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Richie Ross: Willie Brown and a McChrystal moment

I thought I was a big shot.  First, a “star” with Cesar Chavez.  Then, a young campaign hot shot in the Leo McCarthy-Howard Berman speakership war.  Eventually the California Journal dubbed me Willie Brown’s “warlord.”

Problem was I believed it.

Which brings me to General McChrystall and the role of the state legislative staff… Huh?

So I’m in Speaker Brown’s office with him.  An Assemblyman comes charging in with some complaint about something.  I offer to excuse myself.  The Speaker says I can stay.  I do.

Speaker Brown listens carefully to the guy’s complaint.  He then patiently lays out some options.  And promises to follow up later.  The Assemblyman leaves.

When he does and we’re alone, I make a smart-ass remark – “Geez, Mr. Speaker, I don’t know how you put up with fucking idiots like him everyday.”

When Willie Brown was mad at you he stared right into your eyes.  He was staring right into mine.  Then he broke the silence.

“Ross.  You’re a very valuable guy.  In fact, some people say you’re the most valuable guy I have.  But Ross, you’re the fucking military.  And in this country the civilians run the government.  You got that, Ross?  Not you.  People like the guy you just called an idiot are in charge.  So if you want to run the government, then run for office, Ross.  I’ll support you.  But until then, you’re the military.  And you do what we say.”

That was 30 years ago.  I never forgot it.  Word-for-word.

So I confess that when I see members of the Legislature today yielding to the tired and tiresome line that term limits means they don’t know as much as the military in the Capitol — staffs, lobbyists, association presidents — I think back to something else Mr. Brown always said: “Power unused is power abused.”

So I guess I’m saying that it’s time for new legislators to do what a new President just did.  Take charge.  Stop voting on bills based on what the military tells you to do.  Or what you can’t do. And punish those of us who forget how things are supposed to work, even if we’re your “friends.” You have a franchise.  Run the show.

Richie Ross


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