Bob Huff and The Parable of Someone Else’s Car

Banner - HuffThis is a short article that is a little bit about Senator Bob Huff, but mostly not.

I don’t write about every legislator but had been thinking about the soon-to-depart members who will be leaving office in the next few weeks. This evening, I saw a note on Facebook by a friend who thanked his boss, Senator Bob Huff “for a great experience.”

It got me thinking about my observations and handful of conversations with Senator Huff and the lessons that might be learned from his service in the legislature. The basic points of his service were actually pretty standard;

  • Like a lot of term limits-era legislators, he came from local government (serving on a City Council for a decade before arriving in the Assembly);
  • He served in both houses (which is a little more rare) and served 12 years between the two houses (which pretty standard for two-house members).

What made him stand out to me was the way he served. Let’s call this The Parable of Someone Else’s Car.

Term limits (specifically the restricted terms they offer legislators) can tell you a lot about people; how they treat other people’s things. Some politicians treat their elected offices like rental cars. From the way they interact with constituents and treat their staff to the seriousness with which they cast their votes, they clearly communicate “Hey, I’m not keeping this thing forever. It’s a rental! It’s just getting me from Point A to Point B.”

From my observations, that wasn’t Bob Huff. He treated his seat in the legislature like it was his father’s car. For all the downsides we got from the constant churning of legislators that term limits brought, the single best thing we received was the occasional legislator who understood that the seat they held was never really theirs and that someone else would occupy it in eight or fewer years.

Bob Huff didn’t rev the engine to show everyone how cool he was and he generally signalled when he was about to change lanes. He remained appreciative of the gift of public service that his neighbors had given him, he enjoyed the ride, and he returned it with a full tank of gas for whoever would be using it next.

He’s not out of the woods yet; there are always ample opportunities for former legislators to damage their reputations (just ask Assembly Speaker Yule). But as he leaves the Legislature… I think he can be proud of his accomplishments and the fact that he didn’t add any new dents or scratches to the 29th.

Nielsen Reaches 1,000 Weeks

Senator Nielsen

An interesting point in California legislative history was quietly reached this week. For the first time in a number of years, and probably for the last time in quite a while, a legislator reached 1,000 weeks of service in the legislature.

Senator Jim Nielsen, who served twelve years in the Senate from 1978-1990 and four years in the State Assembly (2008-2012), returned to the State Senate in a 2013 special election. His return to the Senate made him the first person to serve non-consecutive terms in the State Senate in 43 years. As an interesting side note, two years after Nielsen returned, Sharon Runner became the third non-consecutive Senator in a half-century.

Although 1,000 weeks is a notable achievement in itself, what makes this time particularly notable is that it’s unlikely to happen again. Because of the small number of living legislators who never served during the term limits era, it’s almost certain that Nielsen, as the 117th “thousand-week-legislators” will be the last. Like the others who reached this milestone before him (Art Torres, Bill Lockyer, Newt Russell, H. L. Richardson, Diane Watson), Nielsen is a bridge between eras.

It’s a milestone worth noting as we pass it for the last time.


Politics on Tap – Episode 82

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join host John Howard and Adam Gottlieb on Capitol Weekly’s Politics on Tap. Adam brought a great collection of campaign ephemera, including some century-old items, and shared his love of political history. I was able to share some of the better stories that have come up through my research. I enjoyed having the opportunity to be a part of the show, and I think it comes across in the video.

Follow the link below to watch the episode.

Politics on Tap - Episode 82

Adam Gottlieb, John Howard, and a far-too-enthusiastic Alex Vassar

Watch: Politics on Tap – Episode 82