Sandy Harrison, long familiar to Capitol denizens as a journalist and spokesperson for the former Finance Department director and two former Senate leaders, currently serves as communications director for the Buildings and Construction Trades Council. Capitol Weekly caught up with Harrison at his office.
So you’ve been a reporter, a publisher and an aide in the Senate and a former administration, and now you are starting something new. How’s it going?
It’s going great so far. I’m comfortable with the issues that the Building and Construction Trades Council works on, and the positions we take. Since we are an association of labor unions, advocating that specific agenda and point of view, I need to educate myself about the various issues we’re involved in. All that different kind of experience in press, Legislature, and executive branch offers unique insight that I think will help me a lot here.
Having been a reporter, how do you deal with reporters?
Just answer directly and honestly as possible. I never try to play games, or get them sidestepped on a question. If there’s something I can’t comment on, I’ll just say I can’t comment on it. I don’t think I’ve ever acted with hostility towards a reporter.
Where did you start out?
The first newspaper was The Sierra Daily News, which doesn’t exist anymore. My partner and I began publishing that out of Bishop to cover the whole Eastern Sierra area. It’s a sparsely populated and isolated, and a lot less varied than what you have here in Sacramento. You did have people who were very conservative anti-government types and strong pro-environment types, so it was an interesting experience.
I also hear you just came back from the Grand Canyon?
My whole life I’ve always liked doing things like backpacking. Even if it’s physically strenuous, I find it mentally relaxing. I’ve been camping, river rafting, and scuba diving and you know all those different types of things as often as I can. The Grand Canyon is something I’ve always wanted to do. It was something my parents did right at the ends of their lives. They were tragically killed in a plane crash shortly thereafter, and I know they had a great time when they were there.
In February, my wonderful dog Rip, who I’ve had for 13 years, suddenly had a stroke and died. I knew that I was going to get another dog before too long, but I thought ‘lets get some traveling and adventure out of the way that I wouldn’t be able to do with a dog.’ The whole experience really, the spectacular scenery, the camaraderie with the people there… When we’d be on long flat stretches wed lash the boats together and since we had a guitar, we’d get out and start playing the guitar. That was a lot of fun.
Your journal mentioned you playing and singing a bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The songs that I played were rock n’ roll songs from my youth. Creedence Clearwater Revival existed the exact years I was in high school, and I loved the band. I would always dress like John Fogerty with the flannel shirt and vest. I still love John Fogerty. He was angry at his old band and his record people for many years and refused to play his old songs and then just a few years ago, he snapped out of it and started playing those songs again in concerts. In the last ten years I have been to three of them.
Any other extracurricular hobbies?
I’m part of Sacramento Dog, a dog owners’ group. Sacramento is on the confluence of two great rivers, and there’s no place where it’s actually legal to let your dog off his leash and play in the river. Among the governing segments of Sacramento, especially in the county level, there’s just this anti-dog sentiment. Every once in a while they decide to crack down and write us tickets. So that got us mad and we formed this association to try to change the law. We had a hearing before the Board of Supervisors and we had one of our local supervisors at the time, Muriel Johnson, introduce a pilot program for us, but the others all voted it down.
Any plans to get a new dog?
Oh sure, I don’t know when. But I already have a cat… a female cat I named George. My last name is Harrison, and George Harrison of the Beatles died right as this cat was moving into my house. So I said ‘Well, I’ll just name her George, and with Harrison, there’ll be another George Harrison in the world.” George was my favorite Beatle. “Here Comes the Sun” is exactly how I feel after you’ve had a long, gray winter in Sacramento, and then the sun comes out again. That captures what the world is like for me.
Did you partake of the counterculture back in the day?
Well yeah. I was outraged by the war, and by racism, and I spoke out against it, went to some marches and carried some signs. I had the very long hair and the fringe vest. I don’t think any of that is still in my closet. I did save a t-shirt that said “McGovern 72”!
So what is the next step for Sandy Harrison?
After 20 years in Sacramento, as being a reporter, press secretary, and all the other things, I know and have positive relationships with so many people, that it would be really hard for me to move somewhere else. There’s a lot of people that I can call on the phone and say “Lets have lunch.” I hope I’m here for a long time.
I play in an old man’s softball league every Tuesday. My goal recreationally, would be to see places I’ve never seen before. The Galapagos Islands has always held a fascination for me and I would like to get there someday. There are so many beautiful places.
Losing members of my family prematurely—my mom and dad and Andy, my brother, were killed in a plane crash. My older Sister Cecilia, who was a good friend to me, died of asthma very suddenly and unexpectedly about 10 years ago. So you know those people are gone forever, each with them was a gift, and each day remains a gift.