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Chapter Fourteen— Deadlock
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Chapter Fourteen—

Being in politics as a black man, I find it an unrewarding, depressing experience. The only ray of sunshine comes from outsmarting the system.
Willie Brown
April 23, 1969

As the 1960s drew to a weary close, the arithmetic of the California Assembly was inherently unstable. The turmoil was cause for alarm for the old guard in the Capitol, but it also provided an opening for ambitious and opportunistic legislators such as Willie Brown and his growing circle of friends.

The Republicans emerged from the November 1968 election with a narrow 41-39 majority, which barely gave them control of the house.[1] But the control was only theoretical. The Republicans were able to elect their own Speaker, Robert Monagan, and appoint their own committee chairmen, but they were not able to do much else. Their two-vote majority gave the Republicans no margin for the uncertainties of legislative life. And their majority was short-lived: Republican Assemblyman John Veneman resigned in March to accept a position in the newly forming Nixon administration.[2] Veneman's resignation left the Republicans with a 40-39 majority, enough to maintain control of the house but not enough to pass legislation without help from at least one Democrat. A month later, Republican Alan Pattee died in office, and that gave the Assembly a 39-39 deadlock. Republicans stood to win special elections to fill the vacant seats, but that would take months. For all intents and purposes, the only Republican majority in the Assembly in a generation lasted only three months.[3] For the rest of the two-year session, the Assembly


was hamstrung in political guerrilla warfare. The issue of control would have to be decided at the next general election in November 1970.[4]

For Willie Brown, the two-year deadlock contained both opportunity and a measure of frustration. His hard-won chairmanship of the Governmental Efficiency and Economy Committee a year and a half earlier vaporized. He was again without power, standing on the sidelines. His efforts at regaining power failed at first. By midsummer 1969 Brown was describing the session as "a disaster" and a "nightmare."[5] But the next two years marked a crucial transition in his career. Willie Brown went from being principally a black politician to being a figure with a broader following and a wider potential for power. Until 1969 he had worked largely within the arena of black politics, and if the public was aware of him at all, it was as a black politician. But now Willie Brown would be at the center of those plotting to retake control of the Assembly for the Democrats. Most important, Brown did so not as the junior understudy of an older mentor but as an equal partner. The experience forced him to transcend the narrow limits of racial politics, but it was a bumpy transformation with its share of setbacks and self-inflicted wounds.

Brown never completely abandoned his mantle as a black politician: indeed, his rivalry with other black politicians for predominance in black political circles intensified. But Brown was now on a path of building his own political power base, and he could do so only by giving himself a degree of distance from his earlier political patrons, both black and white. The space he needed opened only because the Democrats were no longer in control of the Assembly: the old leaders were cleared away, providing opportunities for a new generation. At the end of his transformation, Brown was no longer chiefly known as a black politician or as a protégé of Phillip Burton, nor even as a maverick liberal. All those labels were still true to a large degree. But at the end of his transformation, Willie Brown's name carried new political weight, and most important, he had deepened and matured both personally and professionally.

As the Legislature convened in January 1969, Jesse Unruh was the minority floor leader, an unaccustomed position that held no glory for him. Unruh planned to make an early exit so that he could run for governor against Ronald Reagan. The position of minority leader had no real power anyway. The minority floor leader could make suggestions to the Speaker about committee assignments and office space, but under the rules of the Assembly, the Speaker held all of the power. When Unruh had been Speaker, his hand-picked majority floor leader had been George Zenovich. Now Zenovich was bumped down a rung to become Unruh's loyal Democratic caucus chairman.

Unruh was now genuinely fond of Willie Brown, having traveled with him through the crucible of the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, the heartbreaking assassination, and the gut-wrenching battle of the Chicago convention. Unruh asked Brown if he would serve as Democratic whip, the


third-ranking position in the minority party. Brown accepted, and he was formally elected by the Democratic caucus as whip on January 30, 1969, becoming the first black to hold a party leadership post in the California Legislature.[6] However, Brown's position was largely honorific. If the minority floor leader held little power, the whip held none at all. The position gave Brown one advantage: it put him in the room when Democrats were plotting election strategy for retaking control. Conceivably, the position could also give Brown a leg up when Unruh stepped aside and the Democrats elected a new minority leader.

