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Chapter Twenty-Three— The Gang of Five
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Chapter Twenty-Three—
The Gang of Five

Talking to the present leadership about institutional changes is like talking to a Latin American plantation owner about agrarian reform.
Rusty Areias
Democratic Assemblyman, 1982-1994

I can't worry too terribly much about how doing my job as the insider's head guy looks to the rest of the world.
Willie Brown
March 1988

In the mid-1980s five Democratic assemblymen dined together almost every evening at Paragary's Bar & Oven, a trendy California-cuisine eatery ten blocks from the Capitol, and each night they talked of how they were fed up with Willie Brown and his liberal leanings. Brown had been pushed increasingly leftward by the Grizzlies faction in the Democratic caucus. The five dinner companions were increasingly steering their own independent course, and not just on policy but on basic power divisions in the Assembly. From their dinner conversations sprang the most serious challenge to Brown's power, one that would bring him perilously close to losing the speakership. The political explosion that racked the Assembly from the autumn of 1987 until the following autumn ultimately forced Brown back to the political middle. He emerged from the challenge battered and scarred but with a new sense that he had to do something beyond just holding the speakership.

Mostly in their thirties, the five rebellious Democrats were moderate in their outlook, products of the 1981 reapportionment.[1] They were also ambitious and taken with their own intelligence. The five—Rusty Areias,


Steve Peace, Gary Condit, Jerry Eaves, and Charles Calderon—represented marginal districts for Democrats. Areias and Condit represented primarily rural districts, Calderon and Eaves had suburbs east of Los Angeles, and Peace had an amalgam of San Diego suburbs and the rural Imperial Valley. All five districts were laced with voters that East Coast pundits called "Reagan Democrats."

By necessity the five compiled moderate voting records. They voted for every tough criminal law that crossed their desks, and they were wary of expensive welfare programs. Paradoxically, they were the political beneficiaries of Brown's success at gerrymandering districts and winning elections. But they were also the most vulnerable to attack for their association with Brown. A well-financed Republican just might oust them in an election if they were not careful.

The five were alarmed at the influence the liberal Grizzlies were having on Willie Brown. The Grizzlies were pulling the Assembly Democratic caucus leftward, and the trend seemed confirmed when Brown installed Grizzly leaders Tom Hannigan as Democratic Majority Leader and Tom Hayden, the husband of Jane Fonda, as chairman of the Labor Committee. The Assembly's most liberal members—Maxine Waters, Phillip Isenberg, Mike Roos—had Brown's ear more than anyone else.

"Willie was powerless to affect the direction of the caucus because he was being pulled to the Left, and his natural leanings are to the Left anyway," said Calderon. "We started to compete with that perspective."[2]

Calderon and the others cemented their alliance on a vacation they took together in Mexico in 1987. Following their vacation, they began dining together every evening at Paragary's, and they talked about what they could do to reverse the leftward shift. "We talked about everything that happened during the day," said Calderon. "We considered options and alternatives; we considered different types of strategies to accomplish different goals." The five were sometimes joined in their nightly forays by a sixth, Jim Costa, a savvy Democrat from Fresno who was noted mostly for pushing bills to repeal local rent control ordinances and for getting arrested on the last night of the 1986 legislative session for soliciting an undercover policewoman for prostitution.[3]

Eventually Costa dropped out of the group, and those who remained became known as the "Gang of Five."[4] They called themselves the "Five Amigos," which they took from the Three Amigos comedy film starring Steve Martin. But the Maoist-sounding "Gang of Five" stuck in public. Maoists they were not.

The Gang of Five held seats, given to them by Willie Brown, on some of the most choice committees in the Assembly.[5] Condit was chairman of the Governmental Organization Committee, the oddly named panel with jurisdiction over gambling and liquor legislation. Areias chaired the committee presiding over consumer protection legislation. Calderon, Peace,


and Eaves held seats both on Finance and Insurance and on Ways and Means. Calderon also sat on the Revenue and Taxation committee. In short, all five were on "juice committees."

