On the first Monday of January, 1967, the California State
Legislature convened at noon. Janet and I drove our new
Dodge Dart into the garage under the Capitol reserved for
Legislators. I remember the garage man taping a little tag on
the windshield which said "A-5", the number of my assembly
district. He said I'd get a parking space with the district
number painted on it, and I knew I'd soon be getting special
licence plates labelled A-5.
As we entered my office, Dorothy Loviach, my secretary,
dropped her telephone conversation to bow and scrape before
"Assemblyman Dunlap! --and this must be Mrs. Dunlap. I'm so
glad to meet you. Mr. Dunlap says you have four children, I
hope I'll meet them soon!" Dorothy had on her best Capitol
manners. She was a little bit patronizing and saccharin but I
can't say we didn't like it. She had been around up there a lot
longer than we had and handled us well.
Around noon we somehow found our way to the Legislative
Chamber, which was in the original half of the Capitol
structure built in the 19th century. The new section (where
the offices were, built in the 1950s) and the old section
of the entire Capitol building, were joined directly
together, but the levels and floor numbers didn't match, so
you could suddenly find yourself on the third floor, having set
out from the second without passing down any stairs or
elevators. In some places, inclining hallways contributed to
the confusion--and there were no hall windows through which to
get a fix from the redwoods in the Capitol grounds (all of them
being off in the offices behind closed doors).
The Assembly chamber was carpeted in red and blue. It was
a little like a theatre, with its high high ceilngs, and a
balcony in back which served as a public gallery. The first
floor area is taken up by rows of tilttop desks and swivel
chairs, eighty altogether, one for each represented district.
The 'stage' area is occupied by a huge, high wooden desk, at
which the Speaker stands, surrounded by functionaries.
The chamber is also a little like an oversize school
classroom, except that the occupants are less well-behaved. The
impression many people get, first witnessing the Assembly in
session, is of a bunch of rude men and women in business suits
milling around and paying very little close attention to the
business at hand. But despite apparent chaos, there is some
order; there is a functioning system. During sessions, when you
want to be recognized you stand up at your desk and say in a
fairly loud voice, "Mr. Speaker." This might be an improvement
over raising your hand and waiting for the teacher to call on
you. The Speaker, when he feels your turn has come, recognizes
you and turns on the microphone which permits you to speak on
the public address system. Since only one mike is operative or
"open" at one time the members are effectively discouraged from
all talking at once. Your desk is also equipped with a voting
switch controlling little red and green lights next to your
name on a board at the head of the room; your votes are visible
and recorded. When your microphone's turned on, you can address
the other legislators, who are, despite their milling about,
paying some attention to the proceedings.
Janet was allowed to stand at my side for the swearing-in
ceremony. Other Assemblymen had also brought their wives, some
stood next to their mothers or a favored child. The swearing-in
officer led us through a rote repetition of The Oath of
Office,* which we all repeated like good little children. It
was over in a couple of minutes. I suppose swearing-in
ceremonies are simple rituals and nothing more. The
justification for them is not just the literal promise that you
make ("I promise to obey all the laws and carry out the duties
of the office I'm about to undertake; to be good to Mother and
Daddy and obey the constitution and not beat my grandmother")
*A copy of the actual oath is located in Appendix 1A. 4
--it's to impress you with the formality of the occasion and
your responsibility. But being one of eighty mumbling a
paragraph of prepared words was not to me too impressive, of
either my importance or responsibility. Although the ceremony
itself was not too impressive I don't mean to say that I didn't
personally feel important because I did. Also, the event was
accompanied with good natured jesting by those in charge and
there was a feeling of comradeship among the members, returning
members greeting each other with handshakes and backslapping,
and welcoming the newcomers.
The swearing-in ceremony did give me the opportunity of
seeing all of my colleagues in one place. I knew a few already
and others by reputation--John Burton, Willie Brown, John
Vasconcellos. It's interesting that we were all assigned
particular seats. I was located pretty much in the center. The
seats were in rows two desks wide (so you had a "desk-mate")
with aisles in between each two rows. My seatmate was Ernie
Mobley, a Republican from Sanger, a small city near Fresno. In
back of us sat John Miller, a black Democrat from Berkeley, and
Pete Wilson, as of this writing Governor of California--a
Republican. The seating was all prearranged by the Speaker, who
I'm sure accomodated requests of his favorites. Miller, Wilson,
Mobley, and I were all new members, and as I think of it there
were many paired-off new arrivals. It's strange that they put
us all together, although maybe there wasn't much else they
could do. Election year 1966 was a big turnover year. Of the 80
members, 34 of us were just elected.
