"The Man With The Cats"
As I slowly waked up one morning in March, 1970, I heard
a car starting outside and saw that I'd left a light on in the
bathroom and I realized I wasn't at home. I'd spent the night
in the El Rancho Hotel in West Sacramento. With a slightly
uncomfortable feeling I remembered that this wasn't just an
ordinary day. Two biggies--big events or significant bills--
were scheduled. There were 'biggies', 'chickenfeed', 'pork
barrel', and 'bread and butter' (designed to please or appease
your own district) bills. These aren't terms everybody would
use but I did, and certainly most people at the Capitol
The Mountain Lion Bill was up for debate and vote before
the full Assembly, and Alan Sieroty's and my quixotic tax
reform legislation was set to be heard and probably lambasted
by the conservative Rev and Tax Committee. As I threw off the
blanket of sleep, I started feeling the excitement of big
things happening, but another more cautious side of me was
saying, 'pull the covers over your head and hide. Stay in bed,
don't go out there and face those people--your weakness and
hollowness will finally be exposed.' Most people occasionally
feel this basic illogical insecurity--like in the poem my sis-
*Rather than leave you totally to your own extrapolation, I
should add that a 'pork barrel' bill is one which brings
substantial money, employment, or something else of value into
the district you represent. 'Bread and butter' is the same
idea only to a lesser extent and of a more routine nature. In
this day and age a legislator's corporate benefactor may
replace the district as recipient.
ter-in-law B'Ann used to recite:
'You're nothing but a nothing
you're not a thing at all'. . .
'Oh no I'm not I'm just a mouse
that's all I want to be.'*
When I got up and started doing practical things--like
taking a hot shower then a short cold one, and stumbling
around for my razor, the extreme feelings of elation and
apprehension left me. My preoccupation with my feelings
dissipated--it was a real day and I had real work to do.
I'd brought my best suit, freshly cleaned--it was light
blue with slightly darker hairline stripes. You feel good in a
good suit, it integrates with you--it's part of you.
'Hello there kid
You sure look like a brother bat to me'
That's how B'Ann's poem starts.
'Oh no I'm not I'm just a mouse
that's all I want to be.'*
*These semi-nonsensical rhymes were originally used to amuse
our children, but became general family vocabulary.
I knew I wasn't gonna get any votes on account of my
pretty suit, but it was an indirect way of letting my
colleagues know this debate was important to me, and the
possibility of TV coverage made me care about it more than
usual. Janet had picked me a pale blue shirt for the TV camera
and a dark brown tie with an inscription of the seven ages of
man in seven images descending down the tie. The knot was tied
in the shape of a baby's head; at the bottom an old man's head
was represented by just a speck.
Sometimes legislators on the floor will say ridiculous
things just to see whether people are listening or not.
Anyway, as I was saying, Janet had picked me out a brown tie
to go with my shirt.
I put my suit on; thus armored I drove down West Capitol
Avenue, a motel/restaurant/entertainment strip. It's an
extension of the Capitol Mall, but it's across the Sacramento
River in Yolo County. When you hit the Tower--the old
drawbridge leading into Sacramento--there lies the mall,
straight ahead, ten blocks of four-lane boulevard between you
and the Capitol Dome. At first I was thinking about the day's
events and how I'd handle them, and driving slowly, and then
thinking less and less--just wanting to get to my office and
get started, and driving faster and faster on the mall, pass--
ing between new government buildings, heading for the ornate
domed Capitol, ending up zooming down the member's driveway
and stopping abruptly in the underground garage and leaving
the car for one of the attendants to park.
In my office I saw that my desk had the usual pile of
crap on it, and I was about to sit down and go to work, but
there was a sheet of typewriter paper on the seat of my chair
ATTN: MR. D.
written on it in large red letters. Typed under the letters
Sign declaration of candidacy. Form
attached. I have to deliver to Sec.
of State's office today.
Oh shit, I thought, I've got to run for office again this year--
that's a hell of a thing to have to think about now. It seemed like I
was always recovering from one election or getting ready for
another. Assembly terms were only two years. '66-8, '68-70, '70-???
up on the carousel again? I signed the form and took it into
the outer office and stuck it under the carriage bar on
Wanda's typewriter. She put things on my chair, because she
knew I was going to sit there; I put things in her typewriter
--she couldn't type and I couldn't sit, without first
attending to each others' special errands.
I'd originally hired Wanda as my second secretary on the
recommendation of a friend at Solano College in my district.
