News & Views from 465 California Street

The Price of Principle

Clint Reilly
May
26
2009

Politics is an uncompromising taskmaster that does not always reward virtue. In fact, it can often be a grim reaper that punishes principle.

The writer Joseph Campbell dissected what he called the “Hero’s Journey.” The heroes of history and mythology all endure scorn, ridicule and defeat but ultimately their adherence to a noble cause is vindicated and they receive justified acclaim.

But that’s only the case in myths and movies.

State Senator David Roberti was president pro-tem of the California State Senate for 13 years, from 1981 to 1993. Roberti was highly respected for his policy-oriented track record, probity and commitment to social justice.

A Democrat’s Democrat, Roberti was also a liberal’s liberal. While the Assembly was controlled by the flamboyant Willie Brown, the low-key Roberti held a tight grip on the State Senate.

I was Roberti’s personal campaign manager for many tough campaigns. Unlike other legislative leaders, Roberti was a fierce protector of his fellow Democratic senators but not always good at protecting his own self-interest. That meant many tough elections.

Once, he inexplicably managed to allow his own district to be eliminated in reapportionment – a mortal sin for a senate leader who had weapons in his arsenal to make or break careers.

Roberti was forced to run in a new, more conservative district where his liberal record was to the left of his constituents. In this battle, we found ourselves in a hard special election runoff fight against Carol Rowen, a well-funded moderate Republican woman.

I knew we had the election won when we discovered that she owned the famous Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Strip where John Belushi had died from an overdose and a succession of high-profile Hollywood scandals went down.

Roberti was a rare breed of leader who was widely respected for holding deep principles. Nevertheless, two of his strongest moral convictions led to his undoing:

Roberti was a staunch pro-life Democrat. He also wrote the first law that banned assault weapons in California.

Roberti’s pro-life position on abortion alienated pro-choice women even though he was a pioneering supporter of equal pay, workplace equity and just about every feminist issue on the legislative agenda.

Sacramento feminists were tolerant but the issue became a ticking time bomb when Roberti ran for state treasurer in 1994.

When Roberti authored the nation’s first assault weapons ban, gun control advocates were pleased but the NRA was predictably infuriated.

The powerful lobbying group mustered its resources to mount a recall campaign against Roberti in his newly conservative Los Angeles district. The recall campaign occurred at the precise moment Roberti was readying his campaign for treasurer in early 1994.

I ran both campaigns for Roberti.

The NRA mounted a vicious smear campaign. Death threats and attack brochures maligning Roberti’s character were surrogate bullets aimed at destroying his political career.

We were forced to spend $1.5 million beating back the NRA lies. We won the recall election decisively but it was a Pyrrhic victory.

The fight depleted Roberti’s funds for the treasurer’s race and he entered the campaign with nearly empty pockets.

Well-financed Democrat Phil Angelides mounted a multi-million-dollar fusillade of attacks blasting Roberti’s pro-life stand on abortion.

The ads targeted Democratic women and they worked. With no money to respond, Roberti lost. He is now retired in Los Angeles.

Unlike the fairy tales where heroes are rewarded for having the courage to follow their principles, Roberti paid for his principles with his career.

And where were the pro-life forces while Roberti fought for his political life?

They sat idly by as California’s most powerful Democratic pro-life advocate watched his 30-year career in public service come to a bitter end.

Comments (5)

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • Dear Clint and Friends,
    One of the chief features of our religion is that God doesn’t expect perfection always from His imperfect creatures. Rather, He expects faithfulness. Mr. Roberti is to be praised for his faithfulness and his witness to the good. We may have forgotten that ” virtue is its own reward” is not just a pious phrase but also a statement of an existential truth. If this world is simply a trial place, then as St. Paul observed, it is for us to fight the good fight and to be rewarded for our actions in another place and in another time.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | May 26th, 2009 at 9:44 am

  • More power to Mr. David Roberti who had the courage to stay true to his
    principles even at the expense of his election, as you suggested. Maybe
    your other “counselee” Jumping Jack-Marie Antoinette Pelosi could learn what
    real character is from Mr. Roberti.

    Sylvia D.

    Concord

    Posted by: Sylvia D. | May 28th, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  • It is a shame that a good man is now out of politics(David
    Roberti). Perhaps it is time to write a book like the one J.F.K wrote.
    I am sure there are many politicians in the 20th century that stuck to
    their moral values, only to have their careers come to an abrubt end.
    Perhaps God is calling Mr. Roberti to devote his energies to the
    Pro-Life movement. Roberti can get in touch with Pro-Life
    organizations in his area. On the internet, he can go on the “Priest
    for Life” website.Or he could go on the “Catholic” website.

    Posted by: Mike | May 28th, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  • Hopefully Mr. Roberti was able to survive this woeful fate. I imagine he did something productive before political office and has contributed significantly in the aftermath. Political office was not intended to be the warped lifelong variety we so readily observe today in our California politicians.

    Posted by: Tom Orgain | June 6th, 2009 at 8:41 am

  • Dear Clint & friends,
    This comment is in response to Clint’s article: “Busted”. One can easily see that even at a mere $3000/yr, the out of pocket cost of 4 to 5 million illegal aliens is already over $12,000,000,000/yr for the working taxpayers of California. This amount includes the educational cost of all the children in this mix, at probably 60% or so. California’s true educational expense is surely greater than this low-ball estimate. Thus, we are now faced with the cancellation of up to 1/3 of all community college courses and the potential firing of up to 2000 teachers in the Los Angeles unified district. The savaging of the social safety net is another matter altogether. It would seem that California is in the process of dismantling itself for no good reason other than supporting that poor portion of the Mexican population that Mexico seems to be unwilling to support itself. When this group of Mexican nationals is given American citizenship by the current administration, the transformation will be complete, and the Democratic Party will reign supreme for the forseeable future. The rub is, however, that the late-great state of California may not be worth having after all the productive previous population leaves. Perhaps, the current administration could force us all to remain in our current situations unless we get special permission from Washington to relocate. We could all become a kind of indentured worker who could move freely only after we personally pay an assigned portion of the state’s debt. “May you live in the most interesting of times”, may become all too real.

    Posted by: Dr. W. McInerny | June 27th, 2009 at 12:55 pm

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