Bill Campbell

At 72, former state Senator Bill Campbell finds himself the chairman of the board of Point Blank Solutions, a Pompano Beach, Florida maker of bulletproof vests.

The Coraopolis, Pennsylvania native and former Senate minority leader can’t say much about his new job since the company is suing its former CEO, David H. Brooks.

Brooks is also under federal indictment for fraud, insider trading, obstruction of justice and tax evasion. He gained notoriety in 2005 for the reportedly $10 million bat mitzvah party he threw for his daughter at which Kenny G, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty and Aerosmith performed.

“We’re working closely with the Internal Revenue Service and the SEC and the Department of Justice,” Campbell said. “We’re working hard to get the company back in order.”

Campbell became a member of the board at the suggestion of his former Senate chief of staff, Jerry Haleva, a lobbyist whose clients include Point Blank Solutions, previously called DHB Industries Inc.

Campbell’s affability and quipping mask a skilled and savvy politician. He also has a wealth of stories from his legislative career, which began with election to the Assembly in 1966.

He left the Senate in 1990 and became president of the California Manufacturers Association. “Technology” was added to the association’s name during Campbell’s final two years there.

At the association, Campbell registered only once as a lobbyist to shepherd a bill eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. His job was made significantly easier by his choice of author – then Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Campbell’s friend for nearly 30 years.

To get the bill out of the Senate, a caveat was added – if the tax break didn’t generate 100,000 jobs within 10 years it would expire. Enacted in 1994, it expired in 2003 – three years after Campbell retired.

In 2003, Campbell was tapped by Gov. Gray Davis to head a blue ribbon commission (Don’t tell Ross Johnson) on the state’s response to the disastrous 2003 Southern California fires.

The large commission – state and local emergency response officials, state and local politicians of all stripes – was a showcase of Campbell’s ability to find consensus, one of his greatest talents as a lawmaker.

“There were left wingers on the environmental side and right wingers and he brought that whole panel together,” Haleva said. “Just like when Alan Robbins and Diane Watson were fighting over busing in the San Fernando Valley, he was able to find a middle ground.”

On the first page of the commission’s report, Campbell wrote:

“Unless and until public policymakers at all levels of government muster the political will to put the protection of life and property ahead of competing political agendas, these tragedies are certain to repeat.”


Haleva argues that Campbell is more skilled at finding commonality than the late Sen. Ken Maddy of Fresno, widely recognized for that capability.

Campbell was elected in the wake of the Baker vs. Carr decision in 1966 requiring one person, one vote. There was major turnover in the Assembly – some 35 new members, Campbell recalls. That November, voters also overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment creating a full-time Legislature.

“I did something very important – I won in a district that was over 60 percent Democratic and carried Ronald Reagan in as governor on my coattails.”

Under the new full-time system, legislators were paid $16,000. When Campbell retired 18 years ago, the salary was $42,500.

Mormon, Campbell wasn’t part of the often heavy drinking that lubricated the legislative process in those days. The hard drinkers usually started work early, Campbell recalled, because they passed out around 8 pm.

At that time, the budget committee met in private.

“Let me tell you how much better it was. Sometimes you want things to happen but you don’t necessarily want the sun to shine on those things.”

Members would present their lists of budget goodies — usually pork barrel – and would be asked if they planned to vote for the budget. If they said “no,” their goodies were stripped.

Without hesitation, Campbell says his favorite governor was Reagan.

“He was so genuine. I learned a lot from him. He’d give a talk and every five minutes he’d have a humorous line. I tried to emulate that except I’d have one every minute.”

Once a year, Reagan would host the Legislature at his house in the East Sacramento neighborhood known as the Fabulous Forties. He’d provide entertainment, which included Bob Hope, John Wayne, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

“You might disagree with Reagan but he was likable and he never held a grudge. That’s one thing I learned from him. Some people may agree with you then disagree with you the second time but then agree with you the third.”

When Bob Moretti was elected speaker in 1971, Campbell became the chair of the Assembly Health Committee. Campbell got to know Moretti playing basketball Tuesday nights at Sac State which made its gymnasium available to lawmakers.

