and truly believed that the existing process was wrong and that
there should be a middle ground.
Who was that person?
Bob Williams 1 . Have you talked to Bob?
I haven't, but someone else in our office has.
Bob is marvelous. As I said, I was surprised that the bill was
signed, but Bob truly believed the existing process was wrong and
the law should be changed. Bob believed it was the right thing
Bob Williams was one of the most influential persons in the
governor's office who many people didn't know about. Often,
when the governor would have a bill in front of him on which
1. Robert Williams, Oral History Interview, Conducted 1990 by Ann Lage,
Regional Oral History Office, University of California at Berkeley, for the
California State Government Oral History Program.
his staff disagreed, he would chase everyone out and say, "Send
Bob in." He'd look at Bob and say, "What do you think, Bob?"
Because Bob had no axes to grind.
Bob Williams, who is a somewhat conservative sort, worked
for Pat Brown, Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown, and George
Deukmejian. He hardly ever left the office. He controlled the
files and all the bill folders. Bob had the historical, institutional
memory. He remembered bills; he could tell you what the
problems were, who was supporting it, who was opposing it.
Under Jerry Brown, he came into a position of power that he
never enjoyed before or after. It was just good, solid staff work.
LABERGE: Because he was so trusted by Jerry Brown?
SAMUEL: Jerry Brown took a liking to Bob Williams. Brown was
constantly being yelled at, being torn by different sides. He was
the kind of governor who staff could yell at. They could yell
back and forth. There was Bob who, as I say, did not have an
axe to grind, was very straight, believed that right was right, and
would be there to brief the governor. They called him in to brief
They tell the story, Bob gets in the car going out to the
airport to brief the governor on bills. He gets in the airplane
with the governor. All the way down on the airplane. It gets
into LAX, the governor says, "Goodbye Bob." And there's Bob, in
LAX with no return ticket. [Laughter] Stranded in the airport.
He truly had the governor's ear. I think if it had been
anyone else who had been involved, except Bob Williams, the
appointments law would not have been changed. From the
narrow viewpoint of the governor, it was not what any governor
wants. The law was perfect for the governor, but Bob truly
believed we had reached a middle ground that made sense. I was
surprised the governor signed the bill, and I know it was because
Bob Williams told him he should sign it. It was because of the
respect that the governor had for Bob Williams that he signed it.
When Bob retired, George Deukmejian was there, and Jerry
Brown came up for his retirement party. I think Reagan sent a
telegram. I believe Pat Brown was there. Bob was an institution
in the governor's office. He retired two years ago.
L\BERGE: It was just last year that he was interviewed, too. And see, I'd
never heard his name. People don't know his name.
SAMUEL: Bob Williams was one of the best-kept secrets. Most people
didn't know who Bob Williams was. You could pick up the
phone and say, "Bob, what's it look like for that bill?" Bob was
always easy to get hold of, because not that many people knew
who Bob Williams was. He was buried in the back room, but he
ran the operation. He controlled all the bill files. And as I say,
he came into his own during the Jerry Brown years.
LABERGE: I get the impression that you were kind of like that for Jim Mills,
although I think people knew your name.
SAMUEL: I was more visible because I wasn't hidden in a back office. Bob
Williams, the only time you'd ever see Bob outside was when he
went to the men's room or to get a drink of water. He was way
in the back office, so he had no visibility.
LABERGE: But I guess what I mean more is how trusted you were and how
you really gave straight advice, or do I have a wrong take on
that? Because you didn't have an axe to grind, or if you did, you
didn't grind it.
SAMUEL: No. Well, I guess we all have axes to grind, but I like to think
that I was fairly even handed and didn't have a whole lot of
biases. Because really, my job was to advise Mills and give him
all the available facts, and then he made the decision. Even if I
disagreed with it, I was stuck with it.
LABERGE: Is that hard as a staff person to both be yourself but also be
there for the person you're working for?
SAMUEL: Not if you're a good staff person. That's the job of staff. You
also have to believe in the person you work for. If you don't
believe in the person you work for. . . . And at times, you're
going to disagree, have disagreements with that person. You just
say, "On balance, he's a person I want to work for."
