was not a likely candidate. I think the reason he worked so hard
and so early for it was because he really wanted to be chairman
of the Transportation Committee. When Howard Way unseated
Hugh Burns, they removed [Senator Randolph] Randy Collier as
chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and Mills
replaced him as chairman. That lasted just a couple of months,
and then the Young Turks were thrown out and [Senator] Jack
Schrade became pro tern. Collier replaced Mills as chairman of
the Senate Transportation Committee.
So when everything changed after the '70 election, Mills
began very early, and there was probably a feeling that he was a
compromise candidate because it appeared unlikely that it would
be a long-term situation for any pro tern who was elected under
those circumstances. So Mills was elected pro tern.
LABERGE: This is 1971 by now?
SAMUEL: That would have been January of 71. At the time, his staff was-
he had an administrative assistant, a secretary, and that was
about it. I was approached by Mills late in 1971 asking if I
would like to come to work for him in the senate. I talked to a
lot of people about it, and the general consensus was: "Don't take
the position because Mills will not last very long as pro tern." I
thought about it, and I made the decision that if the job lasted a
year, it would probably be worth it, just for the experience and
the excitement and whatever. So I took the job. He had to
create a new position in the senate for me.
LABERGE: Oh, really?
SAMUEL: Yes. As pro tern he was chairman of the Rules Committee. He
got authorization to create a new position which was called
assistant to the pro tern.
So I went on Mills's staff in December of '71, and the job
almost didn't last a year because during the waning hours of the
1972 session, Senator John Harmer made a run at the pro
temship. It appeared he had twenty-one votes. It was the last
night of the session and Mills was sick in his hotel room. He
finally came out of his hotel room and onto the senate floor at
the last minute. Harmer, as I'm told, was looking for one extra
vote, just to be sure. In the melee, in the last minutes of the
session as people were scurrying around, somehow Mills got the
session adjourned and Harmer never was able to call for the vote
on the pro temship.
LABERGE: How did he get it to be adjourned?
SAMUEL: I forget what happened. People were milling around and
somehow Mills as pro tern was able to drop the gavel, probably
got some of his cohorts, some of his allies together to fight off
the challenge and adjourn the session. It was the end of the
session, and Harmer was never a threat again. And subsequent
to that, Mills was constantly under attack from a variety of
LABERGE: So did you sort of keep on year to year, never knowing how long
it was going to last?
SAMUEL: You never knew how long it was going to last. It was always a
year-to-year thing. There were constant challenges being made.
I guess it was in 73, Al Alquist .... Let's see, who left the Rules
Committee? I guess State Senator [Stephen] Teale retired and Al
Alquist was slated to go on the Rules Committee. I believe that
was the last year they met behind closed doors, and somehow, at
the last minute, [Senator] Walter Stiern nominated George, threw
George Zenovich's name into the ring. Behind closed doors, there
was a coalition of Republicans and Democrats who put Zenovich
on the Rules Committee. Then they went on the floor and
formalized the decision that had been made behind closed doors.
Zenovich went on the Rules Committee and was more or
less a constant thorn in the pro tern's side. Finally, Mills wanted
to get him off the Rules Committee because Zenovich was
running for pro tern. So I believe it was in '75 that Zenovich
announced that he was running for pro tern.
The normal scenario for the election of officers was for the
Democrats to go into caucus. They were the majority party and
had the votes to decide who would be pro tern. After that
decision was made, they would then decide who among them
would be on the Rules Committee.
That year, they changed the election order around and at
the last minute decided to elect members to the Rules Committee
first. That forced Zenovich's hand. He either had to choose to
run for the Rules Committee or for pro tern, because if he decided
not to run for the Rules Committee and then lost the pro tern
election, he would be out. On the other hand, if they had elected
the pro tern first and Zenovich lost, he could always attempt to
get back on the Rules Committee. The election for the Rules
Committee was held first, Zenovich did not run, and Petris was
elected to replace him. Mills then defeated Zenovich for pro tern.
LABERGE: So he was out of both.
SAMUEL: Yes, he was out of both. Mills had some of his people spotted
next to other senators who he wasn't sure how they were going
to vote. It was easy sitting next to someone and see if he was
writing Zenovich or Mills.