The Gang of Five began leveraging their positions by joining Republicans on legislation opposed by other Democrats. The Assembly stood at forty-four Democrats and thirty-six Republicans. By adding their five votes to those of the Republicans, the Gang of Five could control a majority of forty-one votes on select issues. The most critical issue was their embrace of proposals for no-fault auto insurance in California.[6] Their position put them on the side of insurance companies and directly counter to one of Brown's largest campaign benefactors, the California Trial Lawyers Association, which had pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Democratic Assembly campaigns over the decade.

Maxine Waters was particularly incensed with the Gang of Five when her bill to repeal state antitrust prohibitions on insurance companies went down to defeat at their hands. Furious, she mounted a campaign in the media to prod Calderon, Eaves, and Peace into voting for her bill in the Ways and Means Committee, but they torpedoed her bill instead. In Calderon's view, Waters was "cheap shotting" them in the press. "Maxine went ballistic," said Calderon.[7] She preposterously accused them of hiring a private investigator to dig up dirt on her. Without fully realizing what she had done, Maxine Waters had fired the first shots in a new civil war in the Democratic caucus.

Brown's inner circle believed the Gang of Five was freelancing for campaign contributions and endangering a united Democratic campaign to protect the party's majority in the 1988 elections. It did not take long before Waters, Michael Roos, and Phillip Isenberg were urging Brown to do something about it. "The boys are coming off the reservation," Isenberg told Brown at the time. He later said in an interview, "It was not an ideological attack. They wanted to play like Willie. They wanted to be the powers that be."[8]

Waters demanded that Brown punish the five. Roos joined in, and Brown finally began summoning each of the Gang of Five to his office for what became known as the "woodshed talks."

"I've got a problem," Brown told Calderon, "because up here perception of power is reality, and right now people don't perceive that I am in control of this house."

"Well, do you believe that?" Calderon replied.


"Then what are you worried about?"

The conversation went downhill. Brown threatened to strip Calderon of committee assignments, staff, and office space. The two were interrupted when Calderon got word his wife was in labor, and he departed with nothing settled. Brown followed through on his threat against Calderon, sacking him in February 1988 from his juiciest assignment on the Revenue and Taxation Committee.[9] Besides being angry over losing the assignment, Calderon felt


particularly slighted because Brown had not tried to resume a dialogue that had been interrupted by a child's birth. The Gang of Five began calling Brown a dictator and other insulting names.

Publicly, Brown at first tried to downplay the seriousness of the threat posed by the Gang of Five. "I am the insider's head guy," he said. "I can't worry too terribly much about how doing my job as the insider's head guy looks to the rest of the world unless I am interested in some object other than being the insider's head guy."[10]

But by minimizing the threat of the Gang of Five, he only further infuriated them. "I should have told you those bastards were trying to take the Speakership," Brown later admitted to reporters. "I should have said these individuals have met and conspired."[11]

Each of the rebels was stripped of committee assignments and staff. By March 1988 they were left with no committee assignments whatsoever.

The deaths of Jesse Unruh and Bob Moretti also were key elements in the Gang of Five revolt. The profound effect of the absence of the two on Willie Brown was not appreciated then or later. The two former Democratic Assembly Speakers had played quiet but pivotal roles in helping Brown become Speaker in 1980. Afterward they continued to help him maintain bridges to Republicans. Even more important, Unruh and Moretti were among the few people, perhaps the only people, who could tell Brown to be conciliatory. Among the few who appreciated their roles, and wished they were around to play them, was Republican Assembly leader Patrick Nolan. "You need somebody that you both trust sometimes to get you back talking when you are both angry or hurt about a situation—and Moretti and Unruh served those purposes," Nolan reflected. "Bob Moretti and Jess Unruh went out of their way."[12]

Moretti died of a heart attack while playing tennis in May 1984. Moretti's death was so devastating to Brown that he had to be helped from the pulpit after giving a eulogy. Many in the Capitol believed that Willie Brown was far more wounded by Moretti's death than by George Moscone's or Phillip Burton's. "With Moretti's death we were down to only Jess," Nolan said.

Jesse Unruh died in the summer of 1987 after a long battle with cancer. In the year or so before his death, as Unruh grew sicker, Brown avoided him, finding his advice wearisome. Unruh never quite accepted that Brown was now a formidable power in his own right and had accomplished things that Unruh had never accomplished as Assembly Speaker. With Unruh's passing, there was no one left who could even attempt to talk to Brown as a peer.

