It’s not exactly news that California’s government is in a terrible state of disrepair, and it’s probably even less news when somebody comes along with a set of solutions. But when that person is William T. Bagley, former California assemblyman who—you knew you recognized his name from somewhere—has a section of Highway 101 between Sausalito and San Rafael named after him, it’s worth lifting an ear and listening.
Bagley, who represented Sonoma and Marin in the Assembly from 1961 to 1974, has long been an advocate for bipartisanship. A lifelong Republican, he famously endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. He places blame about why California is broken on the inability of party-line legislators to work together. And these days, why should they even try? With term limits in place, he maintains, every legislator looks toward their next election cycle, with nary a chance to cozy in and actually care about their constituents.
California’s Golden Years: When Government Worked and Why is Bagley’s new book, which former governor George Deukmejian has said “should be a must-read for all legislators, political science students and their professors.” Bagley is openly listed in the phone book, and reached by phone, he explained the difference between then and now: “What changed is the whole culture of the legislature. We had no partisan aisles! We sat together. There were only seven or eight ideologues. I mean real, committed, sometimes off-the-wall ideologues. The rest were probably 10 or 20 crooks and drunks—there always are—there were another 60 or 70 decent citizens, and another 30 or 40 who were just superb people, there to govern.”
Term limits—”the ultimate, ultimate killer of collegiality,” he scorns—aren’t the only thing rankling Bagley’s hide. Strangely, he cites 1974’s Proposition 9, the Political Reform Act, which among other things did away with the so-called lobbyist lunches that Sacramento was once known for. “Lobbyist” is all but an obscenity these days, but Bagley maintains the once-rampant shoulder-rubbing gave those in government a necessary lubricant for the state machine to work. “Compare to today, where that same lobbyist, in order to get acquainted, now goes to $4,000-per-person morning, noon and night fundraisers,” he says. “The same lobbyist, instead of a $10 lunch or $20 dinner, is paying $4,000 every night, every morning, every noon to go to somebody’s partisan lunch. That’s the difference. That’s the way it works today. All because of political reform.”
Bagley, now 81, is donating all proceeds from the book to the University of California. He appears in discussion on Wednesday, Jan. 6, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7pm. Free. 415.927.0960.