Wikipedia says of Mervyn M. Dymally:
Mervyn Malcolm Dymally (May 12, 1926 – October 7, 2012) was a California Democratic politician. He served in the California State Assembly (1963–1966) and the California State Senate (1967–1975), as the 41st Lieutenant Governor of California (1975–1979), and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1981–1993). Dymally returned to politics a decade later to serve in the California State Assembly (2002–2008).
Dymally, of mixed Indian and Afro-Trinidadian heritage, was the first Trinidadian to serve California as State Senator and Lieutenant Governor. He was one of the first persons of African and Indian origin to serve in the U.S. Congress. In 1974 he and George L. Brown became the first two blacks elected to statewide office since Oscar Dunn did so during Reconstruction.
Merv Dymally to be sure, did some great things in his career and when I use the term great it is neither hyperbole, exaggeration, or an attempt to be polite to the deceased. His career was a mixed bag and you will not see in print or anywhere else in his obituaries some of the issues I’m going to raise here. I have a unique perspective about Merv because I ran against him in 1978 for Lieutenant Governor on the California Peace & Freedom Party ticket and I also assisted my old friend Carl E. Robinson, former President of the Compton Community College Board of Trustees to litigate against a power grab orchestrated by Dymally which set the precedent for what the Michigan Republican Party would later be accused of doing to predominantly African American cities throughout that state.
1974: A Historic Election and a Historic Debate
One thing you’ve got to give to Merv: he was one of the savviest politicians who ever worked in the State of California. Merv and Alan Cranston both knew one important fact about the mechanics of debates. Most politicians, especially incumbents, shun the thought of being on a stage with third party candidates included. Merv and Alan (whose Deputy Campaign manager was a Peace & Freedom Party member in his re-election campaign against Republican Paul Gann; not to mention that Cranston started his political career in Henry Wallace’s Independent Progressive Party) understood that if you have a Peace & Freedom Party candidate in the race during a debate, the PFP nominee would invariably make the Democratic candidate look like a moderate surrounded by the Republican extremist on the right and the PFP on the left.
In 1974, this played out perfectly for Merv when, during the PBS debate, he was flanked by appointed Republican Lieutenant Governor and former State Senator John Harmer (appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to replace Edwin Reinecke who’d been tainted by the Watergate scandal) and PFP Candidate (later my Gubernatorial running mate in 1978, the first open Lesbian to run for statewide office in California) Marilyn Seals. Harmer, a Morman, had been doing a tremendous job of attacking Merv’s record in the legislature, going over bill after bill that Merv had introduced and spinning them as bad legislation. Then, Harmer went even further, characterizing Dymally as having a “socialistic voting record.”
Marilyn countered in her closing statement that the problem with Dymally was that he did not have a socialistic voting record and went on to support Feminist-Socialism over liberalism. To understand what then transpired, you have to understand that Lieutenant Governor Harmer was a right wing fanatic. An October 23, 1972 Time Magazine article discussed Harmer authored California Proposition 18 on the November 1972 ballot, which was so extreme that Republicans Clint Eastwood and even John Wayne campaigned against it:
As drafted by State Senator John Harmer, a Mormon and a Republican, Proposition 18 leaves no doubt as to what is considered obscene: any display in public of adult genitals, buttocks or female nipples; any explicit show of “sexual excitement,” “sexual conduct” or “sadomasochistic abuse.” Obscene words may not be used if they are descriptive, only if they are exclamations of shock or anger. Thus the dialogue of Andy Warhol movies would be forbidden, but George C. Scott could get away with his expletives in Patton.
Printed matter without pictures is left alone, but even that is vulnerable to attack. As sweeping as the initiative is, it also allows local communities to add to the law if they want to. Private citizens, if they are so inclined, are permitted to make citizen’s arrests of pornographers and confiscate materials, though they face the risk of a civil suit if they go too far. An aide to Senator Harmer explains: “As a practical matter, we think the initiative covers everything. But we want to protect people five or ten years down the line. We don’t know what the creative pornographers might think up.”
Harmer’s Proposition 18, which to this day the LDS church laments its defeat, was so far out off the deep-end that it would have made it a misdemeanor for a male to walk around in public, even fully clothed, with “a visibly turgid phallus“ in his pants! Many of the world’s major works of art would be illegal to display anywhere but the middle of the Mojave desert because you were not allowed to display nudity within a certain radius of a church, or school or park where children might be present.