Monagan began his Republican speakership on a bipartisan note (having no other choice, given his shaky hold on the house). The Central Valley legislator, who had been a real estate agent before entering politics, viewed himself chiefly as an administrator. Mild-mannered and collegial, Monagan was also a healer in the Assembly after so many years of Unruh's high-handed rule. "Whatever characterized my speakership," he reflected, "I was strongly imbued with making the system work, and making members work and seeing that things were done in an orderly and appropriate manner."[7] Although he was certainly a conservative, he did not have a strong ideological program to advance.[8]

Monagan appointed a few Democrats as committee chairmen or vice chairmen, including John Miller, a black assemblyman from Oakland who had replaced Byron Rumford. Miller was named to chair a subcommittee on welfare reorganization.[9] However, Miller's assignment did not have jurisdiction over the issues of primary concern to black leaders. That panel was the new Assembly Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, and the chairmanship went to moderate Republican Pete Wilson, who was angling to run for mayor of San Diego. Among those appointed to sit on Wilson's committee was Willie Brown.

Outside the Legislature, NAACP officials took care to single out Wilson for special attention. When Wilson attended an NAACP legislative reception in Sacramento on March 5, 1969, NAACP leaders were thrilled about his attendance: "It was encouraging to notice NAACP members communicating freely with him [Wilson] and apparently stating needs as they saw them."[10] The NAACP's lobbyist, Virna Canson, was further delighted to report to her bosses that she had lunch with Wilson on April 25. She found Wilson a willing listener, and sympathetic to her issues.[11] Giving her further encouragement, Wilson's chief aide on the committee, Ward Connerly, was black. Wilson's wooing of Canson paid off. The NAACP ended up supporting six of Wilson's bills, the most for any legislator that year, and twice as many as it was supporting for Willie Brown.[12]

By now Willie Brown and John Burton detested Pete Wilson. As far as they were concerned, Wilson had little knowledge of the issues facing urban blacks and was transparently trying to use his chairmanship to further his own ambitions. "He used to sit there with this big cigar," Burton recalled.


"Fucking Pete didn't know shit and Ward would be telling him what to do. Wilson had some kind of goddamned arrogance."[13] Nor was the NAACP doing itself any favors with Willie Brown by fawning over Wilson. In the long run, the NAACP had made a big mistake.

Brown had his own ideas about urban housing, and he was increasingly outspoken. He proposed spending $300 million to $400 million on low-cost housing outside black ghettos so that blacks could afford to escape to take better-paying jobs.[14] At a convention of urban planners in San Francisco, Brown received a standing ovation for a speech on the subject: "I realize it is difficult to believe poor folk ought to have a stake and a voice in planning for their communities," Brown said. "But I suggest to you that the poor ought to be given a voice about what they want and what they need. I'll tell you now, you'll be taking some orders from some very strange people. And in dealing with the poor you will hear words which will offend your ears and may make you uptight. But they're only trying to tell you like it is."[15]

However, the overriding issue in the Legislature in 1969 was not the plight of the urban poor but student protests on college campuses. The protests, sometimes violent, generally focused on the Vietnam War. But there were other issues as well. Students, particularly black students, demanded greater recognition in the governance of universities and in the curriculum. The student protests struck close to home when, in the fall of 1968, black students barricaded themselves at San Francisco State College, Brown's alma mater. Police then came on campus, and the confrontation escalated. Brown called for clam and a de-escalation, starting with the withdrawal of the police from campus. "Some irresponsible student is going to throw rocks through windows. [Then, some] police officer who's been straining at the leash during the course of the last eight or ten days—and somewhere something human is going to crack—and he's going to crack the kid over the head with a gun and the gun's going to accidentally go off and kill somebody."[16]

Brown also tried to explain the views of radicals to the outside world. He said that the demand of radicals for unlimited minority admissions to San Francisco State was largely symbolic. "They simply mean you should show a willingness to develop some sort of technique to deal with these students who have been disadvantaged since grade one," Brown said.[17]

Meanwhile, San Francisco State's acting president, Samuel I. Hayakawa, increasingly blamed students for the standoff, saying that a strike was a "primitive technique" and calling for legislation to crack down on student militants. Brown met Hayakawa for a debate in February 1969 in front of a convention of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.[18] "When you offer repressive legislation, you are doing a disservice," Brown told Hayakawa. "It's like saying Watts would not have occurred if there had been anti-riot legislation on the books. You and I know that isn't so."


Brown further charged that the school administration was using the disruptions of militants to ignore the "legitimate proposals of nonmilitants." But judging by the applause, S.I. Hayakawa won the debate. The college president accused the strikers of being dishonest, because just as he was ready to give them a black studies program, they invented more demands. "If the Black Students Union had only permitted, we would have a black studies program in operation this month," Hayakawa said. After the debate ended, Brown and Hayakawa continued to exchange words until San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto finally intervened.

