Jerry Waldie – Former Congressman, Gubernatorial Candidate
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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 email@example.com
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