered by insurance and got into a wreck sometimes discovered that their policy had been previously canceled and they had never been notified. Such motorists who believed they were protected now faced financial ruin. Racial minorities and the working poor were particularly victimized by such unscrupulous practices by insurance companies. Brown's proposal, AB 1036, required auto insurance companies to notify the customer when a policy was canceled, and set up procedures so that a customer could appeal a canceled policy to the state insurance commissioner. The bill was further designed to prevent insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling the policies of blacks, Latinos, and the elderly for no other cause except that they were black, Latino, or elderly. The bill was amended and reamended and eventually made it to the desk of Governor Pat Brown, who signed it into law on July 17. The bill was Willie Brown's first serious foray into the knotty insurance issue, and he would revisit it again and again in the years ahead. It was also his first major legislative victory, and he won with support from both sides of the aisle. "The guy who stood up on the floor and spoke in favor of it was George Deukmejian because he represented a bunch of old people in Long Beach who were getting shit on by the insurance companies, too," said John Burton.[55]

Brown also introduced a bolder insurance bill, AB 1037, that would have required insurance companies to seek state approval before raising auto insurance rates, treating them like public utilities. AB 1037 won editorial support from The Sacramento Bee ,[56] but it was quietly killed in the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee, whose chairman, George Zenovich, was a member of Unruh's inner circle. Zenovich later became one of the most influential lobbyists in Sacramento.


At the end of the 1965 session, Willie Brown was named "Outstanding Freshman Legislator" by the Capitol press corps, which would vote on politicians as if they were baseball players (the tradition has fortunately expired). All in all, Brown's record for his first session was a respectable .250 batting average: forty bills introduced, with ten signed into law by the governor and one vetoed.[57] Not surprisingly, his efforts at amending the state constitution met with no success: all five constitutional amendments he proposed were defeated. Brown coauthored ninety-four other bills, most frequently with John Burton, Bill Stanton, and another liberal, Edwin Z'berg.

The Legislature that year complied, however grudgingly, with the court order to equalize legislative districts. San Francisco indeed lost one Assembly seat, but instead of carving up Brown's or Burton's districts, legislative leaders heeded Phillip Burton and collapsed the Twenty-first Assembly District in San Francisco, held by Republican Milton Marks. The Twenty-first Assembly District was put in Tulare County, in the Central Valley farm belt two hundred miles away. The plan meant that all four San Francisco Assembly members would be Democrats: Willie Brown, John Burton, John Foran, and Charles Meyers. Foran's district got most of the Republicans, but he could survive.

"When it really boiled down," said John Burton, "I guess that it made a hell of a lot more sense for Jesse to have peace and harmony with me, Willie, and Phillip, even if Johnny [Foran] was a little bit discomforted, than it would have been otherwise. . . . He wasn't really hurt at all. But it made more sense to offend Johnny [Foran]."[58] Burton further surmised that Foran got the unwanted Republicans in his district because at that point he had no allies from San Francisco in the Legislature to help him deflect the redistricting plan. Foran was part of the McAteer Democratic alliance, long a rival to the Burton camp. For the moment, McAtter's foothold in the Legislature was Foran. "So we came out very protected," said Burton. Republican Marks ended up with no district whatsoever and eventually ran for a municipal court judgeship in San Francisco. Marks eventually got even with the Burton camp, and so did Foran.

The Legislature passed a budget, finished reapportionment, and left town for the summer on July 6, 1965, for vacations and a respite from politics. But events dictated that the legislators would have no rest. The events that summer in California shook the nation to its core.

The Los Angeles community of Watts, a flat concrete maze of shabby bungalows and liquor stores, blew up in the worst rioting in the nation's history.[59] It began when a highway patrolman stopped a black youth for alleged drunken driving. The youth's mother arrived, and a crowd gathered. Rocks flew and windows were broken. A television truck was set afire and looting began. Snipers began shooting from rooftops. Dick Gregory was wounded in the leg by a bullet as he attempted to bring calm. The violence continued for six days until ten thousand national guardsmen marched into


the neighborhood. When it was over, thirty-five people were dead—twenty-eight of them black—hundreds more were wounded, and more than eighteen hundred were jailed. The rioting shocked not only white political leaders but also national black leaders who had believed that Los Angeles was an oasis of racial tolerance.[60] That the Reverend Martin Luther King was booed by residents when he visited Watts after the rioting showed just how out of touch such leaders were.

Willie Brown was one of only four black legislators in California, so his opinion was naturally sought. He offered it at a gathering in the San Francisco Longshoremen's Hall to raise appeal money for Free Speech Movement demonstrators from Berkeley. Brown pointedly referred to the Los Angeles unrest as "demonstrations"—not riots—and said it was "part and parcel of a desire by people to change their lot and expose the hypocrisy of a power structure that maintains it's leading the change."[61]

Not surprisingly, Brown was far more interested and involved in the black political movement than he was in the antiwar movement. Brown was moving in national black political circles and was meeting many of the era's civil rights leaders. He met Jesse Jackson at a black political conference in Las Vegas in the early 1960s, but like many black leaders of the time, he was not impressed with the brash young aide to Martin Luther King Jr. He also met King and Malcolm X.

