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Where are they now? Paul Horcher

Paul V. Horcher during his years as a member of the California Assembly. (Photo: Assembly)

For all the drama that comes with a first day of session, it’s largely a scripted affair. Legislators and their families fly to Sacramento and at about noon everyone files into the Chambers for the oath of office. A few procedural votes are taken and then everyone goes home until January.

But that wasn’t how it happened in 1994.

That year, Assembly Republicans gained their first majority in a quarter century only to have one of their own  — Paul Horcher — break away and vote to keep Willie Brown, a Democrat, in power. It was one of the most amazing moments in the history of the Assembly.

With real power held by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, it didn’t take long for local residents to begin pushing for incorporation and the local control.

But should it have been a surprise? Horcher says no.

Paul V. Horcher was born in Texas in 1951. The family moved frequently during his childhood as his father, an electrical engineer, moved from job to job. First to Tennessee, then West Virginia, to Pleasant Hill in Contra Costa County and finally to the San Gabriel Valley.

Horcher started his political career when he was elected to the Diamond Bar Municipal Advisory Council.

“It was a poor man’s city council,” he said recently, “I was voted in by a popular election, but we didn’t have much power. It was an advisory to the boys downtown… the Supervisors. But that was the start. It was a real election.”

Paul Horcher in his law office. (Photo: Alex Vassar)

With real power held by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, it didn’t take long for local residents to begin pushing for incorporation and the local control that it would bring.

In 1989, voters approved a ballot measure to form a new city and on April 18, Diamond Bar was incorporated. At the same time, Horcher became one of the original members of the Diamond Bar City Council.

The same election brought a new era to California politics with the passage of Proposition 140, which established California’s first term limits law.

That December, the local political scene was rocked when state Sen. Bill Campbell resigned to become president of the California Manufacturers Association. A special election was held in early 1990, and Assemblyman Frank Hill won, leaving his Assembly seat open for the rest of the term.

Horcher ran a strong campaign, and his work in the local community helped him with name recognition in Diamond Bar.  In the end, Horcher won in a field of eight Republicans, including former Congressman Wayne Grisham and Ken Manning (who Horcher beat by just 70 votes), which he attributes to the large number of candidates dividing the vote in the more populated parts of the district.

“I think it was that I was the only candidate from Diamond Bar” he explained, “Bear in mind that I only got 17 percent of the vote.”

That November, Horcher easily won the heavily Republican district with nearly 60% of the vote.

The same election brought a new era to California politics with the passage of Proposition 140, which established California’s first term limits law.

Arriving in Sacramento as one of twelve members of the Class of 1990, Horcher was immediately impressed by the long-time legislators that he now served with.

In these early days of term limits, before the constant in-and-out cycling of members had really started, there were still a large number of legislators who had been in office since the 1970s.

“Well, you’re from east Texas, I’m from east Texas. You’re a lawyer, I’m a lawyer. You’re a Democrat and well, two out of three isn’t bad.” Paul Horcher on Willie Brown.

Horcher recalled the exodus of experienced legislators during his time in office. “I was there the last time they were tall. That was the last time I was surrounded by giants. Then they got shorter and shorter,” he said.

One legislator Horcher met early on was Willie Brown, the San Francisco Democrat who was then beginning his 10th year as Assembly speaker.

In one of the greatest ironies, it was actually Horcher’s classmate Jim Brulte who encouraged their first meeting.

“When we got sworn in back in 1990, Brulte came over to my office and said ‘Why don’t you go down and talk to the Speaker?” Horcher was surprised. “I never dreamed that I would do that. He kind of encouraged me to do it.”

“I went down to talk to Willie down in his office and we immediately hit it off,” Horcher said. By the end of their conversation, Horcher had decided that not only did he respect Brown’s leadership style; he also liked him as a person.

“I remember at the end of the conversation telling him ‘Well, you’re from east Texas, I’m from east Texas. You’re a lawyer, I’m a lawyer. You’re a Democrat and well, two out of three isn’t bad.”

Horcher quickly settled into the life of a legislator, and had a productive first session. “My first term went very well. I had 25 bills and every single one was signed by the governor.”

“So the goal was to beat me up as many times as possible.” — Paul Horcher

It was during his second term that his relationship with the Republican caucus became rocky. It was time to elect a new Republican leader, and the two candidates were Dean Andal and Jim Brulte. “In 1992, Andal ran for Republican leader but he got hung up on Election Day by [Mike] Machado,” explains Horcher, “Brulte saw his chance to take the leadership.”

“Apparently they promised [Andal] the Ways and Means vice chair as a consolation prize,” said Horcher. “So the consolation prize was supposed to be Ways and Means, but the Speaker offered it to me and I took it… from then on I was ostracized.”

