Jerry Waldie – Former Congressman, Gubernatorial Candidate

erry Waldie was elected to the state Assembly in 1958 – a liberal Democrat swept into a Republican-leaning East Bay district by Pat Brown’s big coattails.

The Legislature met only one year for seven months and three the next to put together a budget. Lawmakers were paid around $500 for their trouble.

Eight years later, Waldie and his roommate, Jess Unruh, changed all that.

Jerome R. Waldie was a professional politician. Ask him why he ran for the Assembly, then Congress and then governor in 1974 and his answer is the same:  Each was a “step upward on the political ladder and I wanted to move up when the opportunity arose.”

Waldie’s first campaign, he knocked on the doors of 60 percent of the residents in his eastern Contra Costa County district — Antioch, Oakley, Martinez and Crockett. He raised $1,500 — $1,000 from his mother — and most of the rest from unions.

“It’s beyond my comprehension now,” he says of current campaign spending.

Principled, thoughtful and progressive, Waldie helped begin the overhaul of California’s mental hospitals which concluded with the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 1968.

Without hesitation, Waldie, now 83, says his greatest accomplishment in Congress was introducing the Articles of Impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974.

But he is partly responsible for three far more significant political actions.

As majority leader of the Assembly – Number 2 to Assembly Speaker Jess Unruh — Waldie carried the 1966 bill creating the full-time Legislature.

Waldie also helped propel Assemblyman John Laird into politics.

And he introduced legislation allowing frogs to be killed by slingshots, which generated a remarkable 14-year laugh-out-loud correspondence between him and one Nestle J. Frobish, chairman of the WorldWide Fairplay for Frogs Committee.

Of Unruh, Waldie says he was “complex,” but at his core he had an “absolute commitment to assisting powerless people.”

Jesse Unruh

Jesse Unruh

Unruh was never dishonest, Waldie insists. He recalls a morning conversation with Unruh as the two were getting ready to go to the Assembly. Unruh said he was offered a $10,000 contribution to the Democratic Party contingent on his doing something a certain way on a piece of legislation.  Unruh asked Waldie’s opinion.

“I said, ‘It’s up to you but it’s obviously a shady operation whether you’re getting the money or delivering the money, in essence, to the Democratic Party. He never went further with it.”

Waldie was chosen to carry the legislation professionalizing the Legislature, as Unruh perceived the bill, because Jerry was headed to Congress that fall and wouldn’t get the hefty pay raise passage of the law would afford other incumbents.

“There was an increase in salary of a considerable amount,” Waldie recalled over fat-free cookies on the back porch of his Pleasant Valley home. “Part of the reason I was the author is then it would have the appearance it was not a partisan effort since it was done by a fella who was leaving the Legislature and wouldn’t benefit from it.”

(It took a few decades but Waldie ultimately scored an indirect benefit from that bill – his son Jon is the Assembly’s chief administrative officer.)

ACA 13 not only created a full-time Legislature and boosted legislative pay but it implemented numerous changes proposed after two years of work by a 50-member Constitutional Revision Commission.

Among the other “reforms,” were making it easier to qualify an initiative for the ballot and modernizing the state constitution.

The constitutional amendment became Proposition 1A and was approved by 73.5 percent of voters at the same November election in which Jerry Waldie got sent to Congress.

One of the lasting legacies of Waldie’s eight years in Congress is his close friendship with Pete McCloskey whose opposition to Vietnam led him briefly to run against Nixon in 1972 before opting to keep his San Mateo County-based congressional seat for another 15 years.

“He’s now become if not my closest friend than awfully near that,” Waldie says of McCloskey.

Pete McCloskey

Pete McCloskey

The two men went on a fact-finding mission to Vietnam sponsored by  Businessmen for Peace. As Waldie recalls, both he and McCloskey had a “critical view” of the war before the trip.

Waldie and McCloskey witnessed the interrogation of a teen-aged Viet Cong soldier who said he and his comrades are captured but never surrender. McCloskey, a decorated Korean War vet, was impressed with the kid’s toughness.

Afterwards, Waldie suggested they visit an American field hospital — a stop not included on their itinerary. They saw a young soldier with a bandaged head who, McCloskey recalled, looked like his oldest son. One bullet had turned the GI into a vegetable.

