Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey, Big Daddy,
Looks like we’ve got Big Papi, a new Assembly speaker who matches you in girth and maybe in smarts. He’s also gay. Are you jealous? Happy?
–Tod in Visalia

Dear Tod,
Yes to both. Happy because we finally have a speaker who looks like a speaker – sorry, Curt – and jealous because he’s got the power and I don’t.

As for being gay, that sounds like a tough road. An East L.A. Latino who grows up gay undoubtedly had to endure the taunts and tribulations of a machismo-steeped community. Combine that with his gig as a labor organizer, and he seems like a tough package. That’s good, because being tough is part of being a good speaker.

Look at me: Texas sharecropper background, World War II service in the Aleutians (home of the Deadliest Catch, although I never caught any crabs, at least not on a boat) and, most brutal of all, service in the Legislature. But as Randy Collier once told me, if you carry a shiv and know how to count, you’ll be fine. I did and I was.

When he was first elected, the new speaker talked about playing down the gay thing – making sure that it did not define him in his new role. But he made clear this week that he wouldn’t run away from it, either. Did anyone else pick up a feeling of queasiness from the Republican side of the aisle when the Gay Men’s Choir took the floor as part of the celebration Monda?. Never have a seen a group of Republicans politicians so uncomfortable as “God Bless America” was being sung. And I’ll admit, I’m not sure that I’ll ever think of the phrase “crown thy good with brotherhood” quite the same way ever again.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The truth is, it was an important day. And the fact that it didn’t feel like it is both a sign of how far we as a society have come on issues of gay rights, and how far in our collective esteem the role of Assembly speaker has fallen.  Is that progress? Only you can answer that one, gentle reader.

But hey, that’s what leaders are supposed to do. Sure, they may have their demons, but the good ones are comfortable in their own skin, and are willing to lead unabashedly. Of course, making the opposition squirm in the process is always a plus. Here’s hoping that John Perez can end the era of politicians stabbing each other in the back, and bring back the glory days of looking them in the eye and stabbing them in the front.

The invitation to the choir was a move worthy of Big Daddy status. So on the surface, at least, Big Papi and Big Daddy are similar. But these names bother me.

I never liked being called “Big Daddy,” but I have to admit that “Big Daddy” is a lot better than “Big Papi,” which sounds like a potato or a flower or an old relative or a minor South Pacific Island. “Big Daddy” has heft and strikes fear into the hearts of wafflers. “Big Papi” sounds more like the waffle or something you stumble across in your flower garden.

That’s not how you want to sound when you bring down the hammer on the heads of mutinous lawmakers or lock them in the chambers and throw away the key. Definitely, “Big Daddy” is a better fit here.

Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s been almost 40 years since the Legislature was run by Big Daddy. Maybe it’s time to think about sharing the title.

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