And, over the years, Zenovich continued to make aborted
efforts to run for the pro temship.
LABERGE: When you were talking about meeting behind closed doors-it was
the last time-was there a rule change? I have in my notes
something about 1972 there was a move for recorded committee
votes. Was that something different?
SAMUEL: That's entirely different. In the old days, prior to 1972, all
committee votes were on a voice vote, and the chairman would
announce, "The ayes have it," or "The nays have it." There were
some chairmen who were known to have selective hearing. It
was changed in '72 or '73, requiring all votes to be recorded by
roll call vote and you had to have a majority of the members of
the committee voting yes to pass a bill. In the old days it was
not uncommon for the chairman to call it one way, and he
wouldn't be challenged because the system was built on the
LABERGE: But then the meeting behind closed doors-
SAMUEL: That's when the senate would have a caucus of the whole. They
would meet behind closed doors to decide who their officers were
going to be. Then they would go onto the floor and have an
election. Whatever was decided behind closed doors would
generally be done unanimously on the senate floor by a roll call
vote. I guess it was after '73 they stopped doing that. Again,
when they went to the recorded committee votes, that type of
approach was no longer acceptable.
Behind closed doors meaning the press couldn't be there?
It would just be members.
Could you be there?
No. No staff. Just exclusively members.
Getting back to when you became the assistant to the pro tern,
what differences did you see between the assembly and the
The senate was a much smaller house, much easier to manage,
and the composition of the senate was a lot different. By virtue
of having four-year terms, a member is not always running. I've
never been able to find anyone who can cite an example in the
senate where someone challenged an incumbent senator, came
close to winning, didn't win, but said, "OK, I'm going to get you
next time," and kept the campaign going, came back four years
later, and defeated that senator.
I don't think it's happened in this century, whereas in the
assembly it happens all the time. Someone runs against an
assembly candidate, doesn't beat the incumbent but comes very
close, and just keeps that campaign going for another eighteen
months until the next election, and then wins the next time out.
I remember years ago there was Eddie Gaffney, an Irish
assemblyman from San Francisco who said, "I'm going to teach
him a lesson." And he beat Willie Brown. Two years later, Willie
Brown defeated Eddie Gaffney.
Time and again, you've seen where an assembly incumbent
is challenged by someone, the incumbent wins, but the challenger
keeps his campaign going and wins the next time. In close
assembly districts you never stop campaigning.
So legislators would have to make the choice, am I going to
really work in Sacramento or am I going to keep campaigning all
the time? A lot of assemblymen, because of the nature of the
district, have to campaign all the time. Generally speaking, in the
senate, you only have to campaign one out of every four years.
Because of that, you have a lot of assembly members who
often move up to the senate. You don't have senators moving
over to the assembly. The senate has an older group. It's much
more collegial and it's not as partisan. They get along a lot
LABERGE: Was there an unwritten rule in the senate that nobody from
either party should challenge an incumbent? It seems to me I
read something like that.
SAMUEL: Yes. In those days, leadership did not oppose incumbents, and in
later years that was a criticism of Mills.
LABERGE: That's what I thought.
SAMUEL: That was a criticism of Mills, that he didn't get involved in
primaries. I remember there was one primary he did get involved
in because George Zenovich was trying to elect someone from the
Santa Barbara area. I believe George was supporting a Paul
Kinney, and Mills got involved behind the scenes and very few
people knew that he was supporting [Senator] Omer Rains.
L\BERGE: Who was the incumbent?
SAMUEL: No, who was also running for the seat. I believe that that would
have been, yes, when [Senator Robert] Lagomarsino went to
Congress. Bob Lagomarsino went back to Congress; and his seat
was vacant. It was a primary battle, and actually, there was
reason for Mills to get involved in the primary. But he always
tried to avoid getting involved in primaries. But Zenovich got
involved, so Mills supported his candidate, but never publicly and
It was a classic example of how the trial lawyers work.
You're always seeing how much the California Trial Lawyers
Association's war chest is contributing to legislative campaigns.