LABERGE: Getting back to where we started, when you became the
assistant, you sort of created that job for yourself, or created the
job description, is that right?
SAMUEL: It was a new position that had never been authorized in the
At the time John Williamson was the executive officer.
John was a former assemblyman. He was executive officer of the
Rules Committee. Mills was dumping all his personal legislation
on him. He'd say, "John, I got this bill." He wanted John to do
his transportation legislation and this and that. Williamson had
no time for that. So John was very glad, wanted me to come
over. I took a burden off of his shoulders.
Mills had an administrative assistant who really understood
his district but didn't know anything about legislation, so he
didn't have anyone on his professional staff who knew the
legislative process. He had an administrative assistant and two
secretaries as his personal staff in the capitol, aside from being
pro tern, aside from the pro temship. And that's all he had.
Then he got me, and several years later, about '76, '77, we got a
press person for him. That was the sum of the pro tern staff as
compared to now, when he's got about thirty or forty people.
In those days, the Rules Committee staff was something like
fourteen or seventeen. I don't know what the Rules Committee's
payroll is now. It must be closer to a hundred. When Mills was
deposed as pro tern, the computer printout showed 580 senate
employees, and I think it probably went up to about a thousand
until Prop. 140 came along.
So your job sort of evolved as you were there?
I mean, you made it, really.
I was an administrative assistant or whatever you want to call it.
Yes, it just evolved into what it became, which essentially was
trying to be his alter ego in certain instances. Probably the most
valuable thing was just being someone who he could put
complete trust in, and someone who would not do things that
would get him in trouble.
What other staff were you responsible for?
I would work with the committee staff to help to keep Mills
briefed. If he had to know issues, I'd bring people in to brief him
on the issues and put together policy statements for him. I used
the Office of Research quite a bit, as well as other support staff
to provide the pro tern with whatever information he'd need on
specific issues at that time. There would be continuous briefings
for the pro tern by various staff people.
L\BERGE: Were you in charge of a certain number?
SAMUEL: No, they did not report to me. In a sense, those were staff
people who reported to their committee chairman. But a
committee staff person's role also is to advise any member on
policy issues, particularly legislation.
LABERGE: How did you then go to the Rules Committee? Because John
Williamson was retiring?
SAMUEL: John Williamson was retiring. I did not really want the job,
because being the assistant to the pro tern is a lot more
interesting than the Rules Committee job. But Mills was planning
to step down in '82 and run for some statewide office. If he had
run for statewide office and won, I would have gone with him,
wherever it was. However, the chances were he probably would
have lost. My feeling was that when he left in two years, and
assuming he wasn't elected to a statewide office and I could not
go with him, where was I going to go?
Well, I would have to go somewhere. I would be in a
better position for another job if I were the executive officer of
the senate than if I were assistant to the pro tern, because as
executive officer to the senate you work very closely with all the
senators. I had originally thought the assistant to the pro tern
job might not last a year. It turned out to be the executive
officer job was the one that lasted just about a year.
However, if I hadn't been executive officer, I'm not sure
where I would have wound up, because I stayed on with the
Rules Committee. I continued to sit in on the executive sessions
of the Rules Committee. When Mills got dumped, there was a
certain amount of support for me among other senators for my
staying on the job.
L\BERGE: It sounds like just because you stayed on, you had a new . . .
SAMUEL: Yes, I had a new role, and I don't believe I had made any
important enemies as executive officer of the Rules Committee.
Also, I had an easy time, because John Williamson was known as
a tight-fisted executive officer. For example, in those days
senators could only have a choice of two colors for their office
rug: red and some kind of off-green. A lot of the senate members
were upset with some things. They didn't feel they were getting
as much as the assembly members were in the way of perks.
John Williamson was a former assemblyman. He was as
straight as could be and was very conservative. He operated the
way he'd run his own house. John intimidated a lot of members.
I told Mills when I became executive officer, I said, "Jim, the
purse strings are going to be loosened, not to a ridiculous extent.