Unruh's funeral brought a gathering of all of California's political mandarins. Brown and Frank Mankiewicz gave eulogies and then sat together. A few days earlier Mankiewicz had asked Brown's advice on who to hire as a lobbyist for one of his public relations clients.[13] At the funeral, just as Leon Ralph, a black former Assembly member who had left the Legislature to become a


minister, began to give a sermon, Brown turned to Mankiewicz and offered his opinion about who to hire.

"Willie," Mankiewicz replied in shock, "I don't think we should be talking about a lobbying matter up here on the podium at a funeral."

Brown looked up and said, "Jess would have wanted it that way. What better time? It's private."

Mankiewicz had to agree.

Brown's snub of Ralph was obvious to those who noticed and understood it. Ralph had cast a pivotal vote against Brown in the 1974 Speaker battle despite being his roommate.

The Gang of Five felt unfairly persecuted for playing the same game as Brown and his friends. All of Brown's fury fell upon them. Many others in the Capitol also thought Brown punished the Gang of Five too harshly. Brown's overreaction was his biggest lapse in keeping the members happy, and there was no one left who could tell him so. Instead, Brown listened to those who told him to wage war on the Gang of Five. "In retrospect, I might have overstepped it a bit," Isenberg later acknowledged.[14]

Perhaps naively, the Gang of Five expected Brown to find a way out for all of them. But when he responded by stripping them of committee assignments, firing their staffs, and reassigning them to closet-size offices, they had an odd discovery of liberation. They still held their Assembly seats, and unfettered by Brown's largesse they could move freely against him.

They responded with a flurry of parliamentary motions on the Assembly floor to pull bills from committees and force votes by the full house. Each time, Brown responded by firing one more staffer or removing one of them to a still smaller office. They responded with new diversions so that mostly Republican-backed legislation was all that was coming up for a vote. Brown began stalling major Democratic legislation to avoid embarrassment. "It takes forty-one votes to do that and I don't want to demonstrate too often that I don't have it," Brown acknowledged.[15]

Finally, the Gang of Five reached the point of advancing a proposal to strip the Speaker of his power under new house rules.[16]

"We're really not interested in a road back," declared Condit.[17]

"We're as tight as we can get," said Eaves. "There's nothing he can do to split us up."

The Gang of Five, however, was desperate to become the Gang of Six, or Gang of Seven. They hoped to turn Costa to their side, but he backed away. The Gang of Five courted potential recruits nightly at Paragary's. A steady stream of state cars containing legislators pulled up to the restaurant.[18] Their best hope seemed to be another moderate Central Valley Democrat, perhaps Patrick Johnston. "They were out hustling to get recruits. And I was one that they made a run at," said Johnston.[19]

Brown had reason to worry about Johnston. The Stockton lawmaker chaired the Assembly Finance and Insurance Committee, and he had quietly


gone against Brown on no-fault insurance. Johnston was more a policy wonk than a savvy politician, and he meant no slight to Brown. But Johnston's move toward the insurance companies encouraged the Gang of Five. Johnston was not interested in joining the rebels; it was not in his constitution. But Brown could not be sure. How he tested Johnston was Willie Brown at his most creative.

A month after sacking the Gang of Five from their committee assignments, Brown bumped into Johnston in a Capitol hallway after a committee hearing. Brown made it look casual, but there was nothing casual about it.

"Can you come with me? I want you to go to a meeting with me," Brown asked.

Johnston was puzzled. "Where are we going?" he asked as the two headed down a Capitol stairwell.

"Oh, we're going to drop by and see a couple of guys in the Gang of Five. They want to talk about getting together and resolving issues and stuff like that. And I'd like to have somebody else with me. And if you don't mind, would you come along?"

Johnston agreed, not yet understanding Brown's ploy. The two sped off from the Capitol toward the northern suburbs of Sacramento.

Brown had previously told the Gang of Five that he wanted to discreetly discuss a rapprochement. They agreed to meet with him at Eaves's apartment in a development called the "Swallow's Nest" along the Garden Highway, which wends along the Sacramento River.