On the other hand, they have another war chest which may be
equally as large but which never surfaces publicly. By word of
mouth, the trial lawyers association can get a lot of attorneys in
a particular area to contribute to someone. The pro tem was
able, in that instance, to have the association support Omer
Rains. They didn't do it officially, but a lot of attorneys in that
area gave to Rains. That was never, in a sense, public
But you're correct. One of the criticisms of Mills in later
years was that he was not partisan enough and did not raise
And one of the reasons [Senator David] Roberti was elected after
him, is that right?
Yes. Many people will say the reason Roberti was elected was
because of the defeat of Al Rodda, and that all the Democratic
senators were suddenly fearful that if [Senator Albert] Al Rodda
could be ambushed the way he was by [Senator] John Doolittle,
that they had to become much more partisan to protect
themselves. Roberti then began mounting an effort to unseat
I think the main reason Mills was unseated as pro tern was
because Martin Huff, who was the chief staff person for the
Board of Equalization, was thrown out of office by the senate.
Martin Huff was a very close ally of Nick Petris, went back to the
days in Alameda. Nick Petris is very, very loyal to his personal
friends. Mills and Petris were very close. When Ken Cory was
controller, he didn't like Martin Huff. I don't know if you've
heard of this.
LABERGE: I have heard it, but I would like to hear it again on tape.
SAMUEL: Ken Cory came to the pro tern and urged him to support a senate
resolution that was necessary in order to get rid of Huff. Mills
was somewhat upset with Huff and he agreed to do that. I
remember talking to Mills about it and saying, "Nick Petris will
never forgive you," and he said, "He'll get over it." There was a
fierce fight on the floor. Petris got up and gave a very
impassioned speech, and Nick lost, in a sense because of Mills;
Mills was leading the charge. And they got rid of Martin Huff.
When the uprising took place against Mills, in order to do
it, Roberti had to take control of the Rules Committee. He had
to get the liberals. You've probably heard it said that it was
because of Al Alquist not getting Finance, that Alquist was the
critical vote. I don't believe so. I think it was Nick Petris,
because Nick was one of the real leaders of the liberals. Nick
was on the Rules Committee, and Roberti had to get one of the
SAMUEL: liberal leaders to go with him. I remember saying to Mills,
'You've got to talk to Nick, you've got to talk to Nick. I'm not
sure that he's with you this time."
Finally Mills had lunch with Petris; I believe it was in San
Francisco. I don't know why it wasn't Oakland. It was in San
Francisco, as I recall. I remember Mills telephoning after lunch
and saying, "Nick is with them." I think that was the one vote
that really cost him the pro temship, because without Petris,
Roberti couldn't have done it. In order to take over the senate,
in order to be elected pro tern, Roberti had to deliver on a lot of
promises, which involved committee assignments, increased staff,
and which required a lot of senate money. He had to have
control of the Rules Committee to deliver his promises. If Petris
was on the Rules Committee, if Petris had stayed with Mills,
Roberti could not have delivered on the promises that got him
the votes he needed.
Roberti had been after the pro tempship for a long time.
There was an election in Long Beach in 1974 or '77. Rene
Simon was running against George Deukmejian. As you said
earlier, Mills would not support candidates against incumbents.
He was under pressure from Roberti and some others to support
Rene Simon against George Deukmejian. Mills would not do it.
I got a telephone call from Long Beach saying that Jerry Zanelli,
who was Roberti's top staffer at the time and working in the
Simon campaign, was saying that if Rene Simon beat George
Deukmejian, Roberti was going to be pro tem. He was going to
make a real run at the pro temship. Rene Simon didn't beat
George Deukmejian, and the Roberti threat went away for a
couple of years.
Then John Doolittle defeated Al Rodda in 1980. That was
two years after [Senator] Arlen Gregorio also lost by just a
couple of hundred votes. Arlen Gregorio tried something very
commendable. He wouldn't take any contributions in excess of a
hundred dollars. I remember approaching Gregorio on the floor
and saying, "The pro tern would like to give you $5,000." Arlen
said, Tm not going to take it." I said, 'You know Jim, he's
honest. He wants to give you money." He said, 'Yes, but where
does that money come from? I won't take it." Gregorio lost by
just a couple of hundred votes.