So, what does Harmer do after Marilyn Seals supports socialism and feminism and denounces Dymally for not being a socialist? He goes bonkers. He blows his entire closing statement attacking Marilyn and the Peace & Freedom Party instead of Dymally. He explains that “When I was a missionary for my church in England, I saw the people oppressed under the socialist yoke…” If you thought that Michelle Bachmann’s rhetoric was extreme these days, you ain’t seen nothin’ if you never heard John Harmer talk.
Merv Dymally was happier’n a pig in shit. He just continued sounding sane and very moderate compared to Marilyn and Harmer. You could see in his face at the end of the PBS debate just how happy he was. Dymally won the race:
Mervyn M. Dymally (D) John L. Harmer (R) Marilyn Seals (PFP)
|2,986,537 (49.19%)||2,812,636 (46.32%)||154,332 (2.54%)|
Now for background on what happened in 1978, when I was the PFP nominee for Lieutenant Governor as running mate to Marilyn Seals running for Governor against incumbent Jerry Brown and Republican Attorney General Evelle Younger, Merv moved so far to the right it was frankly, downright despicable, and the election proved him wrong to do so. See the details at: http://janbtucker.com/blog/2012/02/15/obama-puts-unitary-tax-in-spotlight/
Announcing his candidacy for re-election at a press conference in January 1978, Dymally came out with the statement that he agreed “with what the most conservative Republican newspapers stand for…” and specified his support for (1) the proposed SOHIO oil terminal project for San Pedro Harbor, which would have placed then-British government owned (through BP, British Petroleum) SOHIO (Standard Oil of Ohio) in charge of about half the Alaskan oil reserves, the proposed largest super-tanker port on the West Coast, and an extensive oil pipeline network); (2) repeal of California’s Unitary Tax (check the above link on Obama’s current championing of re-instating Unitary tax rules); and (3) repeal of the federal water subsidy limitation of 180 acres (for up to three family members) for farms, so that corporate agribusiness could continue to receive subsidized cheap water instead of only small family farmers (the law had been violated with impunity for decades until a recent court decision which finally enforced exclusion of agribusiness from receiving subsidized water). Dymally and Republican nominee Mike Curb wound up with identical positions on all three issues.
Aside from these issues, Curb was able to exploit a raid on Dymally’s attorney’s office by the State Attorney General, an action that led California to enact a law requiring court appointment of a neutral special master to supervise execution of search warrants on offices of lawyers, clergy, and physicians.
The only candidate you could vote for who didn’t agree with them on all major issues in the campaign was me.
During the campaign I forced former Mayor Sam Yorty’s show to give me an “equal time” appearance to respond to the appearance of Dymally and Curb. His then producer, Wally George was furious that I forced them into it under the old FCC regulations and Mayor Sam tried to red-bait me, but I so deftly laid out the major issues and why they were simply bad policy on the part of Dymally and Curb that I got a real shock later over the kind of support I attracted. One of the grand old founders of PFP, Carol Weston (ex-wife of famous black & white photographer Edward Henry Weston) approached me at the next PFP County Central Committee meeting in Los Angeles. She asked me if I had appeared on the Sam Yorty show. When I told her that I had, she informed me that her neighbor, a member of the John Birch society, with whom she’d been arguing about politics for the past 20 years had seen my performance and come to the conclusion that “this fine young gentleman” who she’d seen on the Sam Yorty Show had been “so intelligent and so patriotic” that she was going to join Carol that year in “voting the straight Peace and Freedom Party ticket.” Go figure…. The election results:
Mike Curb (R) Merv Dymally (D) Jan Tucker (PFP)
|3,493,980 (51.64%)||2,928,329 (43.28%)||162,341 (2.40%)|
Fast Forward: When Merv Made McClintock Seem Moderate
Since the Republican 2010 election sweep that enabled Michigan Republicans to ram through an “Emergency Financial Manager” law through the legislature, Democrats have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off because the law has enabled dictatorial control over Michigan cities, especially African American majority cities. Too bad the Democrats didn’t have the gumption to oppose the same kind of law when Merv Dymally authored it to destroy the authority of Compton – Carson voters to control their own community college district. The only nay vote in the California legislature at the time was then Assembly member Tom McClintock, arguably at the time the most right wing member of the legislature, in some ways, the John Harmer of his time. The Michigan law illustrates what happens when election officials are rendered impotent by dictators in the name of freedom:
An outsider’s first visit to Pontiac, Mich., feels a bit like Alice’s first glance at Wonderland. Everything seems upside down. City Council meetings last for hours, but there is nothing on the agenda. The city has a mayor, but he doesn’t have any authority. There are workers inside City Hall, but they aren’t employed by the city. And the man at the head of the table is an exceedingly charming 74-year-old who might be destroying his hometown, or who might be the only person willing to save it.