The cause of moderation was not helped when George Mason Murray, a graduate student at San Francisco State and the Black Panthers' first "minister of education," advised black students to bring guns to campus. He was fired as a teaching assistant at San Francisco State, and his reinstatement became a demand in the five-month standoff.[19] In the months ahead, an explosion maimed one student, an attempted firebombing failed, and an address by Hayakawa was interrupted when students jumped up on stage and refused to leave.[20]

Black Panther leader David Hilliard viewed the San Francisco State "campus insurrection" as a model to be copied nationwide on other campuses.[21] The efforts of Willie Brown to bring compromise were not welcome among black student militants. Indeed, protests spread elsewhere. At the University of California, Berkeley, 369 students were cited for various breaches of campus rules in a two-year period. Protests at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, and UCLA together netted a total of more than two hundred arrests. Although New Left historians gave Berkeley top billing, the strongest protests by most measures were at San Francisco State. By the time they were over, 584 arrests had been made at San Francisco State and the bill to San Francisco taxpayers stood at more than $700,000 for policing.[22]

In the Legislature, the prevailing mood was to crack down on student protesters. Speaker Monagan set up a select committee to conduct hearings and report back with proposed legislation. Monagan appointed a cross-section of Assembly members to the task force, including some of the most conservative and some of the most liberal members of the Legislature. Chairing the task force was Republican Victor Veysey, the chairman of the Education Committee, and vice-chairing it was Santa Cruz Republican Frank Murphy Jr., who chaired the Assembly Committee on Criminal Procedure. Also on the panel were Republicans John Stull and Jerry Lewis; Lewis later went to Congress. On the Democratic side Monagan appointed John Vasconcellos, a liberal former aide to Pat Brown who was now representing a San Jose district; Bill Greene, an ambitious black Assembly member from Los Angeles; and Leo Ryan, a trusted Unruh lieutenant who not long after went to Congress. Rounding out the panel were Los Angeles County Republicans Carlos Moorhead and Newton Russell—and Democrat Willie Brown.


The committee interpreted its charge to mean it should come up with recommendations to achieve two objectives: "(1) Minimization of violence and disruption in our educational institutions and (2) correction of the causes of unacceptable behavior."[23] To Willie Brown, however, the committee's approach was too narrow. Brown believed that student protests—especially by black students—stemmed from the students' lack of power on campuses. Laws cracking down on students would do little to alleviate the underlying grievance and, at worst, were an excuse to keep blacks from sharing power. "There must be some black cats giving orders, some black cats making programs," he said, outlining his emerging view in a March speech at American River College in Sacramento.[24] His own first priority, he said, must be to "kill all these silly Reagan bills." Brown ventured to other campuses as well, telling a gathering of black students at University of California, Davis, that they needed to struggle for equality through the political system. Even so, he admitted, "being in politics as a black man, I find it an unrewarding, depressing experience. The only ray of sunshine comes from outsmarting the system."[25] Most of all, Brown argued, the student protests were aimed at the Vietnam War, and until it ended, the protests likely would only become worse.

Veysey was apprehensive at first about having Brown on the committee. "[Willie] tended to be a little wild. Untamed," Veysey later reflected. "He would launch into great rhetoric, a kind of black radical rhetoric." But while Brown railed against the committee's law-and-order stance in public, in private he took a different approach. "He became a very constructive member," Veysey said. "He gave us several good ideas, which we incorporated into the report. He said, 'Don't ever attribute this to me. But this is what we ought to do.'"[26]

The committee took testimony from students, faculty, law enforcement officials, college administrators, and members of the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. After hearing testimony, the committee met behind closed doors to draft its report. One of the legislative consultants who put it together was John Mockler, a friend of Brown's since the 1950s. Mockler himself was a veteran of the Auto Row demonstrations and had been a labor organizer. But now he worked for Veysey as his aide on the Education Committee. His old association with Brown turned out not to count for much. Behind closed doors, Mockler and Tom Carroll, the other consultant to the select committee, took a grilling from committee members, particularly from Brown. "In those days, you went over the report," Mockler recalled, "and they made you justify everything you wrote. It's like taking Ph.D. oral exams or something, so that really all the members understood before they signed the report."[27]

The toughly worded report concluded that "those who engage in violence have no place on campus."[28] The report asserted that campus rules and penal


laws must be strictly and swiftly enforced. It singled out faculty members for encouraging violence, and administrators for being "disdainful of public opinion." Even the majority of students who had taken no part in the disturbances were knocked for "failing to support legitimate policies and by failing to exercise peer restraint on those who create disruptions." As a slight concession to students, the report said that university governing boards needed more effective communications with students and that low-income students needed better preparation for college work. The report then recommended a series of bills cracking down on protesters and making it easier for campus administrators to keep protest leaders off their campuses. Other proposals included yanking scholarships from anyone participating in a campus disturbance and forcing colleges to adopt tougher campus rules.