When Johnston walked into the room, it was soon clear that Brown was not interested in reconciliation. Johnston then realized he had been set up: Brown wanted to show the Gang of Five that the member they hoped to pick off—Pat Johnston—was with him, not them. That was the illusion. Pat Johnston was left with no choice but to make it a fact by committing to Willie Brown on the spot. "It was Willie's own way of locking down my commitment to the caucus, and demonstrating it to the Gang of Five in his presence," said Johnston. "I don't think the meeting had anything to do with me somehow being likely to convince the Gang of Five to put down their swords."

The rebels were not stupid; they got the message, and they felt further insulted by Brown. "As I drove away with Willie, the Gang of Five members were furious with me," said Johnston.[20]

"He didn't trust Pat," Calderon later reflected. "He thought Pat was going to try to make a move on him, too. And he didn't want Pat Johnston ever getting together with us, so he wanted us to believe that Pat was his right-hand man."[21] Brown had used illusion and sleight of hand, and the ploy worked.

Brown won the round, but he also gave the rebels further reason to get even and escalate the fight. The Legislature again seemed to be consumed by a leadership struggle at the expense of public policy. Brown fought the


Gang of Five to a standstill, he unable to intimidate them and they unable to remove him from his office or strip him of power with new rules. As the fight wore on, the Gang of Five honed their sound-bite skills. The media lavished attention on them, finding the Gang of Five good copy. "Talking to the present leadership about institutional changes is like talking to a Latin American plantation owner about agrarian reform," Areias proclaimed.[22]

On a personal level, Willie Brown was deeply wounded. Brown considered all five to be friends, particularly Areias, who was the playboy heir to his family's dairy business. Brown and Areias shared mutual passions for fine clothing, beautiful women, and sports cars. The hurt showed and Brown wore it on his sleeve. Brown once paused in the middle of the battle to note that he had helped Areias pick out his neckties. "It really hurts," Brown lamented.

"I helped him pick out his ties," Areias echoed. "I'm feeling hurt, too."

As the realization sunk in that they were not going to back off, Brown fulminated daily at the Gang of Five: "They're just the most outrageous collection of ungrateful people I've ever met," he fumed at a press conference.[23]

Most Democrats stood back and shook their heads. The fight looked increasingly like a melodrama about favored sons scorned by their father. "These were the closest people to Willie Brown almost in the entire Legislature," observed Democratic Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan. "Not only were they with him during the day, they ran with him at night."

For all of Brown's flamboyance and nightlife gallivanting, many in the Capitol saw him as essentially a lonely man. He was estranged from his wife; he had a steady succession of girlfriends, but he rarely let any get too close. Most of his friends seemed to want something from him, so Brown found ways to hide from them. Throughout his speakership, Brown often spent entire Sundays alone in movie theaters watching one film after another.

The Republican leader, Patrick Nolan, once invited Brown to a small dinner party celebrating Nolan's marriage engagement. For entertainment Nolan invited an Irish psychic to "read" the minds of his guests. "When she got to Willie, she was very perceptive," Nolan recalled. "She said he used people, used women, hid behind masks; he didn't have many friends; that he used people, that he took from people."[24]

Brown made a few jokes, trying to deflect her observations. But she persisted, and he became noticeably uncomfortable. "Finally, he told her to stop discussing him," Nolan said. "Out of politeness she moved on to someone else. He left abruptly soon after. The psychic had obviously hit close to home, and it was equally obvious that Willie preferred hiding behind a mask."

Hurt feelings and broken friendships began to overwhelm the Assembly's fragile chemistry, overtaking the political and policy differences that had sparked the rebellion. Brown was also acutely aware that he was in a battle with an inexperienced army and with relatively few veterans of earlier leadership wars at his side. "Willie was not enthralled with the fight. But he


got into it." said Isenberg. "He gave a cautionary talk to the caucus that it would be long and bloody. If they didn't know it, he did because he had been in it before."[25]

Brown lacked for level-headed, experienced political advisers. His staff wanted to aggressively get even with the turncoats, as did his Assembly allies. He soon got more help of sorts. John Burton was elected to the Assembly in an April 1988 special election to fill the vacancy created when Art Agnos was elected mayor of San Francisco. Burton had dried out, had kicked his cocaine addiction, and was ready to return to politics in the arena he preferred—the state Assembly. But Burton had been away for a long time; he did not know the current legislators. And his cantankerous, overbearing personality was of little help in smoothing the waters in the Democratic caucus. And though Willie Brown had his best friend back at his side, he still had no one to tell him when to cool off, least of all John Burton.

