Perfect Timing

This is a great moment that requires a somewhat windy preamble.

When I started at the Chronicle in August 1988, two things happened that made me go, “Whoa, I’m somebody.”

The first was on the Assembly floor when I was asked what was going on by Ruth Ashton Taylor of KCBS, an idol of mine from my youth in Southern California. I couldn’t imagine a higher compliment than her thinking I had a clue.

The second event was during a Senate floor session. In those days seating for reporters at the rear of the chamber was more rigid.

To the immediate right of the right column inside the rear doors was the seat of the Los Angeles “By God” Times. Next to the Times was the San Francisco Chronicle’s seat.

Sitting next to me that day was Jerry Gillam, a bear of guy, who wrote with fat black lead pencils and had covered the Capitol since 1960. I introduced myself.

“You married to Donna Lucas?”

“Yeah, although she doesn’t admit to that freely.”

“I held her in my arms when she was a baby.”

Way, way cool, I thought. I get to sit next to living history.

Now, the Great Capitol Moment:

Its late one night toward the end of July or early August in the mid 1990s and a budget deadlock has been broken. Jerry and I and other print and electronic reporters are waiting in the hallway inside the governor’s office waiting to be ushered into the presence of Gov. Pete Wilson who will sign the budget and bring peace and love to all the peoples of California – except those getting their programs whacked.

Jerry is talking about what press conferences were like when Pat Brown was governor. On Mondays, a handful of  newspapermen would be escorted to  Pat Brown’s office – the small square one not the big conference room recent governors now use as their office.

The group of white men would discuss their weekend activities – highballs, golf, tennis, the slaughter of defenseless woodland creatures – and the governor of the Great State of California would field a few policy questions.

Later in the day, Brown would chat with television and radio reporters — who were forbidden from asking any questions the newspapermen hadn’t asked earlier.

Just as Jerry said something about how that was when newspaper guys were accorded proper respect, a Wilson underling announced:

“OK, TV and radio up front, you print guys fill in behind them.”

Catch up with Jerry at jgillam@macnexus.org

Filed under: California History


  1. When asked what he did for energy conservation, former Assemblyman John Thurman said, “I put about four inches of water in the tub, my wife and I get in, and it overflows.”

    Comment by Gus Turdlock — 1.10.2008 @ 10:20 pm

  2. I was 13 in 1988.

    Comment by The Honorable #1 State Legislator Guy — 1.11.2008 @ 1:54 pm

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