When the Select Committee on Campus Disturbances finished its report in May 1969, it was signed by every member of the committee except one: Willie Brown. He refused to put his name on the document, and instead filed his own three-page minority report.[29] "The Republicans and the Democrats wanted everyone to sign the report," Mockler said. Even the liberals, Greene, Ryan, and Vasconcellos, signed, although Vasconcellos also wrote a two-page, cryptic letter outlining some of his reservations.[30] Brown's dissent, however, punched through the majority report with a clear, concise, objection to the underlying premise of the committee's work:

The document submitted by the majority is a dangerous exercise in futility. It avoids problems rather than confronting them. It reminds me of a group of well-intentioned men observing a forest fire and blaming the conflagration on the existence of trees, rather than the combination of aridity and a match.

To submit a report on campus problems which virtually ignores the setting in which our campuses exist is absurd. Our campuses are of this world and not outside of it, the conditions which agitate our world likewise shape the world of the students and faculties and they must be recognized.[31]

Brown then ticked off the causes of protest, including the continuance of "a vile, murderous war in Vietnam," the "racist nature" of society and its institutions, and the "calcification of many of our institutions." He castigated higher education as elitist, and he pointed out that student activists were already subject to disciplinary proceedings on their campuses and had fewer procedural rights than in a courtroom. Violence on campus, he declared, was born of the students' sense of powerlessness and would not end until they enjoyed a share of power. His own recommendations included strengthening elementary school education so that more nonwhites were eligible for college, pulling California's public universities out of research for the military, and giving students a measure of power over their institutions. "We must create a situation in which the students share meaningfully and directly in curriculum


decisions, faculty hiring and the making of campus rules," he concluded. "We must give them the power to define their own reality and needs and hope that this will result in the creation of conditions wherein a just society can begin to emerge."

Mockler, who drafted the committee's majority report, found himself privately in awe of Willie Brown's dissenting opinion. "It's one of the better things that was ever written at the time," Mockler recalled. "It talks about what freedom is about, what institutions are, what their responsibilities are. It talks about access. It talks about a lot. It's short but it's passionate and clear. It's one of the better things he's ever written about the nature of freedom."[32]

But Brown's dissent had little effect at the time other than to mark him as an uncompromising liberal, an image that caused some to underestimate his political skill in the years ahead. His reputation as the Legislature's left-most lawmaker was further solidified when he introduced his principal piece of legislation for the year: AB 701, which would legalize all sexual conduct between consenting adults. "My aim is to liberate all of us to engage in any conduct we want, so long as we enjoy it," he said. "The biggest pitch I'm making is to remind my colleagues that some of them do these things on a nightly basis and that I want to legalize their actions."[33] He hastened to add he was talking about their heterosexual adventures in the Capitol. He could have added, but did not, that those adventures included his own.

To conservatives Brown's bill looked as far left as a legislator could go. But for Brown it was good district politics because of the growing gay community in San Francisco. Homosexuality was still illegal in California under an 1872 statute making it a felony to commit a "crime against nature." Gays in San Francisco began earnestly organizing in 1964 with the formation of the Society for Individual Rights, and Willie Brown and John Burton were among the first mainstream politicians to seek its votes two years later.[34] The organization gave Brown and Burton support on the condition that they would move to repeal the 1872 law. Brown followed through with AB 701. Proof that wooing gays was good politics came in 1969 when the organization put its support behind Dianne Feinstein's campaign for a seat on the Board of Supervisors; Brown was the only elected officeholder to support Feinstein's bid for the seat in 1969.[35] Feinstein, who got her start in electoral politics working in Willie Brown's 1964 campaign, not only won a supervisorial seat but was the top vote-winner citywide, entitling her to the presidency of the board.

But back in Sacramento, Brown held no illusions about the chances of success for his consenting-adults sex bill. "I really don't expect any honest opposition," he said. "I think there will be considerable practical political opposition based on people's feelings toward homosexuals." In midsummer Brown's consenting-adults bill stalled in the Criminal Procedure Committee,


chaired by Murphy, and under the house rules it could not be taken up again until 1970. Brown swore he would introduce the bill year after year until it became law.[36]

Most of Brown's other legislation for the year failed to win passage as well. With the Republicans and Democrats tied for power in the Assembly, little of any consequence won passage. Brown hailed as the single achievement of the session a "Save-the-Bay" bill that restricted the filling in of San Francisco Bay for development.[37] Since the Gold Rush, developers had filled sections of the bay with dirt, rubble, garbage, and even rotting ships to reclaim usable land. The last large bay fill project, Foster City, was built in the mid-1960s on land reclaimed from the bay in the shadow of the San Mateo Bridge south of San Francisco. But even on that issue, Brown was less than a convinced environmentalist. Once during a meeting with Berkeley environmentalists, Brown shocked the room by telling them he did not care whether San Francisco Bay was filled as long as blacks got a fair share of the work filling it.[38] Brown's point was that environmentalists needed to understand the real needs of poor people, and not just the environmental needs of egrets and harbor seals in the bay. Brown and the environmentalists continued to have an uneasy relationship throughout his legislative career.