Calderon and Brown ran into each other one night at Eilish's, a bar popular with legislators three blocks from the Capitol.[26] The usually noisy crowd at the Irish bar grew hushed as they listened to Brown and Calderon scream at each other.

"You are being petty, you are being chickenshit, you ought to act like a leader and not a dealer!" Calderon yelled.

"That's right! That's right! I am chickenshit!" Brown yelled back. "In fact, I lay awake nights thinking of any way that I can screw you guys, and if you have any ideas you should let me know."

Brown gave the Gang of Five no way out but war. "He didn't leave any face-saving room," Calderon later reflected. "He didn't leave us with anything, not even our dignity, and he had taken everything away with no road back."[27]

Gary Condit soon began talking with Republican Assemblyman Frank Hill, a close lieutenant to Republican leader Nolan, about making a deal to depose Brown as Speaker. The talks were difficult, and Nolan was suspicious from the start of the Gang of Five. Nolan wanted to become Speaker with a Republican majority, not with Democratic votes. But many in the Assembly, including the Gang of Five, believed that Nolan had a deal with Brown to protect Brown from a challenge.

Over the years Nolan has strenuously denied he had any such deal.[28] He has insisted that his agreement with Brown extended only to the smooth functioning of the Assembly. Nolan explained he was reluctant to make a deal with the five insurgent Democrats because he did not trust them, and subsequent events confirmed his suspicions. "They're like a bunch of skunks spraying in every direction," he said of them. "The problem is, they're getting me wet, too."[29] Nolan had other reasons to be wary. He suspected that four or five Republicans could not be counted on to be loyal to him in a pinch because they were personally close to Brown. He was right.


However, most of the Republicans began to grow restive that Nolan was not taking advantage of the insurgency. "It's a farce," said Republican Assemblyman David Kelley from Hemet when asked about Nolan's passivity.[30] Finally Republican Trice Harvey from Bakersfield brought the issue to a head on May 5, 1988, making a formal motion on the Assembly floor to topple Brown as Speaker.[31] His motion was turned aside with another motion to directly elect Nolan as Speaker, which the Gang of Five was not ready to support. Nolan would not support Harvey's motion to remove Brown without knowing who his replacement would be, so he supported the motion to elect himself even though he knew it would fail.

There was more to the confused maneuvers than met the eye. The ruse was designed to protect Brown: there were not enough votes to elect Nolan, but there might have been enough votes to remove Brown. The Republicans secretly supporting Brown were provided cover by voting for Nolan. The motion to elect Nolan won thirty-six votes, and the challenge was turned aside for the moment. At best, Brown had won a draw, not a victory, and the insurgency continued. Afterward, Brown was uncharacteristically subdued. "It's intact," he said of his position. "When you get forty-one votes, take my name off the door."

Meanwhile, Brown was trying to play on the national stage that year, but he was hobbled by the Gang of Five rebellion. Maxine Waters convinced Brown to help Jesse Jackson with his 1988 presidential campaign. Jackson's first presidential campaign four years earlier had been highly symbolic but hopelessly unprofessional. Brown and other black elected leaders had kept their distance. Waters, an unabashed Jackson fan, believed that Willie Brown could provide him with the kind of insider's savvy he was sorely lacking, particularly with potential campaign contributors. "Not only must we all be involved," Waters said, "we must own this campaign. This campaign needs a Willie Brown. While Jesse is a wonderful candidate, he doesn't have the experience of party negotiations and convention negotiations, and so needs a Willie Brown to take an active role."[32]

Brown began offering Jackson private advice, and he was named Jackson's national campaign chairman.[33] But Brown and Jackson did not get along particularly well, and Brown was frustrated by the well-meaning amateurs around Jackson. Making matters worse, Brown was distracted by the rebellion in the Democratic Assembly ranks. He found that his freedom of movement in presidential politics was far more constrained as Speaker Brown than it had been as Assemblyman Brown.

