Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,

I’m a young Republican staffer and I work in a tiny office on the fifth
floor of the annex. The other day I went to visit a friend, a Democrat, and
he has lavish digs, even though his boss has been here less time than mine.
How come Republicans get the short end of the stick when it comes to office
comforts? And how come Republican Dennis Mounytjoy, Mr. Partisan, got one of
only four offices with deck access? It’s disgraceful.

–Squeezed on the fifth floor

Dear Squeezed,

Son, let me tell you a little something about power, how to hold it and how
to exercise it.

Attaining power is one thing, but holding on to it means learning how to
exercise it properly. If you’re not forceful enough, you’ve squandered
opportunities to lead and you’ll wind up with a directionless body beneath
you that’s bound to get into all kinds of trouble. On the other hand, if
you’re too forceful and try to rule everything like a Ford Motor Company
chairman, chances are you will inspire a revolt among your flock if you
don’t suffocate them first, which really serves no purpose since absent
followers, there really is no leader.

No, a good leader–a good Assembly speaker–holds the reins of power much like
a successful jockey holds the reins on a horse. You need to take the energy
of the horse and guide it to where you want it to go. You need to know when
to spur the horse on and when to pull back on the bit. In the perfect world,
the horse doesn’t know he’s being led and controlled by the jockey, and a
flock of 79 Assembly members don’t know they’re being guided and restricted
by an Assembly speaker with a velvet touch.

Pretty eloquent, huh? You just have to love the imagery.

There’s nothing like 42 years of hindsight to make you see things as clear
as a woman’s breasts under a see-through nightie. Big Daddy didn’t always
operate with the velvet glove that he wished he had. Like that time back in
1964 when two young Assembly members couldn’t quite see things my way and
voted against my bid to return to the speakership. I won the election
handily, but frankly was both pissed off that two Democratic freshmen would
vote against Big Daddy and annoyed they appeared to have the political
acumen of a scotch glass, seeing as how they so willingly jumped aboard a
sinking ship.

So, to teach Assembly members Willie Brown and John Burton a lesson or two,
and to send a message to any other would-be smartass who may have been
thinking of challenging Big Daddy’s authority, I put them in the smallest,
windowless offices I could build in the Capitol.

Was it the right thing to do? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe if they had larger
offices where the oxygen would have gotten to their brains, they wouldn’t
have gone off in 1965 and created an international incident by sending a
telegram to British and French leaders, asking them to mediate an end to the
Vietnam War.

Are your cramped quarters the result of your senior Republican boss going
out of his way to irritate the speaker? Probably not, since these days, that
type of punishment is relatively rare, though I understand one assemblyman
was consigned to the legislative broom closet this summer when he voted
against something that was important to the speaker. Since that assemblyman
is from Fresno, chances are that broom closet looked pretty nice to him.

The answer to your question is as simple as this: Dispensing office
assignments, staff, and other amenities to the members is one of the many
perks enjoyed by the speaker. The reason Republicans by and large wind up
with the short end of every stick is because they aren’t in power, and a
speaker has to keep the people who have the ability to demote him to the
chairmanship of the Assembly Arts and Crafts Committee happy.

Now, a good 20-chess-moves-ahead speaker always will have some chits he can
call in from Republicans, which explains why the Gang of Five was never able
to topple Speaker Willie Brown in the late 1980s, and why he was able to
retain his post even after the Democrats lost the majority in the Assembly
back in 1994. Damn, I taught that kid well.

Remember, when it comes to office space, it’s not the size of the sword but
the skill of the swordsman that’s important. If you want to stay a
Republican but feel you need a bigger sword, perhaps it’s time for you to
think about going to work for leadership–a place where size, or the illusion
of size, matters most.

As for why Assemblyman Mountjoy has a nice office with deck access, it’s
like I alluded to earlier. Sometimes, even speakers lose their minds and do
crazy, unexplainable things, things staffers won’t understand for years to

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