Brown's rhetoric on race sounded as harsh as ever. To a gathering of the Urban League, one of the oldest and most staid black organizations, Brown urged older blacks to support younger militants, "to appreciate them without condemning them." He said older blacks should stand aside if they could not. "If you are not prepared to throw a brick, get out of the way."[39]

Brown's talk of throwing a brick was for show. "Willie's always been perceived as more of an ideological radical than he ever was," observed Phillip Isenberg, his legislative assistant at the time. "His intensity was always more of style than content. Willie was in some sense a latter-day classic FDR Democrat. The new-style politics was mostly style for him."[40] Brown's view of race relations was, in fact, maturing at the time. He began broadening his view of racial conflict beyond the conflict of black and white. Brown recognized that the interests of blacks, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans were similar but not the same. Most immediately, he was concerned that blacks were advancing their own candidate, Wilson Riles, for state superintendent of schools in the forthcoming 1970 election, while Chicanos were pushing their own candidate. If the two groups continued on that course, the reactionary ultraright incumbent, Max Rafferty, almost certainly would be reelected. But there was a deeper level to Brown's political analysis: a recognition that black political progress was the result of blacks embracing traditional American values. In 1970 he expounded seriously on his views in a collection of essays on race relations:

I suspect that the most distinguishing characteristic in the Black's struggle is that he [sic] has succeeded along the lines of traditional mainstream American


goals. This is very possibly the result of not having a continuing culture to fall back upon. Secondly, statistics in terms of organizational structures such as CORE, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Negro Labor movement and other organizations attest to what appears to be a national cohesiveness which does not exist to the same degree among Indians and Mexican-Americans.[41]

Brown then advanced his prescription for a common political platform:

If Blacks, Indians and Mexican-Americans are to survive in this country and acquire some degree of parity politically, economically and socially, then they must find a common basis for dealing with the maker and the perpetuator of their common problems. Indians and Mexican-Americans have legal claims to land and treaty right in this country. Blacks by virtue of their many years of involuntary servitude have a right to compensation for their labor. These respective claims are not inconsistent with each other and therefore represent a possible point of coalition.

As the 1970 election year began to unfold, Democrats plotted to recapture control of the Assembly. The most important race in 1970 was Ronald Reagan's reelection as governor, and the jostling for that position reached down into the closed world of the state Assembly. Brown wore his ambition on his sleeve, speculating openly one year early that he might be elected majority leader—second only to the Speaker—if Democrats regained control.[42]

The Assembly met in January to elect officers, and it looked like a foregone conclusion that Monagan would be reelected as Speaker for the remainder of the year. The Sacramento Bee , then an afternoon newspaper, even published a story before the vote was taken saying that Monagan had been reelected. However, the partisan game was about to commence. When the roll call was taken, Monagan had only forty votes—one short. One Republican, John "Bud" Collier, who was Willie Brown's seatmate, was absent. The vote was held open, and finally, at around 5:00 P.M., Collier walked in and voted for Monagan. Unruh had arranged the day-long delay, getting his good friend, Collier, to drive to Sacramento from his Pasadena district instead of flying. It was a reminder to Monagan and his associates that Democrats could not be taken for granted.[43]

Meanwhile, Republicans attempted to solidify their narrow hold on the Assembly by purging key Democrats from key committee assignments. Assemblyman Ed Z'berg, a leading environmentalist, was dumped from the Natural Resources Committee, and Assemblyman Alan Sieroty was dumped from the Criminal Procedure Committee. Most critically, Robert Crown,


the Democrats' leading expert on reapportionment, was dumped from the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee just as the once-a-decade redistricting was getting under way. The move by Republicans made the Democrats angry and itching to get even.[44]

The Republicans' committee purge only forced the hand of partisan Democrats who believed it was time to play rough with the Republicans. Among the toughest-talking was Robert Moretti, who held a seat from North Hollywood and was an understudy of Unruh. In a private letter headed "Good morning, Jess," Moretti laid out the feelings of many Democratic Assembly members in early 1970: "I am writing this letter rather than speaking to you in person because . . . it is possible that you might misinterpret some of my remarks and we could get into what I consider a totally unnecessary exchange of emotions."[45] Moretti said that Unruh needed to consult more widely with other Democrats. "I feel deeply that there has not been enough discussion regarding what has happened or is about to happen regarding our relationship with the Republicans." Finally, Moretti got to his real point—it was time for Unruh to move aside: "I think you have got the opportunity this year to really move ahead and take a giant step towards your making a big statewide move." Moretti signed the letter, "Love."

