Guest Post: An “Interview” with B.T. Collins
AN INTERVIEW WITH B.T. COLLINS
On March 19, 1993, B.T. Collins died in a Sacramento hospital of a heart attack following a prolonged bout with a series of medical conditions. He was anything but the average 52-year old who died too young. B.T. was an exceptional person, as anyone who knew him will attest. He shouldn’t have lived anywhere near 52 since he lost an arm and a leg laying on a grenade in Vietnam.
Maureen Collins Baker, one of B.T.’s sisters, has written a fantastic, must-read book detailing the life of Brien Thomas aptly titled, Outrageous Hero.
With the author’s permission, passages from the book have been structured in an “interview.” Much of what B.T. did and said more than 15 years ago still applies today – both in life and politics. — Gus
Q: What were your thoughts about going through the process of running for elective office?
B.T.: I have to tell you, it really gets me down. The things they (your opponents) say and do. Unbelievable, unbelievable. After all I’ve done and tried to do. And the money. This costs so much money. I’ve raised almost $2 million. Do you realize the good I could have done with that money?
Q: Did you find raising money for your campaign deficit difficult?
B.T.: Here’s a letter I sent to Dick Cunha, my attorney and law school classmate at Santa Clara:
November 3, 1992
The overwhelming mandate I received in my election leads me to believe that I can solve all the problems of the world. Please call me if you have any. My machine takes calls 24 hours a day. If you will send me $5,000, I will include you in my daily prayers. Although election law states that cash is not to be received, I can fix it. Twenties would be appreciated, and in one lump sum, if you please.
If you can’t come through with the dough, I will take your first-born instead and teach him how to be a politician. God Bless You and God Bless America!
B.T. Collins, Assemblyman, 5th District
A fine American I might add
Q: Should legislators go without pay if they are late in resolving the state budget?
B.T.: In 1992, we hadn’t passed a budget and I received a paycheck. I asked how this could happen without any money? I was told we were paid in any event and I refused the check. The clerk said they must issue a check so I told them to issue it with zero funds. They honored my request: A check for zero.
Q: How did you deal with the “scumbag lobbyists?”
B.T.: Scruples. When I was elected, I put a sign on my door that read, “Please don’t discuss campaign contributions in front of me or my staff. It will save us both a lot of time in the slammer.”
Q: What’s your take on how the Legislature is seen by outsiders?
B.T.: I once said that because I had been on the wagon for a number of years, I could no longer, with impunity, tell racist, sexist or homophobic jokes. What I am telling you is that I can no longer talk about the California Legislature.
It’s downright awful. The rooms are full of ego-driven people who do nothing but talk. The problems are enormous, the phone calls nasty and nobody’s in charge of anything. I don’t know what people in the balconies think. Here they are visiting the Capitol for the first time and they have nothing but bad manners. How do you explain that to sixth graders? It’s the arrogance of power.
Q: Can the Legislature work?
B.T.: The inner workings of the Capitol should revolve around the human wide of politics rather than the issues. If you can build a consensus, if you can put your ego at the door, it’s amazing how much you can get done. I believe “bureaucrat” can be an honorable word. This all sounds so self-serving but I firmly believe we’re all in this thing together. We’d get a lot more done if we’d just give the other guy the credit.
Q: You seem to have plenty of advice. Is there a particular bit of advice that comes to mind?
B.T.: Here’s a letter to that “candy-ass Marine” Pete Wilson:
October 16, 1991
Stay in touch with the people. Please learn from the Bush debacle. Too often people think Republicans are aloof, insensitive and rich. Best thing to do is return phone calls – even three a day would blow them away. Stop all travel and conferences – symbolic but so important.
Don’t tell a soul but give back the $35,000 (gubernatorial pay) raise. Set the example. Why not contribute it to WEAVE? (Women Escaping A Violent Environment – a favorite B.T. charity) That’s right, all $35K and don’t say a word about it. It will show up on your tax returns in ’92. Otherwise, this money will be a millstone around your neck, especially when you have to start laying off people.
Think about it. The $2K you sent me for the (Vietnam) Memorial has been repaid in speech after speech. I, of course, will receive the credit for your enlightened generosity.
Remember, the best friends are the ones who will tell you the truth. I’m stuck with you, so don’t screw up!
Q: That was one of the worse budget years in California history. Did you propose a budget solution to Governor Wilson?
B.T.: Yes. I suggested we could take Reno and Tahoe and all their gaming revenues. It could have been over in a matter of hours.
Q: Annex part of Nevada?
B.T.: No. Invade.
Q: What was the motto you lived by?
B.T.: Is the world a better place because you are there. Gotta go.
Outrageous Hero, The B.T. Collins Story. Maureen Collins Baker. Bryce Hill
Publishing, 2008. www.brycehillpublishing.com
Filed under: California History
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