Dorothy Loviach was now working for the Assembly Criminal
Justice Committee. The powers-that-be usually liked us to hire
from the Capitol secretarial pool but after two phonecalls and
one interview they let me bring her to Sacramento, warning me
she'd probably be somewhat immature. The only thing I noticed
was that she had a little trouble admitting she didn't know
something, at first, but she got over that fast and in a
year's time had learned so much she became my First Secretary-
-at age 19--the youngest at the Capitol.
Hiring Wanda had seemed something I 'ought to' do--'I
should try this'--partly because she seemed right and partly
because my friend at Solano College would think well of me for
doing it. In the end it showed me to have become a good
Capitol teacher and her a good learner, fast and thorough. We
were a good boss/secretary team.
A male chauvenist puts males above females, thinks women
exist for men--that's the extreme, of course, and though I
didn't really believe this, I was, momentarily, unhappy and a
little angry when, two years later, Wanda got married and moved to
Glendale. I knew better, but felt a little like my male perogative had
been usurped. Like a good boy I went to the wedding, which was dull.
Wanda was sharp and outstanding but her family and friends
didn't live up to my expectations. I think she planned and
paid for her own wedding--maybe I'm just imagining that to
have been the case--I don't really remember.
Though I was unhappy when Wanda moved to Glendale, that
ain't nothin' compared to when I learned that she'd gone to
work there for an arch-conservative Republican Assemblyman,
Mike Antonovich. I hadn't trained her for that. Later, she
visited me and said she'd quit the job because it wasn't
Back at my desk I settled down to reading some memos from
staff, and scribbling reactions on some of them--like:
or: Sure, Go.
or: No, that's not right
or: We've got to find this out first.
Wanda had also left notes about people I should call, but it
was 7:30, too early for phonecalls. Even when biggies are
scheduled, routine doesn't stop--luckily there was still time
to cover some of the details on my desk. I was glad I was
alone. I could do this stuff better when nobody was around to
bug me. Pretty soon there'd be student interns at a table at
one end of my office, two secretaries in the outer office, and
Mike Gage, my legislative assistant, walking back and forth
between all of us. And by nine o'clock the phones would be
ringing, sometimes almost constantly.
I'd just dictated a memorandum when Wanda opened the door
from her office to mine. As she saw me she said, "I like your
I smiled and said thanks.
"I saw my typewriter--I'll take the papers down before we
get too busy--see you in a few minutes."
When Wanda got back, we went to work. We had an intercom
system but usually it was easier to just leave the doors open
and raise our voices a little when we had to communicate.
Gage finally dragged his ass in about ten after nine.
Don't misunderstand me. Mike worked hard and long hours but he
sort of made a statement of independence by not hewing to
routine scheduled hours. Mike was 24 with red hair which was
slightly balding. He was almost always dieting, though he was
only a little overweight, and he was always quitting smoking.
Mike was a very hard worker and politically brilliant. The
Mountain Lion Bill was partially Mike's baby and he started
bugging me about it immediatly. "Okay, John, the Mountain Lion
bill's today," (like he's telling me something I don't know,)
"and I'll bet you haven't talked to Zberg and Sieroty."
"I'm going to do that on the floor--"
"How many Aye votes have you got counted?"
"I haven't got a vote count, I don't think we need one--I
think we're in."
"You could still muff it on the floor. You won't have any
lions backing you up down there this time."
"You mean you didn't get them again?" (For a press
conference earlier in the year I'd been flanked by two live
lions.) "I'd expected to take them to the floor with me."
"To help you lion up votes."
"Yeah," I said, as the corners of both our mouths turned
up in shit-eating grins. (or more politely, "sardonic", "compulsive"
The tension of the job made clowning inevitable. Probably
the craziest group of clowns and the best staff I ever had was
in 1974 when I was campaigning for the State Senate. Mike Gage
was my campaign manager and Edna Brown and John Harrington
were my legislative assistants. Gage and I and Harrington had
a habit of startling each other by picking up a piece of
furniture and throwing it across the room, intending that it
should be caught, which it usually was. We threw only light
chairs and small end tables. Gage might come into my office
and stand looking down at some material on an intern's desk,
then suddenly turn and grab a chair and toss it to me where I
stood by my desk. Not wanting to be outdone, I'd call for Harr
--ington and throw it to him as he came through the doorway.
John managed to catch the chair and ground it, cursing at us.