Moretti gave voice to the restiveness of other Democrats. John FitzRandolph, the chief aide to the Democratic caucus, heard much grumbling. "The Democratic caucus was essentially thirty-nine disgruntled people. They didn't like being in the minority, but they didn't have a leader. They had little cliques of power," he noted.[46]

Finally, in February, Jesse Unruh signaled that he would step down as Democratic Assembly leader so that he could devote himself full-time to running against Ronald Reagan. Willie Brown immediately entered the race for Unruh's Assembly leadership post.[47] The importance of becoming Democratic leader, technically the minority leader, was manifest. The Democrats stood a reasonably good chance of regaining the majority in 1970, since the party in power in the White House traditionally lost seats in Congress and state legislatures during midterm election years. Whoever was elected minority leader in the California Legislature in the spring of 1970 therefore had a leg up in becoming Speaker if the Democrats retook control of the Assembly in November.

With so much at stake, Brown could not expect to win the post easily. He was not even the front-runner. The others entering the fray were Assemblymen Joe A. Gonzalves, of Los Angeles County, and Robert Crown, of Alameda. Gonzalves was more in line with the back-slapping good old boys of the Assembly. He had been elected two years before Willie Brown, and he was vice chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, the clubby committee that ran the house. Crown, a dedicated liberal, had once been Unruh's closest political friend, presiding over the 1961 redistricting and meting out favors to incumbents in return for their support for Unruh as Speaker. Unruh


could well have delivered the top spot to Crown—many believed he should have—but the two had a personal falling out, and Crown was left scrambling for votes on his own. "Crown always felt betrayed by Unruh after all he had done," his top aide, Bill Lockyer, recalled.[48]

As full-scale political warfare broke out in the Assembly, Willie Brown was out of the country on a legislative junket to London, accompanied by state senator Mervyn Dymally. The two black legislators—sporadic rivals—visited Parliament and took part in a panel discussion at the U.S. Embassy. Whether Brown's absence made a difference is hard to judge, but he was handicapped in the race to succeed Unruh.[49] The thirty-nine Democrats met behind closed doors on April 1 to elect a new leader. Twenty votes were needed to win. The balloting went into the night, and after six ballots, Gonzalves had fourteen votes, Brown thirteen, and Crown seven. Brown was doing better than expected; the core of his support came from his friends in the Mice Milk lunch club, including Moretti. But finding seven more votes was increasingly problematic as the battle wore on. Those working against him included Leo McCarthy, rival to the Burton camp in San Francisco politics. McCarthy backed Gonzalves. Finally, black leaders outside the Legislature tried to pressure liberals into voting for Brown, accusing them of racism if they did not. The move backfired badly. The Democrats reconvened the next day, and it looked as if Crown would throw his support to Gonzalves.[50] Willie Brown recalled the frustration: "They came back to Sacramento on Monday committed to vote for any other black for minority leader other than Willie Brown."[51]

"We had a problem," John Burton remembered. "It became a race issue."[52] Burton began picking up rumblings that the real problem with Brown was that he was black, and moderate Democrats believed having a black as leader would be a liability going into the 1970 election. Burton began confronting his white colleagues. They told him that was not so, that "they would vote for a black but they wouldn't vote for Willie." With certain defeat for his friend looming, Burton hatched a plan. "I went to Willie and said, 'Why don't we put them to the test?' He goes, 'What?' I says, 'Why don't we run John Miller,' who at that time had been Willie's guy."