Mills might have lost inevitably, because things were
changing in Sacramento. There was more and more emphasis on
raising money. I remember when Mills had a fund raiser in Los
Angeles as pro tern at Chasin's. The fund raiser said she wanted
to price it at $500. There was a big fight and finally Mills said,
"I'll do it but that seems like a ridiculous amount of money."
Well, now you have freshmen assemblymen asking for $1,000.
Mills was as honest as you could be and still be pro tern.
There was a line over which he wouldn't cross.
Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
I guess one good example occurred during the days when
Zenovich was running for pro tern. Mills was known as being
very friendly with the trial lawyers. That's because his campaign
manager was active in the Trial Lawyers Association, Mike Green.
And the trial lawyers did have his ear and were major
SAMUEL: contributors to him.
Toward the end of the session there was some major
bill. ... I wasn't on the Rules Committee staff at the time; I was
the assistant to the pro tem. I don't remember what the bill was.
But Jim Frayne, the lobbyist for the California trial lawyers, came
in and said, "Our big bill is in conference. We've got to have our
conference committee. You've got to give us the people we want;
it's important. Tell Jim we've got to have it." There was no
explanation of why it was important, just that it was important.
So I went to the pro tem. I said, "Frayne came in. There's
a conference committee on this bill, and he says he has to have
his people on the conference committee." Mills said, "Tell Jim
Frayne that he can have any one senator he wants go on the
conference committee. Also tell him the other side is going to
get one person they want, and I'm going to find someone who's
in the middle." That person turned out to be George Zenovich.
But probably the best example I can give is the phone call I
got in my office one day. It came out of San Diego, from a
doctor and was when there was an opening for the chairmanship
of the Health Committee in the senate. The call from the doctor
in San Diego went along the line, "Tell the pro tem that we're
very concerned about the chairmanship of the Health Committee.
We very much want [Senator] Paul Carpenter as chairman of the
Health Committee. We also understand [Senator] John
Garamendi is interested. Tell the pro tem that under no
circumstances is John Garamendi to get a chairmanship. If he
gets it, the doctors will work against him."
LABERGE: When you say from the "doctors," do you mean the medical
SAMUEL: The doctors in San Diego who you can say are the medical
association, but these were the hometown doctors. You can bring
hometown pressure, which is the best kind of pressure to bring.
So I related the message to Mills. He didn't like John
Garamendi, and Paul Carpenter wanted the Health Committee
very badly. At the time, the Rules Committee was deadlocked on
that appointment. Carpenter had two votes for the chairmanship.
I remember Mills sitting in his office one night saying, "I don't
like Garamendi, but I don't know if the people can afford to have
Paul Carpenter as chairman of the Health Committee." He voted
for Garamendi. At that time, he didn't know Carpenter was going
to wind up a convicted felon.
And that's not to say that Mills didn't do things that I
always agreed with. But there were certain lines he would not
cross, and I don't think that's the case today. So I have very
good feelings about having worked for Mills in that respect.
That's why I refer to him as the last honest pro tern.
LABERGE: Why don't we talk about your responsibilities as his assistant, and
just even in that vein, what was your relationship like? Was it
the usual pro tem and his assistant relationship, or was it ...
SAMUEL: I guess everyone has different relationships. It's strange that we
had such a good relationship, because we're completely different
people. Mills is very much an intellectual. I don't have nearly
his IQ, but we had a certain rapport. It was in some ways like a
husband and wife. We would sometimes sit talking with other
people present, and they would get a blank look because we
would carry on two or three conversations on different subjects at
the same time. All of a sudden in mid-sentence, change to
something else and not miss a beat. There was an unusual
rapport. We could yell at each other and agree or disagree. It
was just a very good relationship.
My responsibilities? Well, I was responsible for overseeing
his legislative program, being his errand boy, carrying messages,
being there to support him, offering him advice which he would
or would not follow, being someone who was loyal and
L\BERGE: Now, for instance, carrying out his legislative program, what did
that involve for you? Did you help him formulate it?