Thanks to a law championed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and passed by the Michigan Legislature early last year, that man, Lou Schimmel, has almost unilateral authority to run the government in this city of 60,000 that state leaders have deemed to be in the midst of a fiscal emergency. That law, known as Public Act 4 (PA4), is the same one that state leaders held over Detroit officials as they threatened a state takeover (the two sides eventually agreed to a more limited type of oversight).
In Pontiac, Schimmel oversees the city’s day-to-day operations. He hires and fires employees. He forces major changes to labor contracts. He sets the budget. He creates ordinances. He sells city property. His critics call the policy that put him in power the “dictator law.” [http://www.governing.com/topics/mgmt/gov-emergency-financial-managers-michigan-municipalities-unwelcome-savior.html]
Merv Dymally authored AB 61 in 2004 of which the question was asked:
Is AB 61 a Preview of Coming Attractions?
On July 14, 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 61 by Assembly Member Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton). The bill authorizes the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges to appoint a special trustee to administer and oversee the Compton Community College District’s operations. Specifically the bill states, �The Legislature finds and declares that the information collected by appropriate officials of the California Community Colleges clearly indicates that the Compton Community College District has failed to maintain fiscal integrity and warrants a conclusion that the district is unable to manage its own recovery.�
The bill remains in effect only until January 1, 2008, and as of that date is repealed, unless a later enacted statute is passed before January 1, 2008, that deletes or extends the date. The bill is an urgency act that takes effect immediately.
State intervention of this magnitude for K-12 school districts has been accompanied by a state loan, which is not yet the case for the Compton Community College District. Could this preemptive action by the state be a preview for what K-12 school districts can expect if they do not keep their fiscal houses in order? [The Fiscal Report, Volume 24 For Publication Date: July 16, 2004 No. 14, http://www.sscal.com/fiscal/2004Jul/0716prev.htm]
It sure did portend things to come, in Michigan…..
Now here’s the background. The Wikipedia article on Compton College explains that:
In May 2004, the State Chancellor’s Office issued an Executive Order 2004-01, and installed Arthur Tyler, Jr. as Special Trustee to assist the Compton Community College District toward achieving fiscal stability and integrity. Subsequently, in August, the State Chancellor issued another Executive Order (2004-02) authorizing the continuing authority of the Special Trustee to manage the College, and to suspend, for up to one year, the powers of the governing board of the College, or of any members of that board, and to exercise any powers or responsibilities or to take any official action with respect to the management of the College.
The Chancellor referred to was Marshall Drummond who served two terms as Chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). In the interim between the two terms he was the California Community Colleges Chancellor who issued the above mentioned Executive Orders that were enabled by Mervyn Dymally’s AB 61. Drummond, now the Provost of the United Arab Emirates Higher Colleges of Technology, was brought back for his second term in office with LACCD following a secret meeting of that district’s board which had gone into executive session after Norma Ramirez of the United For Education (UFE) Coalition and I, accompanied by district students, had put the General Counsel Camille Goulet on the spot over her office’s failure to respond (for months) to my California Public Records Act (CPRA) request concerning the policies, procedures, rules, regulations and guidelines governing the process of selection of the new Chancellor. I flat out told the board that it was unfair of them to go ahead with the scheduled Chancellor selection that day without having complied with my CPRA request. Norma had also pointed out that technically, they hadn’t complied with the Brown Act meeting notice requirements either (we had to find out about the meeting through the proverbial grapevine through a leak from a whistle blowing clerical worker in the district).
Prior to the selection of Drummond, the grapevine had predicted that the fix was in to bring in a new Chancellor from Chicago, who’d been sought out and vetted by a Ventura County based head-hunting firm that also just happened to be the employer of a member of the Board of Trustees who would have to vote on the appointment, Sylvia Scott-Hayes.
Drummond would go on according to my sources, to create and foster the pay to play culture in the LACCD that was later exposed by the mainstream press of permeating certain contracting practices for bond money construction. As pointed out by the “Van De Kamp’s Coalition:”
In 2009, District administrators such as former Chancellor Marshall
Drummond and recently fired Facilities Director Larry Eisenberg began moves to divert the
$72 million Northeast LA campus at the former Van de Kamps Bakery into the hands of a
charter high school overseen in part by Richard Riordan and Eli Broad, and unemployment
programs funded through the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. These actions,
unauthorized in law, are depriving the young adults of Northeast LA of community college
educational opportunities promised to voters by the Board – especially trustees Mona
Field, Sylvia Scott Hayes, and Kelly Candaele who reside in Northeast LA. [http://www.vandekamps.org/uploads/5-23-11LACCD_Board_Must_Terminate_Its_General_Counsel.pdf]
Why do I bring up this little episode? Because in his first term as Chancellor, Drummond had gotten his good buddy Merv hired as a lobbyist/consultant to garner federal funding for the LACCD. Merv had retired from his term as a member of the House of Representatives in 1993 and promptly began utilizing his connections and political savvy to effectively get plenty of dollars for LACCD projects and programs.