Once John and I tossed large ashtrays to each other at
the same time, and the two ashtrays hit in mid-air, showering
glass all over. We were greatly surprised. Ruth Siegle, one of
my district representatives, once gave me a metal horn with a
rubber squeeze ball on the end of it--sort of a Harpo Marx
device. At times of frustration and bedevilment I used to blow
it--sometimes into the telephone.
Edna Brown joined my staff after working a year and a
half free as an intern. She was a great lady.
By 9:30 both interns and my second secretary had arri-
ved on the scene. The first intern had been dispatched for
coffee. Somehow we all managed to touch base, say hello, and
get on with the various things we were doing in between
phonecalls, reading memos, and opening the day's mail.
When I left the office to go to the legislative chambers
a little after ten, Wanda gave me a folder with legitimate
mail in it, junk having been sorted out. I might have time to
read it during dull moments on the floor.
Session was supposed to start at ten sharp, but never
really got underway until about 10:30. This demonstrated yet
another 'pair of opposites', the Virtue of Promptness but the
Sagacity of Tardiness. You waste time by being on time,
because others generally aren't. Today I was prompt because,
as I'd promised Gage, I needed to try to line up at least a
few votes before debate. I hadn't done a detailed job of
getting advance commitment. The opposition came from limited
quarters. We seemed to have a popular thing going.
The back entrance to the Assembly Chambers (For
Legislators Only) is a narrow hallway within which the
members' elevator stops. Coming out of the elevator I walked
quickly past the Sergeant-at-Arms, saying hello almost over my
shoulder. Anyone who wasn't a member would've been stopped at
that pont. Entering the chamber I walked under the Speaker's
rostrum and 80 feet across the floor to my desk, noticing a
couple of other early arrivals on my way. After putting down
my files I made a beeline for my former seatmate, Ernie
Mobley. I told Ernie my Mountain Lion Bill was coming up today
and I hoped I could count on his vote. He told me that his
farmers and cattlemen didn't like the bill. "It just concerns
sports shooting," I told him, "livestock is still protected."
He said he'd listen to the debate and make up his mind. I had
similar conversations with eight or ten others, catching them
near the door as they trickled in. Some, I asked for their
vote out and out. "Are you familiar with AB 660, my Mountain
Lion bill?" etc. Others, I knew what their hesitations might
be so that's where I started out talking. At least half of
those I talked to were favorable about the bill.
Just a little before a quorum arrived on the floor I went
to the coffee room in the back of the Assembly Chamber to sip
coffee and see if I could pick up a couple more votes. Willie
Brown was in a corner talking to a member of his staff. I
mentioned the bill to him briefly but already knew I had his
support on it. Willie had a copy of the little book Jonathan
Livingston Seagull in his hand. He said he was intrigued with
its message. "Birds and man have no limits", he said.
Coffee and donuts are provided in this rear chamber for
legislators and their guests. A P.A. system relays the
activities of the house, so you can talk to peole, hear what's
going on out on the floor, and drink coffee at the same time.
It's a formality that's persisted, that food and beverage
aren't allowed out on the floor. From the coffee room you can
be back on the floor in a matter of seconds, voting or in the
middle of debate...I got up, leaving my half empty coffee cup,
and started to walk toward the swinging door into the chamber.
Before I reached it, it opened and my good friend Assemblyman
Alan Sieroty came in. He smiled as if he was actually glad to
see me and said, "I was lookng for you--my staff tells me
you're going to take up your Mountain Lion bill today--
anything I can do to help?"
"I was going to ask you if you would--just listen to
debate and jump in if you think I'm in trouble. You know the
"Sure. It's a good bill. I wish I had a bill with a real
live animal in it."
"Your paleontologist friends couldn't provide you with
one, could they?" I said. Alan had recently, on request of
some friends of his from academia, put in a bill to designate
Smiladon Californicus (the California Sabretooth Tiger) the
'Official State Fossil'.
"No," Alan responded, "but I sure would've liked to bring
one up here for debate."
"Do you think it'd fit in the elevator?"
"I think so. I don't think they're that big."
"I can see it--on the way up from the basement you and
Curly" (the elevator operator) "each holding a tusk."
Most legislators are so embroiled in their own bills that
they don't have time to think of volunteering to help somebody
else. Alan had a lot of his own going on but he often knew of
my important bills, because we shared interests. And, we were
just darn good friends.
At 10:30 a quorum (majority of the members) having
appeared, the House was called to order and we started taking
up the day's business item by item in the order designated in
the pamphlet (daily file) on our desks. While the Speaker (or
his designated helper) went through routine matters in a
perfunctory mumbo-jumbo manner, I sat half-listening but going
through the material in the Mountain Lion file to prepare my
opening statement. I already knew the material A to Z--I just
had to make a couple decisions about where to begin my speech.