Most notably, Brown formed a lasting alliance with Julian Bond of Georgia. Bond and Brown found that the national civil rights movement was cliquish, dominated by eastern leaders. Bond from the South and Brown from the West felt like second-class citizens among the so-called national leaders. "It always seemed as if New York Politician A would dominate and then New York Politician B would take over," Bond recalled.[62] The two agreed to collaborate to "break that cycle," Bond said, but it was an uphill struggle. The perception persisted throughout Brown's career that he was not a national black leader. It was true that as he grew in power in California, he deliberately downplayed his black political connections. But it was equally true that Brown remained largely unnoticed throughout the 1960s by the eastern press, which defined who was "national" and who was not.

In the next few years the black political movement in California split along two distinct paths. The Black Panther Party, a group of leather-coated gun-toting militants from the streets of Oakland, became increasingly visible. The Black Panthers rose in number, then went into a slow decline in the 1970s.[63] Scarcely mentioned in the white, mainstream media or by subsequent black historians was a second path of black leadership in California that has had a longer-lasting legacy. Black political figures led by the elders among California's black elected leaders—Congressman Augustus Hawkins, who represented Watts, and Assemblyman Byron Rumford, who represented Oakland—formed the Negro Political Action Association of California (NPAAC).[64] The Watts riots


gave NPAAC a crucial impetus for becoming a serious political force and not just a club of black politicians. The organization was politically successful beyond the dreams of its founders. And Willie Brown was both a founder and a beneficiary of that new force. The second path, which led inside the halls of political power and leadership, was Willie Brown's path.

The Negro Political Action Association of California convened in January 1966 with Chicano political leaders in Bakersfield. Willie Brown was credited as a catalyst for bringing the meeting together.[65] Rhetoric sometimes spun wildly, at times resembling that of the Black Panthers. But there were important differences. The black and Chicano leaders recognized that they needed to work together, not against each other. They recognized that black power and brown power meant something far different to them than it did to the Panthers. It meant political struggle, not armed struggle. From the meeting grew an often rocky alliance between black and brown politicians.

Of even more lasting importance, black political leaders met among themselves and plotted electoral strategy. Black leaders were coming out of their separate ghettos, both physical and psychological, and discovering that united they could be a formidable electoral force statewide, especially within the Democratic Party. One of those in attendance at the Bakersfield meeting was Carlton Goodlett, the publisher of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter , who some delegates wanted to nominate for governor against Pat Brown. But a sense prevailed that symbolic candidacies were a meaningless luxury, and Goodlett prevailed on the delegates not to put his name forward for governor. The delegates included Brown's old law partner, Terry Francois, who had been appointed to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors by Mayor Shelley. There were other notable delegates as well, among them a city councilman from Los Angeles, Tom Bradley.

The emotional high point of the conference was Willie Brown's speech.[66] Without text or notes, Brown implored, "There's only one way for the cause of Negroes to be advanced in the Democratic Party, that is: Rock the Boat!" Brown continued, "If what we do splits the party then it is a healthy thing. Out of chaos and division comes strength. In any event, I do not believe the Negro will be any worse off. . . . What we do here could very well demonstrate how much power we have in the Democratic Party."

Maxine Waters, a Head Start teacher from Watts, was not impressed.[67] Brown said something about Southern California blacks being "brain-dead" and "stupid" and not aggressive enough politically. "I was mad at Willie Brown," said Waters. "I remember wanting to challenge him, but decided maybe I better not. He minced no words. He was quite arrogant, and insulting everybody in those meetings in those days," said Waters, who gained a reputation of her own for fiery oratory. She was glad that she held her tongue that day. Waters went on to a political career in the Assembly and in Congress—and she was helped immeasurably by Willie Brown.


From the Bakersfield meeting black political leaders built a sometimes loose, but effective, statewide organization outside the traditional seniority-driven legislative committee systems in Sacramento and Washington. The Negro Political Action Association of California eventually grew into the Black American Political Association of California (BAPAC), and it became a formidable, if little known, political force in California. NPAAC, and its successor, BAPAC, would never have a high profile like the Black Panthers, but it proved more successful and powerful. Its impact on California politics was enormous; by the 1980s blacks held more than their proportional share of legislative seats, plus dozens of city council and county supervisorial seats throughout the state. Top among them were Willie Brown, Speaker of the Assembly, and Tom Bradley, mayor of the state's largest city and Democratic nominee for governor in 1982 and 1986. Black leaders in California were galvanized by the 1965 Watts riot like no other single event, and their success at the ballot box was their enduring positive legacy. And Brown's speech in Bakersfield put him in the first tier of black leaders in California.


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