The first week there was a rash of parties. Some were for
members only: others were more big social events, spouses
invited. Janet and I went to the Governor's Ball, which was
supposed to be a prime event. I rented a tux and Janet wore a
special dress. She looked beautiful. Right from the start,
though, we began to feel out of place. Drinks cost a dollar
apiece, which was as much as we'd ever paid then. This was not
a privilege--it didn't make me feel very special.
When the band started up, we tried to dance
to 'Winchester Cathedral', a name I remember because
it seemed so ridiculous. And, I've always been curious
as to what the words mean. To me the song was mostly rhythm,
but then I don't have much tune perception. Anyway, it was hard
to dance to. I was always awkward dancing, and I felt even more
so now. Not that it mattered--nobody was watching. Still, we
did feel out of place in general. We knew practically nobody,
and, being staunch Democrats, we weren't too likely to rejoice
at a party calculated to celebrate the incoming of the
Republican Party's bright new star, Governor Ronald Reagan. If
it had been our candidate's official inaugural ball, we
would've had something to crow about. As it was, the most
interesting happening at the ball was seeing former child
moviestar Shirley Temple.*
We were there pretty much like smalltown citizens at the
county fair--we assumed it was the place to be. As the evening
wore on, I didn't see very many people I knew, but I was happy
finally to meet one Democratic Assemblyman from Richmond.
I introduced Janet and he mumbled something about not having
been able to talk his wife into coming with him. After a minute
he excused himself, saying he had to get around and make sure
he showed his face sufficiently to some of his Republican
friends. We felt a little more alone as he left, and wished
we'd gone to the movies instead of coming here--it was getting
harder to make believe we were having fun. We weren't cynical
by nature--maybe we were learning to be cynical, or learning
that you didn't have to do everything. I guess we had to go to
the ball in order to discover we didn't have to go to the ball.
*Shirley Temple was too much younger than I was for me to be
attracted to her. Still, you couldn't grow up being just a few
years older than her and not have paid some attention to her
and if you went to the movies at all you would have seen some
of her movies. They were the kind of movies I guess adults
thought children ought to go to and I liked them well enough.
When the speeches started, Reagan came out looking like a
shit-eating fatuous son of a bitch.* He probably really looked
just the same as he did introducing Anna Marie Alberghetti on
G.E. Theatre (a smiling, mouthy, relatively handsome Mr. Nice
Guy) but I wasn't 100 percent objective in January, 1967, and
as time went on I'd have more reasons to cultivate my intuitive
dislike of the new Governor.
A day or so after the '66 election I had received a
congratulatory telegram from Reagan, saying
"My door will always be open
to you and your ideas"
a message doubtless sent to all freshman legislators. During my
time in the legislature I seldom had direct contact with him. I
was too pure or 'holier than thou' to take him up on his invit-
*This inflammatory profane phrase just popped out of my mouth
when my son David insisted on a 'better' description of what
Governor Reagan looked like at the ball, as we were preparing
the first draft of this manuscript. I have left it in because
it is more descriptive of me than Reagan. Translating it into
more polite terms would have eliminated some of the picture of
the total emotional world of California politics in January
1967. I had learned to hate the enemy and He was It. Although
use of these words is not descriptive of the thoughtful, usually
careful, John Dunlap, this exuberant profanity is typical of me
in the 'progressive daring sense' of my capacity to go overboard,
and of the youthful macho heritage shown as an undergraduate college
fraternity man (this capacity also to be seen during my three years in the service
as an enlisted man in the Army Air Corps). Originally, I just described Reagan as
ation by wire. Besides, I sort of knew he really wouldn't be
very interested in my ideas.
I had first met him on a "Freshman Legislator's" tour of
Southern California, between the election and taking office. I
was very unimpressed. A few of us were in a hotel room in San
Diego. He was nattily dressed, almost 60 years old at this
time, hair in the big Brylcream wave. The Republican
Assemblymen were trying to draw him out saying Ron such and
such Ron, what do you think of this Ron, and he wasn't
responding. I remember him sitting down and complaining because
he was tired and was going to have to fly to Nevada. I thought,
Jesus Christ, this guy's Governor of California...what it
amounts to is that he wasn't putting on the act right then. We
weren't worth it.
Another time, at a party a week or so into the start of
the '67 legislative session, he had occasion to respond to
remarks of Unruh and other members of the legislature. He was
cool and articulate, and demonstrated that he could think on
his feet, not just read a script. I remember thinking, 'This is
not just an empty fat-headed actor--this guy is going to be
hard to handle.'