Assembly rules provide that the bill's author has an
opening and a closing statement, a maximum of five minutes for
each. Other speakers are similarly limited. The presence of
active opposition meant to me I should give the bill full
treatment. Others following in debate are recognized to speak
in the order in which they raise up their microphones--the
mikes are mounted on flexible metal arms and can be stuck up
in plain sight...sort of like a kid raising his hand in
At 10:55 we reached item 22 on the Daily File. The Clerk
read the bill number, AB 660. I raised my mike and the Speaker
recognized me, saying, "Mr. Dunlap, are you ready to proceed?"
I answered, "Yes, Mr. Speaker," and looking around saw two
other members raise their mikes--the opposition was prepared,
not lying in the weeds or forgetting their job.
I began my speech.
"Members--in 1923, a year after I was born, there were
two passenger pigeons in the whole world--both were males.
Rather obviously, there aren't any passenger pigeons now. We
have now about forty California Condors alive,* and their
*Since then the number went down to about a dozen and
Zoologists have now started capturing eggs and raising baby
Condors in captivity, with the idea of replanting them in the
wilds. Their number now is again in the forties.
number has been diminishing. Maybe they'll survive and maybe
they won't...Too many times, we've recognized that a species
is endangered--too late. This hasn't just happened, we made it
happen." I went on with the guilt approach, not just to try to
make them feel miserable, but to get them to recognize that
the Mountain Lion Bill gave us a chance to do the right
thing, start turning around and taking responsibility for our
I continued, "The State used to pay people to shoot
mountain lions--this bill is the next logical step after
removal of the bounty--the opposition may have said things to
you about the bill, but what it really does is quite simple.
It prohibits sport shooting of the California Mountain Lion.
That's all. No more no less. AB 660 has the support of all
major conservation organizations including the Audubon Society
and the Sierra Club--also, the Vallejo Rod and Gun Club, and
the Mountain Lion Coalition."
Gage and I were in on the formation of the Mountain Lion
Coalition, along with several wildlife preservationists and
scientists. The group was formed to help enlist support and
develop publicity. At one strategy session a coalition member
brought tame mountain lions with him. Mike, attending for me,
had a brainstorm and asked if the lions could be used at a
press conference, to give the bill a good sendoff. The owner
consented, but when Mike told me about it I was at first very
negative. It seemed like unnecessary grandstanding.
Mike said, "You know darn well it'll help the bill--it'll help make
people less afraid of lions and it'll increase the number of
people that read about your press conference by 5,000 percent.
Drop your false modesty, John." Mike kept on arguing, and I
finally gave in, partly to him and partly to my ego, which
said 'Go Man Go.' I said to myself, 'I can use the press
conference to emphasize the importance of the bill as a symbol
of the need for conservation of all wildlife'--this satisfied
my image of myself as 'a thoughtul person who doesn't just go
The lions arrived at the Capitol through the members'
entrance in the underground garage and were taken out of the
car in their cage, which was wheeled over to the Assembly
members' elevator, which took them to the first floor. Curly
for years after that used to refer to me as 'the man with the
cats'. They were taken to a small room between the governor's
office and the press conference room. This is where I met
them, about thirty seconds before the conference started. I
hadn't thought to be apprehensive, but I became so instantly
when I went in there and first saw them. They were big, bigger
tha St. Bernards and a lot more agile, and they were moving
around out of the cage. I was glad to see the owner had them
on leash. I was only a little scared. I said, "Well, it's time
to get started, will you bring them in?" And we went into the
press conference room.
The owner brought the lions up and stationed them one on
each side of me at the conference room table. Before I even
sat down the TV cameras started to click and spin. I smiled
out at them, as if to say, "My lions and I have got a great
bill; we want you to listen and help tell our story to the
world." I launched into my presentation, introducing the lions
and the bill. I pretty well lost myself in the show, and
responding to questions afterward--except once when the lion
to my left was moving around and straining at his collar. I
patted his front paw to try to quiet the beast, and it
responded with halfway between a snarl and a roar and reared
its head. I felt uneasy, bordering a little on panic. What the
hell do I do now?--it wouldn't look good if I left--not at
all--but the owner calmed it down right away--later, he told
me its paws were sensitive because they'd been surgically
The conference was a success; we had a front page photo
on 18 California daily newspapers, plus the London Daily Mail
(for whatever that was worth). The only negative came in a
letter from a Vallejo constituent, who said, "O.K., Dunlap,
have you forgotten about us Senior Citizens? You're so busy
with the goddamn Mountain Lion--have you forgotten about
Property Tax Relief? Is the lion more important than taking
care of the people?" This guy didn't give a hoot for the
mountain lion. As far as he was concerned, conservation was
strictly a luxury--and talking to him about the mountain lion
was like talking Capitalism versus Communism to somebody who
doesn't have enough to eat. Of course there were people out
there who'd use anything against me they could (and maybe he
was one of them)--people glad to have a chance to say, 'there
goes Dunlap again, off on a tangent that has no bearing on anything'.