For example, senators will be able to get any color rug they want
within reason." So the short year I had, I was in a position
where the senators were suddenly getting more than they had in
the past. It became easier for them to get some things out of the
LABERGE: What kinds of perks besides rugs?
SAMUEL: Things for the office. We gave a little more in the way of staff.
Just little things. The faucet was turned on just a little bit more.
During the short year I was executive officer, I developed
some very good relationships with many senators. So when Mills
got dumped, there wasn't a great cry to dump Bruce Samuel. At
the same time, Roberti wanted to keep peace with Mills as much
as possible because that was the politic thing. I remember
Roberti had me go to Mills and ask him which committee he
LABERGE: I noticed that he had no committees after that.
SAMUEL: That was by choice. Mills could have. He wound up with a
select committee on nutrition, but he could have had almost any
committee. But he said no.
And I guess there's several reasons Roberti kept me on.
One, it was a politic thing to do as far as Mills was concerned.
Two, he knew little about how the Rules Committee operated.
So I was an easy way to do the transition, an orderly transition.
He immediately brought in Jerry Zanelli as the executive officer.
As far as the Rules Committee operation was concerned, I worked
closely with Zanelli during the transition period. I came up with
my new title, assistant to the Rules Committee. That was a
LABERGE: What did you do as executive officer, for starters?
SAMUEL: As executive officer, I was responsible for the overall operation of
the senate, the internal operation of the senate. Everyone reports
to the executive officer as far as the administrative functions are
concerned. You've got the sergeants, special services,
reproduction [services], accounting, personnel-all of the
administrative services necessary to operate on a day-to-day basis.
L\BERGE: So you're really doing kind of personnel work, would you say?
SAMUEL: Yes. It's overseeing the internal operation. Buying the cars,
doing remodeling, all the mundane things. Authorizing offices to
be repainted, and other things which can be very important to
L\BERGE: How much of a part did you have in committees and choosing
members, or would you just give advice on that?
SAMUEL: That's done by the Rules Committee. The members do that.
Well, the executive officer is there, and you're moving the names
around on a board. You can make suggestions or whatever, but
it's something the members do. They know how it's going to
shake out. They sit down. Although, it was done a little
differently under Roberti, Mills's successor, because it became
much more political. The traditional way of doing it prior to
Mills leaving as pro tern was for the members to make all those
decisions among themselves. Now, with Roberti coming in, staff
had a lot more influence on those kinds of decisions.
L\BERGE: Why would staff have more influence if it's a political thing?
SAMUEL: Because Roberti's chief staff person was Jerry Zanelli, whose real
vocation was running political campaigns. As I said earlier, Jerry
was running the Rene Simon campaign. Jerry ran campaigns.
LABERGE: So do you think in general, staff has changed so that staff is no
SAMUEL: Oh, staff has changed, and incredibly so. That's been one of the
problems. It would have been unheard of years ago for a
committee staff person to call a lobbyist and say, "The chairman
wants money." Let me rephrase that. 'The chairman has a fund
raiser, some of your bills are in the committee, and he would
appreciate your coming to the fund raiser."
In the late sixties and seventies, it used to be that staff
stayed with the committee, and sometimes there would be
changes. In recent years, it's been staff goes with the chairman.
Whoever the chairman is. You get a new chairman, you get new
staff. The old staff goes. In the past, it was not unusual for
some staffers to stay through several different chairmen. It still
happens, but if s unusual these days. Now, staff is usually tied to
the chairman personally and not on a subject basis.
That's had a real effect. Staff has become very politicized
in recent years. It's one of the reasons for the passage of Prop.
140. A lot of people feel it has reached the point where staff has
become counterproductive. You now have an excess of partisan
staff. And you have staff competing with staff, which is not
particularly productive. And frankly, it has reached the point
where there is an overabundance of staff. A lot of it is political
staff there for one reason: to do campaign work for members.
Did that have anything to do with you deciding to leave?