At the same time as he held this position with LACCD, he wangled his way into a deal with the Compton Community College District wherein he was paid $5,000 per month along with an office, a cell phone (not as in vogue as they are now in, back then), and a vehicle, to do the exact same job, getting federal funds for the Compton District. Some might see this as a slight conflict of interest, especially in light of the fact that Merv never got a dime for Compton, since he was effectively in the position of having both districts competing against each other for federal funding.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
My friend Carl E. Robinson had a rocky career. He was frequently controversial. Rumors abound to this day about his supposedly being dishonest. The L.A. County District Attorney’s office knowingly framed him (not just my opinion, it was the opinion of the jury that acquitted him after less than an hour of deliberations) for supposedly accepting a bribe. The District Attorney’s informer got him on tape supposedly accepting the bribe…but the tape itself so effectively demonstrated that Carl was innocent that the District Attorney refused to play it in court and the defense had to introduce and play it for the jury. While the D.A.’s office vilified Carl with the trial, he lost his seat on the Compton Board of Trustees by 3 votes to a prick named Carter who’d publicly accused him of being guilty of the charges. We later sued Carter for slander and he settled the case, paying Carl and effectively admitting Carl had been innocent all along. I knew Carl to be so honest that when he’d been in a traffic accident, he described a chiropractor he’d gone to as a “crook” for jacking up his fees (and he refused to go along with it) even though it would have meant that he’d personally receive more money from the eventual insurance settlement.
During the criminal case against Carl in the bribery frame up, the District Attorney’s office offered him a walk, complete dismissal of the charges, if he’d testify against Merv Dymally. Carl told them he didn’t know anything crooked about Merv Dymally. Carl told me that the District Attorney’s office didn’t care whether he knew anything or not that was real and told him that they didn’t really care whether he made stuff up about Dymally. Carl didn’t mince words: he told them to go fuck themselves and went straight to Dymally to warn him that the District Attorney’s office was going to try to frame him just like they’d framed Carl.
Did Dymally reward Carl for his good deed? No, he adhered to the Ferengi 285th Law of Acquisition that “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” When Carl found out that Dymally was double dipping with holding down the same job with the same assignment in both the LACCD and the Compton District, performing for LACCD but not performing for Compton, he spearheaded the effort to can Dymally on the Compton Board. Dymally never forgave Carl for being honest and for safeguarding the people of Compton and Carson that he represented on the board.
In 2002, my friend Alex Gallardo Rooker seemed to be the heir apparent for the Compton area Assembly District that was being left vacant as the demographics had shifted to a Latino advantage. However there was a huge BUT in that equation. Alex had been a longtime delegate to the County Federation of Labor representative for Local 9400 of the Communications Workers of America, the local into which my Newspaper Guild Local (69) would later be absorbed. In a debate that ensued about political issues dealing with Native American casinos, Local 9400 found itself on the opposite side of the HERE union (Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees, now part of the merged UNITE-HERE which includes needle trades workers). Alex defended her local as was her job, forcefully and forthrightly. It was a vociferous debate and she majorly pissed off powerful people on the other side of the equation. In hindsight, my guess is that Local 9400 was in the wrong, as they were later majorly in the wrong in a dispute with the Graphic Communications Union-Teamsters over local money spent to buy a print shop and go into competition with their own members, but that is a story for another day.
In any event, when the Compton Assembly District became vacant, those Latino labor leaders whom she had pissed off within the labor movement and the Los Angeles County Fed, came out of the woodwork with a deal to keep that district in African American hands, and the only way they could orchestrate that with the Legislative Black Caucus was to bring back Merv Dymally from retirement to re-take the district he’d represented back in the 60s. Dymally, with his greater name recognition and the support of those Latino labor leaders, won hands down.