I continued with my floor presentation, "The mountain
lion is an endangered species because, by our continued
population expansion and exploitation of natural resources,
we've taken away part of the lion's homeland. On top of this,
we're shooting the lions for sport. No one bill can reverse
the process of destruction of the lion's natural habitat, but
by this bill alone, we can stop sport shooting.
"The opposition would have you believe the mountain lion
is a marauder of livestock and ravager of children.* This is
absolutely untrue--we aren't talking about the lions they
threw Christians to at the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome.
Mountain lions are shy animals who avoid contact with humans--
the deer hunter who suggested this bill to me had seen a lion
twice, for a few seconds each time, in thirty years of deer
hunting. Lions are carniverous but they feed on other wild
animals, principally deer--and, an adequate number of lions
helps keep the deer population within the natural limits of
its feed supply. Overpopulation of deer can cause the herd to
become sickly and actually threaten its existence. This is why
some thoughtful hunters support my bill."
* Since the time of my bill, a young woman jogging in the Yosemite area
was killed by a Mountain Lion. This tragically illustrates that
the worst can happen. However, since that time Moutain Lion
protection survived an initiative vote of the people which
sought to eliminate it.
I went on to say that, occasionally, an old and decrepit
or wounded lion may kill a few sheep--but I pointed out that
the bill has a safeguard built into it for just such lions--
when a lion has been killing any domestic animals, the fish
and game department may issue a special permit to kill that
lion. I continued speaking, "The most often quoted survey says there
are 600 lions in the State--and diminishing. But, in fact, we don't know
how many there are--even if you believe I'm a little wrong and
there are twice as many as this estimate, it's far better not
to take a chance--we didn't act in time to save the pigeons
but it's not too late for the lions. A principle of
conservation should be, When in Doubt, Preserve. If we find
there are more lions than we thought, we can always start
killing them again."
At this point my time was almost up and I sensed that my
message was getting across, but that I'd soon lose attention
from the members that were listening--and I was pleased to see
that many were. It was time to close.
"This bill isn't," I began, thinking of the letter from
my Vallejo constituent, "just for the benefit of the posey
pluckers or the very few wildlife enthusiasts who'll have a
chance to see a lion. We are saving lions because they're part
of the natural ecosystem on which we all depend. If we got rid
of all the lions we'd probably survive--the likelihood of the
destruction of this one species so upsetting the cycle of the
ecosystem as to destroy it, is remote--but if we don't learn
to stop with the lion, when are we gonna learn? Maybe only
when it's too late for us as well as the passenger pigeons.
The fate of man on earth rests, in part, on how well we learn
to respect the needs of other living things." I sat down,
looking in the direction of Alan Sieroty's seat. He gave me a
nod and silently clapped his hands, indicating approval. This
was what I was looking for.
My opening presentation had taken almost the full five
minutes. On some bills the opposition doesn't feel strongly
enough about it to take it on openly on the floor. When this
occurs, it's best to undersell the bill--not make much of a
speech, because your own rhetoric may spark your foes into
action. On an occasional bill you may even try to 'mumble it
through'. This may involve using one, two, or a maximum of
three sentences which describe what the bill does but skirt
its potential controversy. If I'd tried to 'mumble through'
the Mountain Lion bill, I'd have said something like, "Mr.
Speaker and members, this bill relates to fish and game
provisions protecting various species of mammals. It was
amended in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee to clarify
and strengthen its provisions. I ask for an aye vote." Then
I'd flip my voting switch to green and sit down and start
reading a book or talking to my neighbor, acting nonchalant.
Meanwhile somebody jumps up saying, "Hey hey hey he's trying
to mumble it through but so and so and so are opposed to it--
he lies!" Or, "Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, Assemblyman Dunlap
has just tried to mumble through a bill that took five hours
of committee time in two separate hearings. There were at
least five opposition witnesses and the whole agricultural
community is opposed...It's an insult to the intelligence of
this great debating body."