No. When I retired in '84, it was Prop. 24 1 that resulted in my
being terminated. I was let go. However, I assume with
hindsight that, if I had made a pitch to take a lesser position, I
probably could have survived. But I really didn't fit in any
1. Proposition 24 (June 1984)
longer. I was a fish out of water.
A couple of years ago, two or three years ago, I was asked
to come back by a senator in a major position in the senate. I
told him no. I gave him a lot of reasons, but the real reason was
that I really no longer fit in there.
L\BERGE: Weren't you also asked to go over to the assembly as the chief
SAMUEL: Where did you hear that?
L\BERGE: Maybe a Cairifornial Journal. That's where I've done most of my
SAMUEL: No, that was never printed, but when Mills got dumped, I was
approached by people on the speaker's staff. I had more or less
accepted the job as CAO [Chief Administrative Officer] in the
assembly. I ran into the speaker in the cafeteria one day, and he
said something to the effect, "How much do you make?" I told
him what I made, and he said, "That's no problem." That was
the only conversation I had with the speaker on it, but I was
under the impression from his staff that I was going to be hired
as CAO. What happened was, Richie Ross was hired, and some
of the people within the speaker's staff . . .
[End Tape 4, Side A]
[Begin Tape 4, Side B]
SAMUEL: There was talk of him becoming auditor general, but Richie
wanted to be CAO very badly, and I'm told McCarthy prevailed
on Brown, and Richie Ross became CAO. Which probably, as
things worked out, was the right choice. I don't know if I was
really partisan enough for that job. Who's to say? But it
appeared for a brief time that I was going to be the CAO.
LABERGE: Why would that job be more partisan than . . .
SAMUEL: Not nearly as good a job. Let's start with the senate. You've got
a five-member Rules Committee that works together very well.
One simple example. In the senate, you hand out office
space based on seniority. Offices are very important. If a
member doesn't get a certain office, he's mad for years. If he
loses a bill, so what? He can introduce it next year.
In the senate, assigning office space is very simple; you just
do it on the basis of seniority. In the assembly, it's done on a
strictly partisan basis. That's the way the assembly operates.
There are eighty members, they're younger, and they're always
running for reelection. There's just a lot more pressures. It's
more difficult, that job. Just a lot more pressures. A bigger
Also, the senate job is more desirable because the Senate
Rules Committee runs the house with the pro tem. In the
assembly, the CAO has to walk a very tight rope because, while
there's the chairman of the Rules Committee, your real allegiance
has to be to the speaker, because the speaker picks the chairman
of Rules. You have a situation now where the Rules Committee
chairman really isn't doing that much; the speaker is making all
the decisions. So from a staff point of view, it's a lot more
difficult job. It's far more difficult and, again, much more
When I became assistant to the pro tem, I told Mills before
I took it. ... I was working for [Senator] Wadie Deddeh at the
time, who was also from San Diego. He was chairman of the
Transportation Committee. "Jim," I said, "someone's got to tell
Deddeh. He's got to hear it from you. I don't want him hearing
The next thing, Wadie Deddeh got very upset with me
because he heard that I was going to work for Mills. He heard
the Senate Rules Committee had authorized my position before he
knew anything about it. There's an old saying: there are no
secrets in the capitol.
LABERGE: You really were dealing with personalities, massaging egos and
things by handing out offices and making sure So-and-so heard
SAMUEL: Yes. That's what it is, because it's probably not the normal ego
that wants to run for elected office. You're dealing with all
different egos. I guess you have to be a bit of a chameleon
because you have to interact different ways with different people.
Someone you have to be very serious with, somebody you have
to tell a dirty joke to. In that sense, it's easier to deal with forty
When I was in the assembly and working for the
Transportation Committee, I knew all eighty members. I thought,
gee, this house seems to operate very well. Then I went to work
for the senate, and after about three or four years I couldn't
understand how you could operate an eighty-member house
effectively. It's very difficult.
LABERGE: So of all the jobs that you had, which did you like the best?
SAMUEL: Assistant to the pro tern. Mostly because it was being there and
seeing certain things happening, sitting in on important meetings,
being in the middle of it. Looking from the inside out.