Brown could not play an unfettered role in the Jackson campaign so long as he needed to keep looking over his shoulder at the Gang of Five. Others in California were soon trying to fill Brown's vacuum in the Jackson campaign. Brown's old rival in black politics, Mervyn Dymally, began playing a more prominent role in the Jackson campaign. Brown needed to smash


the Gang of Five rebellion fast, but he ended up making it worse. Brown went on the offensive by trying to oust Jerry Eaves from the Assembly in the June Democratic primary. Brown fielded a candidate, Joe Baca, in the primary against Eaves, trying to unelect one of those he had helped elect. The Gang of Five raised money and walked precincts in trailer parks and housing tracts for Eaves.

Eaves won renomination, and Brown's move against him in the primary succeeded only in further cementing the Gang of Five together. With the primary out of the way, the five rebels signaled to the Republican leadership that they were now ready to make a deal to elect Nolan as Speaker.[34] The Republicans held thirty-six votes, and combined with the Gang of Five, they theoretically held a forty-one-vote majority. Willie Brown's downfall and Pat Nolan's ascendance were sealed.

Or so it seemed. Years later, Calderon revealed in an interview for this book that the Gang of Five was planning to double-cross Nolan. The play would have been simple: "We had decided that we would put all but one vote up for Pat Nolan," Calderon explained. With the vote tied at forty votes for Brown and forty for Nolan, the Gang of Five planned to march into the Democratic caucus and tell their colleagues they had to elect "a new Democrat, any Democrat" as Speaker. "If they resisted we would elect Nolan Speaker," said Calderon.[35]

The plan might have worked but for the untimely death of one of the Republicans, Richard Longshore of Santa Ana, whose longtime chain-smoking sent him to his grave the day after the June 7 primary. Longshore succumbed to pneumonia and the Gang of Five was short by one vote. "When we showed up to session shortly after the election, Willie was beaming and quite excited to inform us that Dick Longshore had passed," Calderon recalled.[36] The Republicans were left with thirty-five votes in the Assembly, not enough to topple Brown even with the Gang of Five.

However, the threat may not have been as serious as it appeared to most of the denizens of the Capitol, whose eyes were glued to every twist and turn. Even without Longshore's death, Brown had secret cards to play. Unknown to the Gang of Five, Brown still had a group of Republicans supporting him. Brown likely would have stayed Speaker even had Longshore lived because those Republicans would have abstained or voted for a third candidate, thus denying Nolan the forty-one votes he needed. In the weeks and months ahead Brown adeptly used his Republican votes to finally snuff out the rebellion.

Nolan was about to exit from the game. The Republican leader was caught up in the FBI's widening investigation of Capitol corruption after he accepted $10,000 in campaign contributions from undercover agents posing as businessmen pushing sham legislation.[37] In August 1988 Nolan's Capitol office was raided by FBI agents armed with search warrants, and his position as Republican Assembly leader became increasingly untenable. When


Republicans lost three seats in the November election, Nolan stepped aside as leader, passing the baton to his close friend, Ross Johnson of Fullerton, one of the Republicans who was pivotal in the 1980 deal that made Brown Assembly Speaker.

Brown picked up three seats, giving the Democrats a forty-six-vote majority, which seemed to give Brown a one-vote cushion even if the Gang of Five voted with the Republicans. When the November election was behind him, Brown was anxious to finally put the rebellion behind him as well. But the cushion was not large enough to end the rebellion decisively. Brown began hunting for votes: his endless favors for members of both parties had given him a reserve. It was time again to play his Republican cards.

On the day he was officially elected Republican leader, Ross Johnson came to pay a courtesy call on the Speaker. But Johnson was forced to wait in Brown's outer office. As the afternoon wore on Johnson fumed and fussed. By the time he was ushered into Brown's private office, Johnson was ready to explode. Then he got bigger shock: sitting with Brown were Republican Assembly members Sunny Mojonnier and Jerry Felando, who both had voted for Johnson as Republican leader only hours earlier. The message was abundantly clear. Brown had learned Unruh's lesson of always having a Republican or two in his pocket when he needed them most. Now he needed them.

"To me, that was an almost unbearable insult," said Johnson. "With Felando and Mojonnier sitting on the couch, he says, 'Well I'd be very interested in any recommendations that you'd care to make with respect to committees. Of course, you understand, that some members—Jerry and Sunny and Stan Statham [Republican from Redding]—they're separate and apart from that, you know."[38]

Johnson was furious: "I left determined to take him out." As soon as he returned to his office, Johnson placed a call to Calderon and told him he was ready to make a deal to make Calderon, or any other member of the Gang of Five, the Speaker.

