Big Daddy

Ask Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,

“I’m a Capitol staffer in my 20s, and I want to know one thing: Just who are you? The older workers in our office know about Jesse Unruh, but the younger ones don’t have a clue. So what makes Big Daddy the big expert, and why is he called “Big Daddy,” anyway?”

Young and Ignorant

Dear Young and Ignorant,

Let me let you in on a couple secrets. First of all, Big Daddy wasn’t so big on the name Big Daddy when Big Daddy was alive. And I wasn’t always that big. People like to joke that Arnold Schwarzenegger is only 5’9″ (not true) and wears lifts (maybe true). Well Big Daddy really was only 5’9″.

But Big Daddy was 290 pounds-big once, or almost 21 stone, as the British would say–and that’s the part Big Daddy didn’t like. If you think Phil Angelides got it for his ears, you should have seen the Buddha cartoon I got tarred with. That was in the 1960s, and that bulk helped me keep an angry mob from ripping Sirhan Sirhan to pieces moments after he shot RFK. That may not have been the right thing to do, but I’d like to see Fabian try it.

Then Big Daddy cut waaay back on the scotch–betcha didn’t know that–and dropped nearly 100 pounds. But Big Daddy was still big in other ways. Big in influence, big in appetites, big with the ladies (I will neither confirm nor deny that Raquel Welch gave me the name).

Only pint-sized Willie Brown may loom bigger in Capitol history–and that’s only if you hear him tell it.

You wanna know who Big Daddy is? Well, I may be responsible for your job existing, since I’m the guy who made California the only full-time Legislature in the country. Again, maybe not the right thing to do, but it got me this column. I was speaker for almost the entire 1960s, and state treasurer for over a dozen years. The Assembly Fellows program is named after me–and if you think I’ve got no influence from beyond the grave, check out how many Democrats that program places every year. I even lost a governor’s race to Ronald Reagan–I’m still trying to live that one down.

I’m also a symbol for an era of personality politics that is long gone. You think a Don Perata takedown is rough? That Mike Villines rules with an iron fist? That Carole Migden has an outsized personality? Compared to me, my professional Legislature is now filled with amateurs.

So what’s a dead guy doing writing for a secular humanist rag like the Capitol Weekly? Or, to put it another way, who is actually writing these words? Big Daddy wouldn’t tell you even if he knew.

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