There were bigscale cocktail parties in the Senator Hotel
Ballroom, with heavy hors d'ouevres so you could get all you
wanted to eat, and in the years '66--'70 I used to go to more
of them than I did later. Reagan was probably at some of these
in and out the same way I was. In 1968 there was a party at the
Governor's mansion, a relatively small group of both Democrats
and Republicans, with no political agenda that was apparent. It
was a so-called 'fun evening'. I liken it to the Governor's
Ball a little--but by this time I knew most of the legislators
there and it was less boring. Women or wives (there were no
women legislators at this event) were invited and Janet and I,
more out of curiosity than anything else, attended, and, I
guess I also had the thought that the Republican legislators
might be easier to handle if they'd seen me at the Guv's house.
By then I had learned some of the tricks of my friend from
Somebody parked our car for us and another attendant let
us in. The governor was on hand with us for a minute or two,
introduced himself, told us where we could get a drink, and
told us to wander around as we saw fit. There were maybe three
other couples there ahead of us, not particularly friends, and
we killed a little time looking around, and somewhere along the
line Nancy flitted through and we met her.
It was not much of an event, but, maybe I should've tried
harder to make it one for myself. If I'd been sharp I'd have
had something to say to make them remember me--as long as
you're there you might as well extend yourself and make your
mark. But I didn't, at that time, have the guts, or the
forethought, or the polish to do this.
My son David, interviewing me regarding this lost opportunity,
asked what I might have said.
ME: What would I have said to the Governor?
ME: I don't know.
DAVID: If he had a dog you could've thrown it in the
swimming pool. That'd make an impression.
ME: Mommy and I could've talked about our two St.
Bernards. Better to talk about St. Bernards than my
political views about how rank I thought the Governor's
program was on higher education.
DAVID: So how would you have brought up the dogs.
ME: I don't know.
ME: Oh something like "it's a pleasure to see you here in
your own home, governor, I've often wondered how the Chief
Executive lives--do you and Nancy have any pets?"
"We just picked up a wirehair at the Upper Crust Kennel
Club," says the Governor, then he shows us his current
DAVID: And what do you say?
ME: "We don't let our dogs in the house, Governor--we keep
them in the carport where we have the ping pong table and
the dartboard with your picture on it.
DAVID: He'd remember you.
One time in 1967, some constituents from Rio Vista, a town
in my district along the Sacramento River, wanted to give
Reagan a fish to advertise their annual Bass Derby. They came
to me as a legislator to set it up. As a new member I had no
idea this was part of my job and I didn't like the idea.
Dorothy Loviach set it up for me and the presentation was
planned for the governor's office with local Solano County and
wire service photographers to be present. It was a cinch for
the front page at least of the weekly River News Herald. I was
not Expected to be there but I certainly could have been, just
for publicity's sake. I felt at the time that posing in the
same photo with him was giving him my approval and I couldn't
do that. I also refused all bill signing photos with him--over
the next eight years he did sign between one and two hundred of
my bills and some were important enough to have signing
ceremonies. As I think about this now, I was pretty naive, a
practical politician would have been in the fish
picture, and wouldn't have shirked the bill signing opportunities.
But maybe my naivety was really an innocence, albeit a haughty
innocence which most politicians have lost today.
I should've gotten my picture taken with Reagan and the
fish. Any smart politician would've done this, but I refused.
My 12 years as a Democratic party worker and leader made being
a good Democrat vital and important, and part of being a good
Democrat was hating Republicans--and if you hate them, you
can't pose with them, even if it might be politically
beneficial. For me it would've been personally embarrassing. I
didn't want to risk the razzing of my Democratic drinking
. . . .
My initial elation on arrival at the Capitol, that first
evening of the "Governor's Ball", got another kick in the pants
later the same night. A crusty old Democratic Senator came up
to me and said, almost out of a clear sky, "John, you must
remember one thing; you're expendable." I allowed as how this
was probably correct--but he appeared to want to press the
issue, as if I'd disagreed. Not wanting to carry the
conversation further, I ducked him.
I still don't know why he said it to me at that time. He
hadn't seemed drunk, and he wasn't the type to be mean, or
particuarly philosophical. Maybe I looked like I was trying to
be big stuff, and he felt that too many newcomers too often
thought too much of themselves, and his job was to set things
When I thought about the day's events later, I
realized I'd felt spasmodically many ups and downs; from a very
high point, driving into my special parking place and having
the elevator operator know my name and being treated like a
bigshot by my secretary, to later feeling like I was just one of
the herd during the swearing-in, and just one of the crowd ball.
Anyhow, as Janet and I left the hall and headed
for our hotel room, I knew I wasn't King Shit, and I was
already wondering, "Where do I go from here?"
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