According to Horcher, the attacks on him were relentless and determined to undermine his political credibility. Hill, Horcher’s predecessor in the Assembly, was facing corruption charges stemming from the FBI’s undercover sting investigation, dubbed Shrimpscam.

“They knew that Hill was going to be convicted, that there was a seat and a special election, and they knew it would be [Dick] Mountjoy and I contesting,  so the goal was to beat me up as many times as possible.”

The last time that many new Republicans were elected to the Assembly was in 1946, nearly 50 years earlier.

The predictions were right and on July 8, 1994, Frank Hill resigned from the state Senate and set in motion events that would finally erupt on the first day of the next session.

In the special election that followed, seven candidates filed to run. The damage of the preceding year had taken its toll and Horcher came in third behind both Mountjoy and Gary G. Miller, with whom Horcher had served  on the Diamond Bar City Council. “I came in a strong third but I won my hometown at least,” said Horcher. “I knew then it was over for me.”

Seven weeks later, Mountjoy won two elections on the same day as he was elected to the state Senate in the run-off at the same time he won his ninth term in the state Assembly.

The 1994 election was the modern high water mark for Assembly Republicans, delivering nineteen new members, part of the GOP’s national sweep known as Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.”

To put it into historical perspective, the last time that many new Republicans were elected to the Assembly was in 1946, nearly 50 years earlier.

With these new members, Republicans now held 41 of the 80 seats, giving them their first majority in two decades. Jim Brulte, as the caucus leader who had led the Republican efforts, was poised to become the first Republican to become Assembly Speaker since the 1970s.

For the moment, Brulte and Brown sat stalled, each with forty votes and each just one vote short of the speakership.

At home in Diamond Bar, having been battered for two years by a Republican who now needed his vote to become speaker, Horcher made the decision to leave the Republican party and vote for Brown.

“I always liked Willie Brown,” Horcher explained. “You have to respect someone who stayed in power that long. It’s relatively easy to attain power, but it’s difficult to hang on to it. Everybody wants their day in the sun.”

On the first day of session, Dec. 5, 1994, Horcher changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independent. That afternoon, when the roll was called, Horcher cast his vote for Willie Brown. Gasps were heard throughout the chamber.

More than two decades later, Horcher is unsure why anyone would be surprised by his vote for Brown.

“It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Someone asked me, ‘What’d you do that for?’ Well, I knew both people. I knew Brulte and I knew Brown. Easy decision,” he said.”

“I’ve never like bullies and Brulte was a classic bully,” he added. “It backfired.”

For the moment, Brulte and Brown sat stalled, each with forty votes and each just one vote short of the speakership. The following month, Horcher joined the Democrats to vote Mountjoy out of the Assembly on the reasoning that his election to the Senate took precedence over his reelection to the Assembly.

With 40 votes now a narrow majority, Willie Brown had the votes to regain the Speakership for a few final months.

The anger against Horcher was intense. Almost immediately, Republicans began to organize a recall effort. “I was surprised. I knew something had to happen but I wanted to serve out my term. I was term-limited … it was my last term anyways. I was surprised they went through so much trouble but they were power mad.”

Over the eight years Brown served as Mayor, Horcher filled a number of roles within Brown’s administration.

On May 16, 1995, Horcher was recalled.

Gary Miller, who had come in ahead of Horcher during the special election the year before, was elected to take Horcher’s place.

“I would have liked to serve more, but politics never really has a happy ending” Horcher reflected recently, “I miss that job. It was the best job of my life. I do miss it.” Asked if he would change his vote for Speaker in light of all that happened, he answered quickly and made it clear that was a decision he still stood by. “Willie’s one of the greatest people. He’s not a perfect man but he’s one of the best people I’ve met in my life.”

Willie Brown remained Speaker for another few weeks after the Horcher recall, but by then had already set his sights on becoming San Francisco’s mayor.

Soon after his inauguration as mayor, Brown reached out to ask Horcher to join his administration. Over the eight years Brown served as Mayor, Horcher filled a number of roles within Brown’s administration, including liaison to the Board of Supervisors and as a point-man in areas ranging from parking and traffic to the environment.

Since Brown left office, Paul Horcher has returned to the law full-time.

“I’ve always been an attorney. I became an attorney in 1978.” His practice is focused primarily on administrative law, with some litigation. Today, he is semi-retired, working Monday through Thursday in order to spend time with his family. “I’m sixty-six, I’m no kid,” he said, “I don’t mind getting older though; it beats the alternative.”

Ed’s Note: Corrects election defeated opponent to Ken Manning, 12th graf; fixes date to 1994 sted 1995, 37th graf. Alex Vassar is a state worker and the author of “California Lawmaker.”


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