But I had given the bill full treatment, and though I
expected to carry it without much difficulty, I knew there'd
be some debate. While the opposition started up I checked over
my notes to see if I missed anything.
"Does Mr. Dunlap know," a conservative Democrat was
speaking testily, "that there are over 3000 mountain lions
roaming the hills of California?" He went on to proclaim that
my bill was a forerunner of the extreme preservationist
philosophy and if successful would be followed by bills to
prohibit shooting coyotes, bobcats, and sooner or later even
rattlesnakes. He also suggested that once these bills were
through I'd probably introduce one to outlaw hunting rifles,
since they'd no longer be necessary.
I figured he'd claimed too much and wouldn't be taken
seriously by many; he'd also exposed his affinity to the
National Rifle Association. But to be on the safe side I made
a couple of notes to respond in my closing statement.
Next, a Republican got to this feet and recited the
organizations opposed to my bill: Farm Bureau, Cattleman's
Association, National Rifle Association, etc. He charged that
the lions in the Sierra foothills were even now marauding
sheep and cattle and if livestock owners couldn't protect
their property the price of meat would rise even higher than
it already was. He went on to inform us that a renowned
university zoology professor had testified in committee that
my bill was unnecessary. I made notes again, as my friend Ed
Zberg put up his mike and was recognized.
Ed said that it was probably unnecessary for him to speak
but he just wanted everybody to know that this was a carefully
thought-out bill, well-drafted and thoroughly heard in
committee--that the testimony in committee was in conflict as
to how many lions there were but the most reliable survey said
600, not 3000 running rampant. He ended, "I join Asemblyman
Dunlap in asking for an Aye vote on this important bill."
Because Zberg mentioned numbers again, it gave me a good
lead into my final statement--on the spot I remembered an
additional fact about lions and their populations, and I began
my statement with it--
"One of the reasons we are so concerned with there only
being 600 mountain lions is that we're not dealing with
animals that proliferate as quickly as bunny rabbits or house
cats--ordinarily a female lion has one or two cubs every two
years. Contrary to suggestions from the gentleman from
Buttonwillow, the purpose of this legislation is solely to
protect the California Mountain Lion-the fate of the bobcat,
coyote, and rattlesnake can be judged by this legislature on
their own merits, if and when anyone chooses to introduce
bills to protect them. But I won't be the one." I might've
added that I wasn't about to hold a press conference flanked
by two rattlesnakes.
I figured the Republican's citing of the united
opposition and the UC professor's opinion had lost me a few
votes, so I turned directly to him as I continued--
"It's true that the agricultural lobbies are against this
bill--but how many individual farmers have each of you heard
from? I have only one letter from a farmer opposed to this
bill--the farmers in my district are much more concerned about
pesticide control and labor laws than the fate of the mountain
lion. I suggest to you that farmers know their interests
better than their lobbyists--and they know an old crippled
lion isn't going to kill enough sheep to raise the price of
lamb, particularly before a permit can be issued to legally
kill it. I also suggest to you that farmers know that mountain
lions provide a function--holding down damage to crops from
deer and raccoons."
The main farming activity in Napa County was winegrape
growing. Since raccoons have been known to damage grapevines,
growers and vintners were not opposed to my bill. I also
shared with them a desire to keep the environmental integrity
of the Napa Valley intact. Some of them were born and raised
in the valley and were genuinely and sentimentally attached to
its preservation. Others knew darn well they had to preserve
the land, water, and air in order to grow grapes...but we
didn't always agree. I urged public hiking trails rimming the
valley and up and down the banks of the Napa River. Growers
and vintners saw this as an infringement on private property--
mostly theirs. They were however willing to sacrifice the land
for wineries and visitor parking lots along with increased
traffic. All of my environmental bills weren't as dramatic as
the Mountain Lion bill. I had many to preserve open space and
protect agriculture from excessive property taxes. This was
part of preserving the valley.
