Hey Big Daddy,
Sen. Don Perata recently lamented the rise in power of political
consultants. I heard that when you were Assembly speaker and state
treasurer, you couldn’t stand political consultants and thought they were
bed sores on the backside of politics. Now that you see the modern political
landscape with a higher perspective, do you still feel as negative about
political consultants? There are more political consultants now than ever.
Have consultants ruined politics?
–Curious about consultants
Those who can, do.
Those who can’t, teach.
Those who can’t teach, consult. That way, they can avoid any direct
accountability for failure, while still being able to claim all the glory
for a victory.
When Big Daddy was making his way, I didn’t need to hire anyone to tell me
what to say to appeal to the voters. I knew the voters and I’d hire my
best friend to run the campaign, someone who knew who I was and what I stood
for without having to ask me a thousand questions, or worse yet, try to pore
me into some kind of pre-fabricated candidate mold. Whether we won or lost
(though Big Daddy was big on winning, 1970 notwithstanding), we’d go up or
go down together, enjoying plenty of Johnnie Walker Red along the way.
Back in the day, a candidate only used a consultant if he or she didn’t have
the brains or bankroll to figure out how to get in front of the voters in
order to get elected. We didn’t need “focus groups” to tell us what to say
or how to say it. Nowadays, the first question the so-called “leadership”
asks a would-be candidate isn’t whether they prefer JWR to JWB, it’s “Who’s
Now, in fairness to these image-makes who charge rates that would make a
loan shark tremble, it’s a little tough to figure out which came first–the
cash-sucking consultant or the spine-free politician who’s afraid to stand
up for what they believe. The idea that a member of the state
Legislature–one of 120 people elected to set the public policy agenda for
future generations of America’s most beautiful, grandiose state–would have
to check with their political consultant before deciding how to vote on a
bill is just beyond me.
Consultants haven’t ruined politics, they’ve ruined policy, and the
candidates, officeholders and the voters have stood blindly by and watched
it all happen.
Do you think we could have built the UC and state university systems,
created the state water project, and enacted consumer credit protections and
the state’s landmark Fair Employment & Housing Act if we’d had political
consultants calling the shots?
The only thing that should be homogenized in this world is milk. California
doesn’t need any more consultants who spend their time creating homogenized
politicians who try to be all things to all people and wind up standing for