Hart a Reminder : New Caution Enters Lives of Legislators

Times Staff Writer

The way many state legislators see it, the Gary Hart episode is a jolting reminder of a modern-day political fact of life: Don't do anything you wouldn't want the public to read about in the newspaper, see on television or hear on the radio.

"There is a growing awareness by politicians at all levels--and certainly here--that a new era of journalism has been coming," said newly elected Senate Republican leader Ken Maddy of Fresno. "When I first came up here in 1970, it was (known but) unwritten that we had our drunks--and the womanizing fell into that same category. Now, all of us recognize anything is fair game for the press."

Long before Hart bitterly dropped out of the presidential race amid questions about his character and judgment after renewed reports of womanizing--triggered by a story that he had spent much of a weekend at his Washington town house with a beautiful Miami actress while his wife was in Denver--most state legislators already appeared to be more cautious than their predecessors had.

Shifts in Life Styles

Some of the change has come about because of shifts in legislative operations, laws and life styles.

Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of legislators lived alone in downtown hotel rooms or apartments, minus their wives and children, who remained back home in the district. The Legislature met no more than half the year in those days, and it was a party time atmosphere. Every evening tended to be a night on the town--more specifically, a night on the lobbyists. Lawmakers enjoyed unlimited free drinks and dinners--often just by signing a lobbyist's name to the tab--and there were ample opportunities to play around with women.

Now, the Legislature is in session most of the year and the atmosphere, though far from the mood of a corporate board room, seems more businesslike. Many legislators live in suburban condominiums.

Many spend less time drinking in downtown bars, preferring instead to go to the movies, attend professional sporting events, work out at health clubs or play golf and tennis. And more bring their families here with them on a full-time or part-time basis.

Major behavioral changes began occurring after 1974, the year California voters approved Proposition 9, a political reform initiative. Among other things, Proposition 9 limited a lobbyist to a $10 per month entertainment allowance for each lawmaker.

There has also been a significant demographic change in the Legislature: 25 years ago, it was still virtually an all-male club, with only one woman seated among its 120 members. Today, there are 17 women in the Legislature--13 in the Assembly and four in the Senate. The stag atmosphere has faded.

In a series of interviews about the after-hours life of legislators, The Times talked to several dozen current and former lawmakers, aides, lobbyists and proprietors of favorite Capitol-area watering holes. The consensus was that although extramarital affairs clearly continue to exist and there are rumors about alleged drug use--even while drunkenness has declined noticeably--most legislators are much more circumspect than they used to be.

'It's Still Here'

One former assemblyman, who did not want to be identified, said he doubts that there has been much change in the amount of extramarital sex at the Capitol since it first was occupied by the Legislature in 1869. However, he said, "it's not out in the open as much as it was in the old days before Proposition 9 when there were parties galore all of the time. But it's still there."

Other legislators had different views about how much extramarital sex is going on at the Capitol. Some said it has increased because women these days feel liberated and tend to be more sexually aggressive. Others theorized it has diminished because men fear being hit with sexual harassment charges.

"It used to be pure hero worship. You were a celebrity as a legislator, and there was no fear of (being accused of) sexual harassment in those days," a former lawmaker said. "It was not at all uncommon for a legislator to have something going with a female member of his staff--and maybe other women in the Capitol, too."

The recent defeat of Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) by Democract Cecil Green in a Los Angeles County special election to fill a vacant Senate seat has been attributed in part to a campaign charge that Grisham sexually harassed and then fired a Capitol secretary because she rebuffed his sexual advances. Grisham denied the charge, but it dogged him throughout the campaign.

Senate GOP Leader Maddy was asked about the temptations and opportunities of a legislator regarding extramarital sex, and said: "The fact that you are in politics means you come in contact with a great deal of new and different people. In some cases, they include women who involve themselves in politics as activists. And, as a politician, you travel around a lot.

"So, to that extent, you might say we fit into the category of the traveling salesman. . . . We're not locked into a 9-5 job and expected to be home by five o'clock every night."

On the other hand, Assembly Democratic floor leader Thomas M. Hannigan of Fairfield insisted, "There's no more or no less (extramarital sex) going on here than there is in the corporate community of California."

'Merely a Reflection'

And Assemblyman Richard E. Floyd (D-Hawthorne) contended: "The Legislature is merely a reflection of the general population. So whatever percentage of the general population is drinking, gambling, smoking pot, playing around or going to church is bound to be pretty much the same as in the Legislature."

Floyd said the Hart incident will have little impact upon the Legislature because, he noted, "there's no great public interest in the sexual mores of state legislators like there is for presidential candidates."

