Senator H.L. “Bill” Richardson—R.I.P

I first met Senator Richardson in 1977 when I ran against his Chief of Staff for a position on the California Republican Party Board of Directors.  This is a man, who eleven years earlier ran a race for State Senate with a total of twelve people, including the Chair of his election Committee, Dick Mountjoy.  By 1977 he was a legend—He created the director mail fund raising techniques used today, he used early technology and he forced candidates to take a position on issues.

One of the most interesting things about him was his interview technique for candidates wanting his endorsement.  To get into his office, you had to already have shown your support for basic conservative issues.  But, he preferred to ask about the books you read, the newspapers (in those days newspapers were not pieces of fiction as most are today), how you looked at the role of the citizen to government.

About four years ago I had a very long lunch with him in Sacramento.  He said the one mistake he made in politics was his support in 1966 of a ballot measure.  This was the measure that made the California legislature a full time operation.  Today there are movements to make it part time again.  In honor of Senator Richardson, I will be supporting those efforts.

Senator Richardson, a great Patriot, Rest In Peace.

The man who changed the Capitol

Dan Walters, CalMatters,  1/20/20   

As strange as it may seem now, California’s state Senate was once a bastion of bipartisan — almost nonpartisan — comity.

Although Democrats were in the majority, they willingly shared power with Republicans. A bipartisan rules committee gently controlled the flow of legislation and committees were just as likely to have GOP chairmen (there were no women in the Senate until 1976) as Democrats.

The genteel nature of the house was bolstered by an unwritten rule that neither party would try to unseat an incumbent of the other party, confining partisan contests to vacant seats.

A feisty Republican senator from Southern California named Hubert L. Richardson ended that era. Richardson preferred to be called “Bill” and was widely known as “Wild Bill.” He championed rights for gun owners and tough anti-crime laws. And he decided to blow up the no-compete rule.

Richardson, an avid hunter, had been a senator for a decade when a legislative effort to curb handgun sales in the mid-1970s led him to found Gun Owners of California, the first of several political groups, and mount challenges to sitting Democratic senators.

A pioneer in direct mail fundraising and using technology in political campaigns, Richardson employed those skills to unseat three Democratic senators in three successive elections, beginning in 1976.

It so unnerved the Democrats that they ousted their long-time leader, Senate President Pro Tem James Mills, after their third loss in 1980, the defeat of Sacramento Sen. Al Rodda by a little-known Richardson aide, John Doolittle.

The Democrats elevated David Roberti to the top position on his pledge to protect Democratic incumbents from further challenges. Simultaneously, a year-long battle over the state Assembly’s speakership ended with the elevation of Willie Brown.

Those two events completely and radically changed the tenor of the Capitol, deemphasizing legislative accomplishment in favor of raising lots of money from special interest groups to fight partisan wars.

The Capitol’s pay-to-play, dog-eat-dog atmosphere continued for two decades, until Democrats achieved unquestioned dominance. It also sparked a federal corruption investigation that sent a number of legislators and other figures to prison.

After unseating those three senators, Richardson continued to push his causes, with notable success.

He helped elect Republican George Deukmejian as governor in 1982 by a very narrow margin, mobilizing gun owners to oppose an anti-gun ballot measure that was also on the 1982 ballot. He founded a national gun owners organization and, perhaps most importantly, spearheaded the successful 1986 campaign to stop the re-election of Rose Bird, the state Supreme Court chief justice, and two other liberal justices deemed to oppose the state’s death penalty.

Richardson’s take-no-prisoners approach to politics was framed in one of the several books he authored, “Confrontational Politics.” Another book, “What Makes You Think We Read the Bills?” was an insider look — from a very personal standpoint — at the foibles of the Legislature.

Richardson, who continued to live in the Sacramento area after leaving the Legislature in 1988, died last week at age 92. His death was announced by Gun Owners of California, now headed by his son-in-law, Sam Paredes.

Obviously, Wild Bill Richardson was a very controversial figure in his day. Obviously, too, he single-handedly changed the nature of the Capitol, pioneered political techniques that continue to be used and altered the course of California history by playing key roles in the election of Deukmejian as governor and the defeat of Chief Justice Bird.

Very few political figures past or present could claim to have had such impact.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. Hon Larry Bowler says

    I was a novice candidate in 1982 running for the Assembly. With only a law enforcement background, I went to Senator Bill Richardson for advice on how to run a political campaign…His advice was unforgettable…”When running from event to event, never miss an opportunity to pea”. Advice well worth the giving…

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