“That was many pounds ago,” Campbell quips.

When Campbell’s caucus was trying to decide whether to support their leader on the first vote for speaker, Campbell said he couldn’t — he’d already committed to Moretti.

The greatest education Campbell had as a lawmaker was when he carried the first Medi-Cal reform bill in 1972.

Not unlike this year’s health care legislation, Campbell’s measure touched numerous interest groups plus the federal government, state government and counties.

Negotiating for the administration was Earl Brian, Reagan’s health department director and, later, Health and Human Services cabinet secretary.

The most contentious part of the bill was whether persons treated under Medi-Cal had to kick in a co-payment. Campbell recalls Reagan wanting $2 and Democrats wanting zero.

The bill was being heard in Assembly Ways and Means, chaired at the time by Willie Brown. Brown said the issue of co-pay would be put over briefly. He handed the gavel to the GOP vice-chair, Frank Lanterman, and left .

Brian, Campbell and Brown went to Moretti’s office to hash out the issue.

After a goodly amount of back-and-forth, Moretti said he would arm wrestle Brian over the co-pay. Campbell said not to.

“Bobby had tremendous upper body strength.”

Brian assured Campbell everything was fine. What Campbell didn’t know was that Brian had been one of the top amateur tennis players in the country.

“They set up and he put Bobby down. Bobby says, ‘Two out of three.’ Brian put him down again. Bobby says, ‘OK, you’ve got your co-payment.’”

The three returned to Ways and Means. As to AB 949 – the only bill number Campbell says he remembers from his career – Brown said the co-payment is included, without objection.

Whether to beef up his staff or delve deeper into policy matters, Campbell also was given a health-related subcommittee on dangerous drugs and alcohol.

The consultant was the late Steve Thompson, later chief of staff to Brown as speaker and, ultimately, the top lobbyist for the California Medical Association.

Campbell did — and does — like to have fun, to hang with people he enjoys, Democrats and Republicans. That desire caused his downfall as Senate GOP leader in 1982.

To attend a Reagan dinner in Los Angeles and be back for floor session the next day, the Senate Republicans rented two airplanes. Campbell drew up the seating list for each plane.

On his plane were the guys he enjoyed like Maddy and Bob Beverly. On the B-plane were the caucus members he didn’t care for as much.

While Campbell hung out with his pals, the guys on the B-plane successfully orchestrated his ouster. B-plane passenger Jim Nielsen, a likely returnee to the Legislature, succeeded him as minority leader.

In 1986, Campbell ran for state controller. He won the primary but lost the general to Gray Davis.

Two years later, George Bush the Elder called him (Campbell initially thought it was a gag) and asked that co-chair Bush’s campaign in California.

“That was the last time the Republicans carried the presidential election in California so (Bob) Naylor and I take full credit for that.”

Naylor, the former Assembly GOP leader, was head of the state party at the time. Naylor now helps dole out Campbell’s very sweet Row C Sacramento Kings tickets.

“That’s how close we are, I parcel out his Kings tickets,” said Naylor.

Like most old school pols, Campbell criticizes term limits for depriving both lawmakers and staff of institutional memory. He says what lawmakers need is to create relationships across the aisle.

Campbell remembers committee dinners where the entire committee would attend and get to know each other.

“When you learn about people on a personal basis, learn about their family and their ideals, it’s hard not to like them. So you would have philosophical differences but they would never get out of hand.”

But Campbell blames air conditioning more than term limits for what ails the Legislature.

“Before air conditioning of the state Capitol, nobody wanted to stay in Sacramento after June. Why would you want to stay in Sacramento without air conditioning? We’d get the budget out by the June deadline because no wanted to be around.”

Catch up with Bill at wmcmpbl@surewest.net.


Filed under: California History


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  11. […] The most extensive account of Campbell’s career, including many insider stories of legislative intrigue, was written by Greg Lucas, now the state librarian, in his political blog, California’s Capitol, in 2008. You can find it here. […]

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