LABERGE: Would you feel like commenting on different legislators? Which
ones you admired?
SAMUEL: You going to throw names at me?
LABERGE: No. [Laughter] Pm not going to throw names at you. Or
maybe start with something more general. What is a good
legislator, in your mind?
SAMUEL: I guess to the extent that you be true to yourself and stick with
your beliefs. It all sounds rather trite. I believe it's to the extent
that you can remain open-minded, because there's always going
to be the ideological differences. To the extent that you can
stand up to the special interest pressures and do what you think
is right, and not knowingly cast a lot of votes that you know
shouldn't be cast that way. And in this world there's probably
going to be a certain number of votes you're going to have cast
for one reason or another that you think, gee, maybe I shouldn't
do that. Because, unfortunately, I don't believe the 100 percent
righteous person is ever among the most effective. It's very
difficult to find that middle ground.
I think you've just got to draw some line in the sand and
say, "I'm not going to cross over that line. I'll go up to it, but I
won't go over it." That's the one thing I really admired about
Jim Mills, because there was a line he would not step over.
That's not the case today.
LABERGE: Just with the pro tern, or with most senators?
SAMUEL: With a large majority of the senators, but particularly with
Unfortunately, the members can be very good until the
point where they think a decision is going to jeopardize their
reelection in any way. I don't know how you get around it,
because I don't believe you can do it with a part-time legislature.
But when you have a full-time legislature that depends on the
salary for a living, it becomes totally "professionalized." I don't
know the answer. Unless you're an attorney or an insurance
salesman and you have something to go back to without too
much trouble. I think school teachers and most professions, you
leave for four or five, eight, ten years, it's hard to go back. I
wish I knew what the answer is. I don't.
L\BERGE: Any other legislators that you particularly admire as much as Jim
SAMUEL: Oh, yes. There are a lot of good legislators, although I would say
in years gone by, we probably had some better legislators, more
than you could name, who were really men of strong conviction.
But there are still a lot of good legislators.
LABERGE: How about key staffers, either in the legislature or governor's
office? Like you mentioned Bob Williams. Is there someone else
like that that you thought was either particularly influential or
SAMUEL: I always felt Marc [Marcel] Poche was particularly good. I'm sure
someone has talked to Marc.
LABERGE: He's on our list but he hasn't been interviewed yet.
SAMUEL: Marc Poche, I found out subsequently when I came up here, ran
for the assembly in Santa Clara. He ran against Earl Crandall,
who was an elderly public school teacher. He was a nice old
man who defeated Marc Poche, which was hard to believe. Marc
is now on the court of appeal. I think he probably would have
been on the supreme court if things had happened correctly.
Marc Poche could truly speak for Jerry Brown. Marc was
one of the very few people around the governor who did not call
him Jerry in public. I remember talking to Marc about it one
day. He said he'd never call him Jerry in public. He said, "It's
always 'governor.'" And yet I believe he was closer and had his
ear more than any other staff person. You would rather talk to
Marc Poche regarding something you'd want the governor to do
than talk to the governor, because if you talked to the governor,
you could never be sure you really had his attention. If Poche
believed it was the right thing, he would give it his all.
For example, Iris Sanke was appointed to the State Board of
Equalization by Jerry Brown. That was at the request of Jim
Mills. Mills went to lunch one day with Poche and told him he
very much wanted the governor to appoint Iris. I had several
conversations with Marc about that appointment. It was an
appointment that came as a surprise to a lot of people. That
appointment was made because it was important to Jim Mills and
Marc Poche convinced the governor to make it.
Just like in the governor's office, if there was an important
appointment you wanted made, you wouldn't call the
appointments secretary. If you didn't care, you'd write a letter.
But if you really cared, you'd call Gray Davis when he was there,
or you'd call Marc Poche and say, "This is important."
LABERGE: The appointments secretary was Carlo tta Mellon?
LABERGE: How about [Judge Anthony] Tony Kline?
SAMUEL: Tony was also important. If you wanted a judge appointed, you'd