So what was the pay-back to Carl Robinson that came out of all these machinations? Drummond accused the Compton District of being in the red financially to the tune of millions of dollars. Dymally orchestrated AB 61’s passage with the sole dissenting vote of Tom McClintock. Drummond issued his executive orders which later emasculated the Compton District’s elected board, just the way that the Republican Party would later emasculate the elected officials of Michigan municipalities….and then in spite of an audit which later showed that the Compton District was a million dollars in the black and not in the red, the District was run into the ground by its Drummond appointed Czars, it lost its accreditation, and was eventually forcibly absorbed into the El Camino District (Drummond tried to orchestrate a takeover of Compton by the LACCD, but was faced with a revolt by College Presidents who were aghast at the prospect of their own budgets being cut to bail out Compton to get its accreditation back). Drummond and Dymally not only adhered to the Ferengi Laws of Acquisition in taking over the District, they did so in adherence to the Borg’s dicta of “you shall be assimilated” and proved that “resistance is futile.” I helped Carl fight back with a lawsuit against the constitutionality of AB 61, but the stress he was put through caused him to suffer a stroke which left him unable to speak. At a introductory meeting with UFE in San Fernando downstairs from the Pueblo y Salud headquarters, Drummond would despicably claim that Carl would have been indicted if he hadn’t suffered a stroke (my CPRA request to the California Community Colleges would later uncover not a shred of evidence against Carl to justify Drummond’s claims).
What Goes Around Comes Around
Drummond at least got his comeuppance. During his tenure as Chancellor in his second term with LACCD, he continued a practice we’d heard about of lessening the burden of his multiple alimony awards from his multiple ex-wives. It seemed that conveniently his ex-wives kept getting hired where he was working. In at least one case in LACCD that one of my informants indicated was common knowledge at the campus, one of Drummond’s ex’s got hired without meeting the minimal requirements for the job (like she didn’t have at least two years of classroom instruction experience, not exactly a minor or technical detail), with the General Counsel’s office conveniently looking the other way and behind the backs of the Trustees. I’m also told that two of his mistresses effectively slept their way to the top with him, and now have gone on to serve in top positions in colleges and districts. Then of course are the other accusations of nepotism, like the son of a certain LACCD college president getting hired for a job that he was utterly incompetent to perform……well, I could go on ad nauseum with these stories.
My sources tell me that these rumors had started percolating up to the Board to the point where even the General Counsel could not ignore them. Eventually, when Drummond simply stopped coming in to work, some little birdies tell me that the General Counsel herself showed up at Drummond’s apartment and found that another rumor about him was also apparently true: he was an alcoholic and was found in flagrante dilecto, not sexually but reportedly drunk out of his mind. As quietly as possible, they let him go instead of just firing him as would have been his just reward if these rumors were true. I have been led to understand that in fact, instead of firing him for cause, they gave him a severance package, paying out the remainder of his contract to the tune of $1.2 million of taxpayer funds, in part so that he’d keep quiet about how the District’s representatives purportedly obtained the key to his apartment from management to enter and find him drunk without a shred of legality [if true, it’s called trespassing and invasion of privacy]. Are they true or were people just shoveling me a ration of shit? I don’t know, but one has to wonder why Drummond had to wind up in the United Arab Emirates to find a new job…..
Okay, so much for the Bad and the Ugly
Merv Dymally trail-blazed for African American politicians. He was a pioneer member of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the first African American State Senator in California, the first African American Lieutenant Governor in America as well as sporting a high achieving record of legislation passed. Just one example I’ll always remember, a tidbit of feminist history in California, was on the use of “Ms” by women. As a student activist at CSU Northridge I began registering voters in my women’s studies class, Woman as a Rhetorical Force in the Speech Communication Department, as “Ms” which was not a legal option on the voter registration form. In those days, men did not have to disclose their marital status to register to vote but women were required to designate Miss or Mrs. In 1972, now-current LACCD Trustee Nancy Pearlman sued for the right of women to register as “Ms” and was turned down by none other than racist-sexist Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert A. Wenke (who was later overturned 9-0 by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 14th Amendment case, Lubin vs Panish on another issue).
Merv Dymally came to the rescue when nobody else in the legislature dared. He introduced and passed legislation that now enables millions of women in California to designate themselves as “Ms” if they so choose.
During his career, he mentored generations of new African American politicians, including my friend Isadore Hall III who inherited Dymally’s Assembly seat when Dymally himself was defeated by Rod Wright in his attempt to move up once again to the State Senate. As Isadore Hall tweeted upon Dymally’s demise, “Prayers to family and friends of Hon. Mervyn Dymally. My revered mentor. 52AD thanks you for your lifetime service.”
Merv may have been a mixed bag, but having a dedicated, honest, and effective legislator like Isadore Hall in office is a blessing, and if we have Dymally to thank for that and so many others that he mentored and inspired, so be it.