Concluding my closing statement I said, "Universty of
California Professor Starker Leopold did say that AB 660 is
unnecessary. However, his conclusion wasn't based on his
factual and scientific information (which, incidentally, backs
up our basic information justifying this bill--a small number
of lions, diminishing; a reduced natural habitat.) The
professor said specifically that we didn't need this bill
because the Fish and Game Commission presently has the author-
ity to impose limits and restrict killing. His conclusion was
based on his misplaced confidence that they'd do their job as
they're supposed to--the Fish and Game Commission are
political appointees mostly representing hunting interests and
they believe that wild animals are there, basically, for one
reason--to be hunted. The professor's conclusion that AB 660
is 'unnecessary' was a political judgement, not a scientific
one. I believe this legislature is best suited to make its own
political judgements. We don't need no college professor to
tell us our business"
I'd intended to end debate with a repetition of my
'conservation maxim', When in Doubt, Preserve--but as I
watched the reaction to my statement on the professor, I could
see that I'd hit home, so I cut it short with a minute of time
left over, saying, "I ask for an Aye vote on this bill to
protect the California Mountain Lion." I held my hand on the
voting switch as I sat down so I could flip it to green as
soon as the roll opened. Psychologically it's good to get as
many green lights up on the board as soon as possible.
Legislators are all supposed to be great leaders making
independent judgements, but sometimes they act more like sheep
and go running after whoever moves first. Eight or ten early
green lights usually bring on more.
Debate on some bills is as abbreviated as thirty seconds,
others may last fifteen or twenty minutes. This one took
fifteen. The longest debate on any bill that I carried was
Senate Bill #1, during the first extraordinary session of
1975. It was the Ag-Labor Relations Act, sponsored by Governor
Brown. Debate lasted over an hour. Once in a while a major tax
bill might take a full morning, afternoon, or evening session.
The initial vote on the Mountain Lion bill was 37 Aye, 12
No. This was a 3-1 majority--of those voting. An absolute
majority of the whole Assembly, 41 out of 80 possible votes,
is required to pass a bill. So far only 49 legislators had
voted. The rest were either not present, had not been paying
attention to the vote, or had deliberately not voted. I stood,
and moved for what's known as a 'call of the house', which
means a postponement of final action on the bill until more
assemblymen showed up and got their votes in. While the next
order of business on file came up, I went to the clerical
staff under the Speaker's rostrum and asked for a record of
the vote. They gave me a card with the names of all of us in
alphabetical order, and after each name an Aye and a No
column, marked by computer to show how or if we'd voted.
I found the names of a few who hadn't, who I thought were
probably favorable to the bill, and set out to track them
down--in their offices or at the perimeters of the chambers or
wherever they were--meanwhile, the legislative process went on
like a five ring circus, presentation of bills, voting, and
buttonholing, all going on at once.
I can remember having two or three bills under call at one
time--other members, at this same moment, could be in the same
boat. So what you have is a dozen legislators walking around
with bills up in the air, pulling cards and pencils out of
their pockets, figuring how many votes they need to land them-
-accosting each other, sometimes smiling and saying thanks,
sometimes having heated private arguments. It must look
strange to someone seeing it for the first time. Probably the
impression would be one of chaos and rudeness. A real circus
fan--a reporter or lobbyist, a professional capitol spectator,
that is--sees what's going on in a corner of the tent. While
the ringmaster calls his attention to the center, where Miss
Fifi rides an elephant on tiptoe, or a legislator is making a
speech, the fan notes 'oh there's Dunlap, he's got that bill
on the mountain lion, and there comes so-and-so, he's in from
L.A., and Dunlap's talking to him, I can see from the way he
nods he's got another vote now he's going over to Blank, yeah
he's got another vote lined up there too--looks like Dunlap's
got his votes but he's continuing to hit people up, probably
wants to nail it down for sure.
I was getting enough votes. I had 45 promised when, as
business on one bill was completed, I threw up my mike and
said, "Mr. Speaker, I'd like to remove the call on item 22."
He went through his verbal mumbo jumbo; the call was removed
and the names of absentees were announced one at a time by the
clerk--at which point they voted orally, and their votes were
recorded. The vote stood at 52--14, and I was about to ask
that it be 'announced', when three members asked to change
their votes from No to Aye, making the final vote 55--11.
These last three switch voters wanted, in the record of the
final vote, to be in with the majority. By originally opposing
the bill, they'd shown their farmers and cattlemen (lobbyists
for whom were sitting in the gallery behind the chambers) that
if there'd been a chance to defeat it they'd have done their
part. Now they figured they might as well cut their losses
and go with the winner.
Voting on the floor of the Assembly is an electric
event--like watching the electronic scoreboard in the closing
seconds of an extremely close basketball game--all the points
are 'scored' in a matter of seconds and the game's over--but
on the floor of the Assembly there's another bill and another
game's going on right away. Sometimes the continuous tension
results in legislators playing games with the legislative
process--a member might say in the middle of his bill
presentation, "All right, Mr. Speaker, I would like my
colleagues to know that this bill isn't any good and I think
everybody ought to have a choclate ice cream cone right now."