Seeing that soldier tipped the scales for McCloskey and convinced him to publicly oppose the war.

Waldie’s 1974 run for governor was hobbled from the start because he was chained to the Washington impeachment proceedings his articles set in motion.

Waldie had no campaign manager, no professional fundraiser and, thus, little money in his gubernatorial bid.

The Democratic field included then Secretary of State Jerry Brown, San Francisco state Senator George Moscone, former Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti and San Francisco Mayor Joe Alioto.

Moscone dropped out early which Waldie said helped his strategy of snagging the liberal vote.

Waldie pledged to canvass California – on foot. Laird walked with him from Mexico to Santa Barbara. On a beach in Santa Barbara they encountered a 100-year-old man.Waldie

“Jerry said he was running for governor and tried to shake this man’s hand,” Laird recalls. “The man told Jerry he was 100 years old and had never touched a politician or allowed a politician to touch him. He attributed his longevity to that.”

Brown won the primary without breaking a sweat. (The general election was closer) In the primary, Waldie finished last.

“There was an exact correlation between the amount of money spent in the campaign and the winners and the place they fell. Jerry spent the most and was elected. I spent the least and was fourth. Everybody says money is the mother’s milk of politics and it is but I’d never seen it demonstrated more dramatically.”

Who won the vote of the 100-year-old man is unknown.

Brown later appointed Waldie to the recently created Agricultural Labor Relations Board. Brown’s successor as governor, George Deukmejian, thought Waldie might seek gainful employ elsewhere.

Do an Internet search now of Jerry Waldie and most hits are references to the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority of which he is the state Senate’s appointee.

There are 15 members: Seven from Nevada, seven from California and an appointee of the president who has no real power. To win approval for a project, you need four votes from each state.

“Are you one of the four (California) environmental votes?” Waldie is asked.


Waldie wasn’t surprised by the backlash against TRPA after the fires that swept through South Shore in 2007.

“I don’t know of any regulatory agency that is popular,” Waldie says. “People outside of the basin know we’re protecting the lake. People inside the basin have to be controlled to protect the lake. I fully understand why people get angry.”

No politician other than Jerry Waldie has created anything as amazing as Fairplay for Frogs.

Frogs Waldie“We were having fun,” Waldie says of his collaborator, Nestle J. Frobish, the destroyer of Waldie’s gubernatorial campaign, Mo Udall says in the introduction to the book of Frobish and Waldie’s delightful correspondence.

The 1975 book, which can still be found on E-Bay and in Waldie’s Pleasant Valley garage (for a price), was spawned by legislation introduced by Waldie on March 21, 1961 allowing frogs to be killed by slingshots.

Waldie put the bill in on behalf of a sports writer at a newspaper in his district. The sports writer and his son were hunting frogs — with slingshots.

They got popped by a Parks & Recreation ranger because the law didn’t allow frogs to be killed by slingshots. Frogs could only be killed with fork-like poles called gigs.

Waldie tried to cure this injustice by allowing the taking of frogs with slingshots.

But what Waldie thought was humane was anathema to frog lovers like Frobish who dubbed Waldie both a “flagitious wretch” and the “Mad Butcher of the Swamps,” among other sobriquets.

“Soon the sportsmen will demand the legalization of flamethrowers, napalm and poison gas. Spare the humble frog the anguish of further aggression,” Frobish wrote in one missive.

Although Waldie’s slingshot legislation swiftly sailed to interim study and never became law, the running joke ultimately became a page-turning book.

There was even an effort at Laird’s alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, to name a college after Frobish.The needed $1 million — in 1970s dollars — never materialized.

“I suggested we have a frog leg roast to try and raise money but Nestle wouldn’t go along with it,” Waldie says with a twinkle.

Catch up with Jerry at jeromew@innercite.com


Filed under: California History


  1. Where can one locate the “laugh out loud” correspondence on frogs. Sounds like a great book.

    Comment by J.P. Cativiela — 1.11.2008 @ 1:00 pm

  2. Greg,
    You won’t remember me, although we met years ago at 10th and L when I was AME Metro/Business/Sports at The Bee.