Female legislators said their social lives are not much different from those of many career women.

"Basically, I'm just like any other working mom," said freshman Assemblywoman Bev Hansen (R-Santa Rosa), divorced with five children, two still at home. When she came to Sacramento, Hansen hired a live-in college student to baby-sit a son and daughter, both teen-agers, who remained in Santa Rosa. "I'm lucky in one regard. I can drive home from here," she said.

Does she get asked out on Capitol dates? "Yes, by a lot of people," she said, "but I don't go out with very many. . . . I'm too busy.

'Big Brothers'

"There's a group of eight freshman Republicans. I'm the only woman. The other seven keep an eye on me. They are kind of like my big brothers, and I appreciate that."

Freshman Assemblywoman Jackie Speier (D-South San Francisco), single and never married, is engaged to a San Mateo hospital emergency room doctor. "I realize the importance of having a solid relationship with someone you love," she said. "I have made a commitment to him, and he to me, to spend as many evenings together as we possibly can."

In order to accomplish this, she sometimes takes a Greyhound bus to San Francisco at midweek after work. The next morning, he drives her to the bus station so she can get back to the Capitol. The one-way trip takes two hours. But, she said, "I'm willing to make sacrifices."

In recent years, there have been increasing rumors of homosexual activity involving lawmakers.

'Under 10' Homosexuals

"I know there are gay members of both parties in the Legislature," Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco) said. Agnos, who has a wife and two children, represents a district with a large gay population. Agnos, the leading advocate of legislation backed by gays, estimated the number of homosexual lawmakers to be "under 10."

Agnos said he will not identify the legislators he knows to be homosexual because to do so would violate "the privacy code in the gay community. . . . You respect their privacy until they are ready to announce."

Three lawmakers who have been rumored to be homosexuals each said the speculation about them is false. One blamed "political enemies" for spreading the rumors.

There has also been increased talk in recent years of drug use by legislators. One veteran senator, who asked not to be identified, said: "I have heard that so-and-so is doing such-and-such, but I have never seen another legislator take drugs. I might have seen some smoking marijuana at some parties."

Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia), who used to be the Los Angeles police chief, said: "I thought I smelled pot at one affair recently. I sniffed and said to the guy across the table, 'Hey, what's that smell like to you?' He says, 'That smells like someone smoking pot.' Then a third guy at the table says, 'Hey, look at the bouquet in front of us, part of the plant is being burned by the candle.'

"Seriously, I don't think drugs are any kind of a big thing here. If there is any at all, it would be an extreme minority."

An ex-assemblyman said of drugs: "It's prevalent all over society. I have never seen anyone in the Legislature use coke . . . but I know it's going on."

No incumbent legislator has been prosecuted on drug charges. Marijuana charges were filed against Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) in 1981, but dismissed when a judge ruled that an investigator had illegally seized two marijuana cigarettes from Robbins' living room cabinet.

Drinking on Decline

Heavy drinking has been declining for years.

"When I first came up here 20 years ago, there were a number of alcoholics in the Legislature, guys who would literally fall out of their chairs. That number has dropped substantially," said Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), a Mormon who is a teetotaler and teaches a Sunday school class. "Of course, drinking habits also have changed in society as a whole. When I first came up here, people drank hard liquor. Now, they drink wine or beer or light beer."

Several legislators were arrested on drunk-driving charges during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these arrests were reported in the press; others were not.

Clearly, the nature of their jobs and life styles can be detrimental to a happy home life, several lawmakers acknowledged.

"You see your children grow up without your daily input; for me, that has been the worst part," said Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), who is separated from his wife, Los Angeles television personality Yolanda Nava. Their two children live with Torres part of the time and with their mother the rest.

"If I were to recommend anything to a freshman legislator coming to Sacramento with a young family," Torres said, "I would say to risk whatever criticism comes from district voters and keep the family together up here. Distance erodes the relationships between husband and wife and children."

Even lawmakers who bring their families to Sacramento still are faced with the necessity of making frequent trips back to their districts to maintain their voter bases and to mend political fences.

Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan (D-Fresno) brought his wife, daughter and son to Sacramento soon after he was first elected in 1982. "We've been married for 19 years," Bronzan said, "and I want to keep it that way.

"Politics are anti-family. The time demands on a legislator are tremendous. The question is where do you draw the line: How much do you want to see your wife and kids? I wanted to see them as much as possible."

The Fresno lawmaker said he avoids district problems by making sure that he goes back and "works the district full bore" on the weekends.