John Miller, a cerebral black Democrat from Oakland, had succeeded Byron Rumford in the Assembly. He was soft-spoken, possessed a dry sense of humor, and was methodical in his approach to legislating.[53] John Miller was as inoffensive as Willie Brown was outlandish. Two years older than Willie Brown, Miller had gone to Howard University, in Washington, D.C., the leading black law school in the nation, and had then done graduate work at Boalt Hall, the prestigious law school at the University of California, Berkeley. Miller enjoyed playing chess, and he had served on the Berkeley Board of Education and was a public library trustee.[54] Willie Brown had helped Miller win an Assembly seat in 1966 and considered him an ally. Burton told Brown they should now run Miller for minority leader. Burton


told Willie Brown, "He's our guy, he's your friend, he ain't ever going to be—you know [ambitious]. We'll run him and see what these assholes do. We'll fuck 'em good."[55]

Burton surmised that the only reason any of his colleagues would vote against Miller was that he was black. "They were fucked. They had to go for Miller 'cause Miller was not, quote, abrasive." Miller was approached about running, and readily agreed. He was required, however, to make one crucial agreement with Brown and Burton. "He had to make Moretti the chairman of the campaign committee," said Brown.[56]

Boxed into a corner, Democrats elected the improbable Miller their leader; he won with a bare majority of the caucus—twenty votes to seventeen votes for Gonzalves.[57] Miller became the first black to lead a party caucus in the California Legislature. But in the cleverness of their move, Burton and Brown sowed the seeds of a future humiliating defeat for themselves. Miller, as it turned out, was minority leader in name only. Gonzalves immediately undercut him at a press conference. Worse, he was being used by his own friends. Brown considered having Miller as Democratic leader a "holding action" until the Democrats took control again, but Miller considered it a position of power and prestige.[58] But the real power in the caucus was with Bob Moretti, the tough-talking, street-brawling former Unruh protégé who had helped ease Unruh out of the leadership.

In purging Democrats from committee chairs, Monagan made a critical error in overlooking Moretti. "You could look back and say that was a mistake. But he was one who would help me get the Legislature to do its job," Monagan explained years later.[59] The intensely partisan Moretti was chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, the innocuously named committee that oversaw liquor and horse racing legislation. The committee, then as now, was a "juice committee," and lobbyists showered its chairman with campaign contributions. "Bob Moretti was chairman of G.O., the horse racing committee, so we had access to great campaign resources and campaign funding," Brown explained.[60]

Moretti played a sly game. He made an agreement with Monagan that he would not try to topple him before the next election and would help him in the smooth running of the house. Monagan and Moretti agreed to disagree on issues.[61] However, the understanding between the two preserved Moretti's chairmanship and gave him a power base with which to beat Monagan's Republican incumbents. Using his chairmanship for leverage with campaign contributors, Moretti ran the Democratic Assembly election machinery in 1970, and he ran it flat-out. Moretti did not waste resources on marginal candidates, but put money into races where Democrats stood a reasonable chance of victory.[62] And Moretti also drove himself hard. "I devote all my time to this crazy game we are playing," he told Unruh in a private letter. "I think I like least of all, however, being a spectator."[63]


John FitzRandolph, chief aide to the Democratic caucus, could see that Moretti was now the heir apparent, but at first he could not understand why. "Moretti had no legislative agenda. I heard people liked him, but as an outsider, I couldn't see any particular reason why he should be Speaker. I did learn, as I got closer, why. He was a fund-raiser."[64]

On the surface, Willie Brown attended to legislative business, such as there was. He again tried to win passage of his consenting-adults sex bill. He also renewed his push to set up a government-run auto insurance pool for those who could not otherwise get insurance.[65] Both efforts failed. Seemingly shut out of the legislative leadership, Brown said in July that he might run for mayor of San Francisco, the first time—but not the last—that he was to flirt with running for another office outside the Legislature. He used the opportunity to take a shot at Alioto. "I have been the heavy when they needed someone to speak out against the mayor's racist stands," Brown declared.[66]

But another issue was taking an increasing bite out of Brown's time: the conditions of blacks in California's prisons. He and Dymally jointly issued a report in August 1970 harshly critical of Soledad State Prison, near Salinas, where four inmates and two guards had been killed in that year alone. The report accused guards of urinating in the coffee served to inmates and locking some of them in six-foot-by-ten-foot cells without telling them the reasons. Brown also attended a fund-raiser for the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee to raise money to defend Black Panther leaders, including the charismatic George Jackson, who was incarcerated in Soledad and was later shot to death by guards.[67] Prison officials cried foul against Brown.