SAMUEL: For example, there was the Coastline Initiative in 1972 1 . Mills
was approached and asked to lead a bicycle ride from San
Francisco to San Diego. We rode the coast for ten days. One
Sunday while we were riding through Fort Ord, Mills said, "This
is a lot of fun. We've got to do it again. We've got to do
something about the gas tax." Riding through Fort Ord on that
Sunday, just brainstorming back and forth, we came up with the
constitutional amendment to divert gas tax money from highways
to public transit. That later became Proposition 5 in 1974 2 , for
which we had another bike ride. Legislation is created in strange
ways at times. That's a landmark piece of legislation.
1. Proposition 20 (November 1972).
2. Proposition 5 (June 1974).
The way I got to know Mills, as I mentioned in the last
conversation, was through the sales tax on gasoline.
L\BERGE: Yes, you were still with the assembly.
SAMUEL: When I was on the assembly side, and he had an idea. And then
it became my job as consultant to the Transportation Committee
in the assembly to take his bill and a couple of other bills and
merge them into one . . .
[End Tape 3, Side A]
[Begin Tape 3, Side B]
SAMUEL: And represent him in negotiations, and knowing when you can
speak for the author, when you can say, "OK, he will accept these
amendments," and saying, "We'll have to talk to him about that.
Hell have to decide."
L\BERGE: You really got to know him well.
SAMUEL: Yes. And knowing when you can actually say, 'Yes, that will be
acceptable to the pro tern," and also knowing, even when you
knew it was acceptable, knowing you couldn't say it was
LABERGE: You had to bluff a little bit?
SAMUEL: They know that you have to go to him. You say while you knew
it would be acceptable to him, you could not make that decision
at that time. You had to talk to him and then come and say,
"The pro tern says it's all right." And then there were times when
you'd say, "I don't know. I'll have to find out what he says."
LABERGE: So you would be negotiating with other senators or lobbyists?
SAMUEL: In those days essentially with lobbyists. If there were
negotiations with other senators, sometimes I would talk to other
senators on his behalf. But the way the senate operated, he
would generally do most of the face-to-face negotiations with
other senators. I would in some instances, but that would be
rare. But also, it's generally the lobbyists you're dealing with, the
lobbyists being a special interest group of any nature on a piece
LABERGE: The same thing with state agencies? Was that another group that
you would deal with?
LABERGE: And sort of represent his views?
SAMUEL: The pro tern is hard to see. I often had to act as the gatekeeper,
knowing when people had to talk to him directly, and making
those judgments. Also, if you know someone really has the
legislator's ear, there are times when you prefer to talk to a staff
person. The staff person is going to be less harried. And there
are a lot of legislators I can think of who you'd just as soon talk
to their staff; or you say, "No, I don't want to talk to that
person's staff," because the staff person doesn't pull the water.
But I think you will find that people in leadership positions
generally have staff who can negotiate a lot of things on their
behalf. The really important things, the member will decide, but
the member can only do so many things. There's only so much
time in a day.
LABERGE: What kind of advice would you give him? What kind would he
ask for? Something involving you doing research on different
SAMUEL: Ask for advice on any manner of things. Legislation. And often
the advice wouldn't be followed. During the years when he was
opposing the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment], we had knock
down, drag-out arguments.
LABERGE: That was something I just read yesterday, that he first of all
wouldn't let it out of the Rules Committee, is that right? And
then he finally did vote against it?
SAMUEL: It probably should be stated for the record because I guess this a
story that's never been told.
LABERGE: That's exactly what we want. I'm looking for the 1972 . . .
SAMUEL: Nineteen seventy-two. [Assemblyman Walter] Wally Karabian in
the assembly introduced a bill for the ERA in California, the ERA
bill. At the same time, [Senator] Mervin Dymally in the senate
introduced an ERA bill. And it was a rush, who was going to get
the bill first.
Mills had never voted against a woman's bill in his life.
Jim Mills was probably one of the first legislators, when he was
an assemblyman, to have a female consultant. Mills was never
reluctant to hire women, to put them in positions of decision-
making authority. When he was chairman of the Finance and
Insurance Committee in the assembly, he had a woman