    I had to drop you a complimentary line on your Waldie piece. Last election, I was hired by a group called Republicans for Charlie Brown (which was financed by McCloskey and former Justice Newsom) so I got to know Pete fairly well and enjoyed his story telling, which included some of the events in your story.

    Anyway, excuse the long-winded compliment. I just wanted to say Great Job and I look forward to seeing more on Californiascapitol.com. I teach journalism at Sierra College and tell my students that the transformation of the media is causing individual journalists to be more important than the institutions that “own them.” This is an era where the people creating the value might just reap some of the benefits for a change. Good luck!

    Warm regards,

    Kent Pollock

    Comment by Kent Pollock — 1.12.2008 @ 8:41 am

  3. re the Waldie campaign for Governor: I was living in Bakersfield at the time and running a local group which provided a forum for Democrats running for statewide office and Waldie came wslking through the area with two young aides, one of whom was totally obnoxious. I told him privately that he had to get rid of that guy and he said, of course, that he wasn’t paying either of them and he couldn’t afford to get rid of him.

    About 25 years later, John Laird walked into the office of a client of mine, seeking support for his Assembly run. He said “You don’t remember me but I walked through Bakersfield with Jerry Waldie.” I said “were you the obnoxious one or the other one?” “The other one,” he said. I won’t mention other names.

    Comment by Nancy Burt — 1.14.2008 @ 11:17 am

  4. One of the nicest, smartest persons I ever had the privledge to know and work with on any issue. I served with Jerry on the ALRB. We were very tight , during some real turbulent times. When Jerry Brown asked me to come to his office late one night and offered me an ALRB position, he went out of his way to tell me “when in doubt< listen to Waldie. He’s the smartest guy around.”

    As Greg Lucas mentioned, Jerry Waldie always had a good perspective about things, and a real long range view.

    Waldie once tried me to get one of his frog books, but I declined, saying I couldn’t stand the damn this. Probably our only disagreement.

    Jerry Waldie is a classic example of a real “gentle-man”. An his son Jon follows in his personality footsteps.

    Comment by Pat Henning — 1.14.2008 @ 1:50 pm

  5. Wow, Greg. such a nice article. I am grateful for your gentle tratment of my career. I wish I thot I was as good as your article suggsts I am. But my son, Jon, who sent me the article, thot it was overly commedable and I think he knows more about that career than I had let you know. Anyway, my friend. thanks again. I have never had such generous comments made re my service than those you wrote. jerry Waldie

    Comment by jerry waldie — 1.14.2008 @ 7:42 pm

  6. Greg,
    I have always thought of my grandfather as the most influencial role model in my life. He has always been the guy to go to for good sound advice…and I have to agree with Pat. I, too, think he’s the smartest guy around! Thank you so much for your article.

    Comment by Heidi Kimbrough — 1.17.2008 @ 8:44 am

  7. the recollection of Nancy Burt as to our brief meeting during my campaign for Governor is accurate. The response of my good friend and admirable legislator, John Laird, perhaps suffers from aging and the damage that often occurs from that process. I recall the incident and seem to remember that Nancy was referring to the young, non-paid volunteer in my campaign, John Laird. When I criticized John for his seeming lack of courtesy, he lost his temper and threatened to run for the legislature and perhaps become Chairman of the Budget Committee. Both objectives seemed impossible for John to achieve. I was wrong. But Nancy was still right. Jerry Waldie

    Comment by jerry waldie — 1.18.2008 @ 8:35 pm

  8. I worked on Jerry’s campaign for Governor in 1974– one of the first campaigns I worked on. He was going to walk the whole state as the centerpiece of his campaign, but he spent most of the campaign in the House Judiciary Committee questioning Nixon about his illegal activities, which lead to Nixon’s resignation. I walked part of the State of California with Jerry– it helped begin my political career which lead me to wind up as a colleague of John Laird in the State Assembly! Jerry remains one of my heroes.

    –Paul Koretz

    Comment by Paul Koretz — 3.08.2008 @ 9:08 pm


    Comment by Norma Corey — 8.26.2008 @ 10:14 am

  10. I have a tape origial of his campain 1973.

    Comment by Maurice — 1.17.2010 @ 8:31 am

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