Two pieces in the current Jewish Journal — by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and LA Observed columnist Bill Boyarsky — frame the Proposition 8 battle and the ascent of Rep. Henry Waxman in the new Congress in terms of relevant local political history.
Yaroslavsky says the 1964 passage of a California proposition to block the Rumford Fair Housing Act, and its subsequent overturning by the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, reminds him of the fight over gay marriage.
For all the white-hot political heat generated at the time by the Rumford Fair Housing Act, the efforts to override it and the epic court battles that followed, the matter now seems little more than a curious relic of a bygone age. And so it will be, I believe, with Proposition 8's attempt to similarly deny equal protection and due process to another persecuted minority in California today.
It is barely 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the kind of state anti-miscegenation laws that once barred the type of union that produced our current president-elect. Long after the courts have similarly struck down Proposition 8, and same-sex marriage prohibitions have rightly joined Jim Crow laws on the ash heap of history, our children will look back with wonder at how it could ever have been otherwise. May that day come soon.
Boyarsky's opinion piece calls Waxman "a combination of toughness and gentlemanliness...[who] has retained an idealism and interest in intricate public policy unusual in a political world." The column recounts how the Westside political operation that bore Waxman's name got its start in the late 1960s via the California Young Democrats.
Emma Schafer, a public affairs consultant who runs the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, recalled meeting with other Young Democrats, including Waxman, at the West L.A. home of Howard Berman, who also later went on to Congress. "We plotted and planned campaigns," Schafer said. "We were the anti-Unruh, anti-money crowd."...
The fights between the Unruh followers and the anti-war group became legendary. They fought on every level, battling fiercely for even fairly obscure posts known only to political insiders.
When Waxman became president of the Young Democrats, Rick Tuttle, the former Los Angeles city controller, met up with him at an East Hollywood meeting hall. Tuttle was there for a complex four-way fight for political power, an event typical of Young Democrats' political life.
He listened to Waxman speak, and later they chatted. "He was friendly, engaging, very down to earth," Tuttle said. And he remembered that Waxman "spoke in complete paragraphs."
By this time, Waxman was ready to challenge the Democratic assemblyman in the West Los Angeles area, Lester McMillan, an Unruh loyalist.
McMillan was well-liked by many Los Angeles liberals, mainly because he introduced a bill abolishing the death penalty every year. It never passed, but it made McMillan something of a hero among some Westside liberals, and Waxman's decision to take him on represented a huge escalation of the Young Democrats' assault on Unruh.
McMillan had the name and Unruh backing, but Waxman had a brilliant young political strategist in Howard Berman's brother, Michael.
Most politicians at that time saw the Westside as a typically amorphous sprawl, difficult to fathom. Michael Berman saw it for what it was, a distinct collection of Jewish communities, centered on synagogues and community organizations.
Waxman reached them by traditional means, traveling from synagogue to synagogue, from one organizational coffee to another.
But Michael Berman brought a technique to the campaign that was revolutionary for the 1960s: using computers to analyze census tracts and voter records to identify voters in the district. A much more sophisticated version of this technique is now common in political campaigns, but when Berman unveiled it some 40 years ago, computerized politics brought about a radical change.
Berman sent out direct mailers to each group. Some addressed the concerns of older people. Others were targeted toward younger families. Some were about Israel, others about homeowners' concerns.
Waxman beat McMillan, became a leader in the Assembly and moved on to Congress in 1974.