Shortly before the November election, one of Brown's oldest, most loyal friends, Curtis Tucker of Inglewood, died, and that gave Johnson a slim opening through which to crown Calderon. With Tucker's death, Brown held a one-vote margin.[39] Another Democrat, Lloyd Connelly, was out of the country trekking in Nepal, and it looked as if he would miss the vote. Johnson planned a frontal assault on Brown. He figured he could at least get a 40-40 tie. Although there would not be enough votes to elect Calderon or a Republican, there would not be enough votes to elect Brown as Speaker, either. There was no subtlety in his plan, and no fallback position. Despite having seen Mojonnier and Felando lounging with Brown, Johnson assumed that all his Republicans would vote with him.

Brown anticipated Johnson's move, getting a legal opinion from legislative counsel Bion Gregory that with Tucker's vacancy, only forty votes would be


necessary to elect the Speaker. Lloyd Connelly would not need to interrupt his vacation.

When the votes were cast, three Republicans—Mojonnier, Statham, and Felando—defected from their party, coming up with an ingenious but transparent ploy. Making speeches dripping with sarcasm about Ross Johnson's leadership, they voted for Johnson, not Calderon, as Speaker. They could not be punished for that even though they were not following the Republican playbook. The move denied Calderon enough votes to topple Brown. Abstaining was Republican Assemblywoman Cathie Wright, whose traffic scofflaw daughter had been helped by Brown. She explained she could not vote for Calderon because she had growers in her Ventura County district who perceived, rightly or wrongly, that Calderon was close to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers union.[40] He was not that close to Chavez, but it was another way of saying she could not vote for a Mexican American. Calderon got thirty-four votes and Brown got forty, the bare minimum for reelection. The war was over, and both sides were exhausted and sick of the fight.

"After the vote I walked up to Willie and I congratulated him," said Calderon. "He was a little taken back by that." A few hours later, Brown invited Calderon into his office.

"I want to tell you I thought that was a class act thing that you did coming up and shaking my hand," said Brown.

"It was your win, you deserved to win, it's your day," Calderon replied.

"I want to stop all of this, this is nonsense," Brown implored. "It's not going to do anyone any good. We're not being productive on the floor, I want it to end. You're a warrior, but you're an unhappy warrior and I want to know what I can do to change that, because the next fight that comes along I want Calderon working for me."[41]

Brown then said he would find a chairmanship for Calderon, and he soon delivered. Before the end of the session, all the rebels were rehabilitated to one extent or another. Areias and Peace were again cavorting with Willie Brown and chairing important committees. When U.S. Representative Tony Coehlo, the House Democratic whip, suddenly resigned from Congress, Condit won a special election to succeed him. Calderon was elected to the state Senate.

The biggest losers in the Gang of Five rebellion were not the rebel Democrats but the Republicans. Brown shored up his support in his own caucus at their expense. Johnson hung on as Republican leader for a time while his colleagues increasingly grumbled about his ponderous leadership. He was ousted as leader in July 1991, the last straw coming after the Assembly Republicans had failed to block $7 billion of tax increases proposed by Governor Pete Wilson to balance the budget. The Assembly Republican caucus was left more fractured than ever by the Gang of Five episode, and some overly suspicious Republicans believed that the whole thing was an elaborate Willie Brown scheme to divide and confuse them.


Johnson had tried but failed in a power game against a master, and he bitterly concluded that the game was essentially pointless. He said it was something like a popular novelty toy: "You push the little red button, and the top of the cube would open up and a little plastic hand would come out and curve around and push the button, the effect of which was to withdraw the hand and close the lid," Johnson observed. "That's been the California State Assembly pretty much during Willie Brown's term as Speaker. He has exercised power for the exercise of power. You exercise power, you raise money, and the result of that is you are able to continue to exercise power."[42]

But in the view of Willie Brown, he had a new lease on his speakership, and he resolved to do something with it. "Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen," he declared on the day he was reelected Speaker, "look out—I'm back."[43]


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