The presiding officer might answer, "Thank you, Mr.
DeStefano for your recommendation, will the sergeant-at-arms
please retire and bring in 80 cones, 40 vanilla, 39 choclate,
and one spumoni for Mr. DeStefano."
Or, a legislator might finish a short speech on what he
thinks is a non-controversial bill--he sits down, asking for
an Aye vote and flicking his switch to green--as he looks up
at the scoreboard his vote is the only green in a sea of red
lights. He turns and frantically looks around the floor at his
colleagues--seeing a smile on one or two faces, he realizes he
has been made the object of a conspiracy--and relaxes a
little--looking back at the board he sees the red lights
gradually turning to green and he smiles too. After everyone
has had a good jolly old laugh, business gets underway again.
The split second the vote was finally announced on the
Mountain Lion Bill, I had a feeling of exultation--like 'this
calls for two drinks before lunch!!!'--but it didn't last.
There was no time to feel and damn little for introspection--I
just jumped back on the treadmill (it's running and you're on
it and there isn't time to get off and think about it) and I
made a beeline for the floor telephone. You can call
practically anywhere in the world from the floor of the
assembly for nothing (that is, you don't pay for it), but I
was just calling upstairs to my office. Wanda answered and I
said, "The bill's in 55-11--wire service will cover the
dailies; let's take credit with the district weeklies, get out
a press release for them and tell Gage he can relax." Mike was
already on the phone and he broke in saying, "I already heard
the results on the squawk box" (Assembly proceedings are
broadcast to receivers in the Speaker's office and several
other locations in the Capitol building) "don't waste time
congratulating yourself; call our friends on Senate Rules
right away and get the bill assigned to Natural Resources and
Wildlife. It'll die if they send it to Ag."
I whined my reply, "You had to think of that--do I really
have to?" He was right but I'd have preferred to relax a
moment or two.
Mission accomplished, I turned to thoughts of my little
gray home in the west--it's a corner of heaven itself. There
are two eyes that shine because they are mine, and a thousand
things other than this. Calling home I told Janet of my
success and she shared my exultation.
"Hey, Sox, I'm on the floor the Mountain Lion Bill just
went through 55-11."
"Yeah, I'm pleased. How are you?"
"Just fine. Can you come home early and celebrate?"
I couldn't. It'd be 8 p.m. before I got home. Alan and I
had the tax bill and I had to stop in Fairfield. "Maybe we can
do something special this weeked," I told her, but of course
that'd depend on what was happening when the weekend arrived.
It was nice to talk to Janet but I also felt guilty--she and
the kids did tend to play second fiddle. The job came first
more often than not.
Before going to lunch I ran into Jess Unruh in the men's
room. Jess at this time was minority leader--the Democrats
having lost control of the assembly, Republicans held
Speakership and all key committee chairmanships.
Unruh knew that Sieroty and I had our tax bill up in
committee that afternoon--before we started to talk about it
Jess said, "shhhhhh" and looked under all of the stalls to
make sure we were alone. He then said, "You're fighting a
loser, but I might be able to get you a vote or two. A couple
of guys on the committee owe me, from when I was Speaker. They
might vote for the bill knowing it's gonna get killed in Ways
and Means anyway."
"We'd appreciate any help you can give us, Jess."
"I'm not doing this just to help you, I want to use your
bill, John." It was 1970 and Jess was running for Governor
against Reagan. He needed to have concrete examples of tax
reform as part of his campaign.
That fall, Jess did mention the Dunlap-Sieroty bill as he
was campaigning against Reagan, and he did well to expose
Reagan as the candidate of the very wealthy--the tax bill
helped him do this. Some of the bloom had worn off Reagan's
image but he was still a very popular governor. Jess couldn't
crack Reagan's popularity and he didn't inspire people
The great Democrats have been those that inspire. I
believe the great message of the Democratic Party is
innovation and change, which are threatening to people, and
you can't come off successfully with this unless you're also
bringing a message of hope and inspiration--and mostly all
Jess did was Negative Reagan. He did a pretty good job of this
but he didn't inspire enough people to believe in his own
candidacy. Jess lost by half a million votes, a decisive
defeat, with the only consolation being that it was half the
margin Reagan had beaten Pat Brown by 4 years earlier.