However, Campbell is a commuter who said that leaving his family back home in Hacienda Heights works well for him. He has been married to the same woman for 25 years, has one teen-age daughter in high school and another daughter attending Brigham Young University in Utah.

'Keep in Touch'

Campbell flies to Sacramento every Monday morning and returns home on Thursdays. "You have to be back in the district on a weekly basis to keep in touch with what's really happening because Sacramento is Disneyland North," he said.

For a legislator with a family, Campbell added: "You have to understand there is no ideal situation. I've got a compromise. It works well for our family. Everybody's happy."

A Times survey showed that 33 senators are married and seven (including Torres) are either separated or single--representing 83% and 17% respectively. Four single senators are divorced and two have never been married. One senator is separated.

In the Assembly, 62 members or 78% are married and 18 or 22% are either single or separated. Five members are divorced, two are separated, one is a widow and 10 have never been married.

By contrast, an estimated 61% of Californians 18 years of age and older are married and 39% are single, according to the population research section of the state Department of Finance. The nationwide estimates for the same age group are 64% married and 36% single.

At first blush, these statistics seem to suggest that legislators have sounder marriages than the populace as a whole. But the higher legislative marriage rate may be deceptive because politicians, who depend on broad public support to sustain their careers, tend to be very reluctant to get divorces, fearing that it could tarnish their image.

Of the 30 married members of the Senate who represent districts outside the Sacramento metropolitan area, seven have their spouses living with them here. The other 23 reported that they commute back and forth to their districts to be with the family.

In the Assembly, 10 of the 60 married members representing districts outside the Sacramento area have spouses living here. The other 50 members said they are long-distance commuters.

Some people who were interviewed said that closer press scrutiny of legislators has led to more circumspect personal behavior. "Sex has been pushed behind closed doors," said one former lawmaker who now is a lobbyist and did not want to be identified.

'Basic Rule'

He added: "There should be a basic rule for new legislators coming to Sacramento: If you don't want to read what you've done in the press, don't do it."

Commented a current legislator: "Nobody wants to become another Bruce Young."

Former Democratic Assemblyman Bruce Young of Norwalk recently was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of mail fraud charges stemming from concealment of outside earnings and laundering of campaign funds. Young also admitted unknowingly using a prostitute provided by a principal in a related corruption scandal revolving around fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty, who went to prison.

"The Moriarty thing has had a big impact around here," the lawmaker said.

Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno) also got a lot of bad ink by being charged with soliciting a sex act from an undercover policewoman he thought was a prostitute on the last night of the 1986 legislative session. Costa issued a public apology in which he said he made a "mistake," pleaded no contest to the charge, was fined $255 and placed on three years' probation.

Around the Capitol, there are some people who probably would welcome a return to a more relaxed, less cautious, free-spending atmosphere.

Jose L. Ramirez, a co-owner of Posey's Cottage, a nearby restaurant-bar that used to be a hot spot with lobbyists and legislators, said: "After Proposition 9 passed, our business dropped 25-50%, and it never picked back up again. Most of our business now is state employees and townspeople. We're surviving, but it's a lot different.

"They (legislators) just don't go out on the town as much as they used to. But drinking has gone down in all walks of life. Stiffer drunk-driving penalties is another one of the reasons."

Wing Fat, who runs Frank Fat's, another popular restaurant that underwent a $1-million remodeling job 2 1/2 years ago to help attract more local customers, said: "The camaraderie of the '60s is gone now. There isn't as much friendliness. It has been replaced by more individualism.

"Democrats and Republicans don't mix like they used to do. To me, Proposition 9 did that. It ended the third house's (lobbyists') connection to help bring people together in a relaxed atmosphere. Going out to dinner was not abused to the point where it created a problem before Proposition 9 passed. And it is still a fact of life in big business today. You can't break bread with a person over the telephone."

Former Assemblyman John P. Quimby Sr. of Rialto, who is a lobbyist for San Bernardino County, said he would like to see a return to the old days.

"Are things really any better today?" asked Quimby, who used to be a heavy drinker but has not touched a drop of liquor in more than 10 years. "There may be less drinking, but the humanness is gone. Legislators among themselves aren't friendly to one another anymore. There is a high level of instant combativeness and suspicion. Everyone arrives at work with guns loaded, ready to do battle at the drop of a suggestion.

"To give you a contemporary example, (Gov.) George Deukmejian and (Senate President Pro Tem) David Roberti are fighting on a daily basis. Maybe that's what they're supposed to do, but I can't understand why those two guys don't go off and have a beer and talk things out."

Also contributing to this story was Times researcher Patti Cole.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World