By fall the Assembly Democratic election machine had moved into high gear. Brown's reelection was easy, and he was able to devote himself to helping Moretti win seats for Democrats elsewhere in the state. "We put together a blitzing operation," Brown recalled.[68] Moretti's most effective tool was in rounding up campaign contributions for Assembly candidates. Those who won with his financial help, of course, owed him loyalty when they took their Assembly seats. Moretti once said that he "carried a mental book on every member of the house and treated each one according to his own needs." After he had left the Assembly as Speaker, his secretary told him he had had an appointment on the average every seven minutes.[69]

Unruh had also doled out campaign money to Democratic incumbents. That was not new. But Moretti raised the practice to a science. Incumbents with weak or no opposition got nothing. Candidates who got money were told exactly how to spend it. Everything went through Moretti, and that meant it had to get through veteran chief consultant John FitzRandolph, who ran a hard-nosed operation for the Democrats. "When Jesse [Unruh] was running those district elections, he was sending checks and was winning or losing," FitzRandolph explained. "What I was telling the caucus was, 'You can't send money to these people, because they don't know what they're


doing. You've got to centralize your election efforts in the caucus. Don't send money. Send something else. Don't let them spend it on balloons and billboards. You have the strategy and you control the strategy of the election. You don't do it for everybody. You do it for those that have a chance to win.'"[70] FitzRandolph virtually ignored Miller. "He [Miller] decided to let things go as they were and not interfere," said FitzRandolph. "[Miller] was absolutely a titular head, and he didn't want to deal with it."[71]

In November 1970 the Democrats regained control of the Assembly with a slim but workable 43-37 majority.[72] Monagan's two-year Republican speakership was over, and the Democrats stood poised to elect one of their own as Speaker. FitzRandolph maintained that the Republicans were outfoxed by their own overconfidence: "I think if they had really smelled it, they would have been tougher about it. They didn't smell it."[73] Unruh was now gone from the Assembly, having lost his bid for governor against Ronald Reagan. The way was clear for a new Democratic Speaker. Meanwhile, Brown waltzed to an easy victory in his Assembly district with 32,446 votes, more than twice as many as his Republican challenger.[74]

However, all was not completely well for Brown in San Francisco politics. His law partner, John Dearman, was dumped in December from his plush appointment to the Golden Gate Bridge Board of Directors. The ouster was engineered by none other than Brown's old law partner, Terry Francois, who was now a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The move was clearly aimed not at Dearman but at Brown, for his slights toward Francois. A furious Brown called it a "tremendous political error" by members of the Board of Supervisors.[75] He knew what they did not: Brown was on the verge of holding tremendous political power in Sacramento, and angering him with such a petty move was not smart politics. Privately, Brown was most furious with his friend Dianne Feinstein, who was now president of the board and had wittingly or unwittingly allowed Francois to make his move against Dearman. "Willie got angry, went over to the board; he confronted Dianne and told her off," Dearman remembered.[76]

The setbacks in San Francisco aside, Brown and his allies were in a triumphant mood as the new Assembly convened in Sacramento during the first week of January 1971. Brown and his Mice Milk friends came back to town to elect Moretti as Speaker. The only hitch was that John Miller, who had served as minority leader the year before, believed that he was entitled to election as Speaker. "Miller by now had concluded that he was really talented, that he ought to be the Speaker," Brown said.

Miller genuinely believed that he deserved Willie Brown's allegiance. After all, Brown and Miller were supposedly allies; Brown had helped him become minority leader. Most of all, Miller could have been elected the first black Speaker in California, a historic achievement that, in Miller's eyes, should have commanded Willie Brown's loyalty. But Brown did not see it that way. "We, of course, suggested to him that he should not be the Speaker, that


Moretti had earned the right to be the Speaker because it had been Moretti who led the troops," Brown remembered.[77] Who should be Speaker was not about race, Brown believed, but about who could wield and strengthen the Democratic majority. Presented with a fait accompli, Miller quietly withdrew his name from consideration two weeks after the November election.[78] "Dear old John Miller was consigned to the scrap heap, in Miller's eyes, and he sulked in the corner for three years," Brown said.[79] John Miller would get his revenge on Willie Brown, but for now the victory was sweet for Bob Moretti and Willie Brown.

Assemblyman John Knox, an affable and popular legislator in the old-boy network, also stood for Speaker, but he was no match for Moretti. The Detroit-born, tough-talking Moretti was elected by his peers on January 4, 1971, and he instantly repaid the loyalty shown by his friends and rewarded them richly.[80] He appointed John Burton as chairman of the Rules Committee, the powerful panel that determined the fate of legislation by deciding which committee got which bill. The Rules Committee also assigned office space in the Capitol and presided over the hiring and payroll for legislative assistants. The position made John Burton, the perennial outsider, very powerful indeed.

Willie Brown got the richest plum of all: the chairmanship of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Every bill that proposed spending money, which meant every bill of any importance, had to pass muster in the Ways and Means Committee even after it had won passage in a policy committee. The committee, therefore, had enormous power over the public's business. On top of that, the Ways and Means Committee had jurisdiction over the state budget, the spending blueprint for state government. The assignment made Willie Brown the most powerful member of the California State Assembly next to only the Assembly Speaker himself.


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