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Hart a Reminder : New Caution Enters Lives of Legislators

June 01, 1987|JERRY GILLAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The way many state legislators see it, the Gary Hart episode is a jolting reminder of a modern-day political fact of life: Don't do anything you wouldn't want the public to read about in the newspaper, see on television or hear on the radio.

"There is a growing awareness by politicians at all levels--and certainly here--that a new era of journalism has been coming," said newly elected Senate Republican leader Ken Maddy of Fresno. "When I first came up here in 1970, it was (known but) unwritten that we had our drunks--and the womanizing fell into that same category. Now, all of us recognize anything is fair game for the press."

Long before Hart bitterly dropped out of the presidential race amid questions about his character and judgment after renewed reports of womanizing--triggered by a story that he had spent much of a weekend at his Washington town house with a beautiful Miami actress while his wife was in Denver--most state legislators already appeared to be more cautious than their predecessors had.

Shifts in Life Styles

Some of the change has come about because of shifts in legislative operations, laws and life styles.

Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of legislators lived alone in downtown hotel rooms or apartments, minus their wives and children, who remained back home in the district. The Legislature met no more than half the year in those days, and it was a party time atmosphere. Every evening tended to be a night on the town--more specifically, a night on the lobbyists. Lawmakers enjoyed unlimited free drinks and dinners--often just by signing a lobbyist's name to the tab--and there were ample opportunities to play around with women.

Now, the Legislature is in session most of the year and the atmosphere, though far from the mood of a corporate board room, seems more businesslike. Many legislators live in suburban condominiums.

Many spend less time drinking in downtown bars, preferring instead to go to the movies, attend professional sporting events, work out at health clubs or play golf and tennis. And more bring their families here with them on a full-time or part-time basis.

Major behavioral changes began occurring after 1974, the year California voters approved Proposition 9, a political reform initiative. Among other things, Proposition 9 limited a lobbyist to a $10 per month entertainment allowance for each lawmaker.

There has also been a significant demographic change in the Legislature: 25 years ago, it was still virtually an all-male club, with only one woman seated among its 120 members. Today, there are 17 women in the Legislature--13 in the Assembly and four in the Senate. The stag atmosphere has faded.

In a series of interviews about the after-hours life of legislators, The Times talked to several dozen current and former lawmakers, aides, lobbyists and proprietors of favorite Capitol-area watering holes. The consensus was that although extramarital affairs clearly continue to exist and there are rumors about alleged drug use--even while drunkenness has declined noticeably--most legislators are much more circumspect than they used to be.

'It's Still Here'

One former assemblyman, who did not want to be identified, said he doubts that there has been much change in the amount of extramarital sex at the Capitol since it first was occupied by the Legislature in 1869. However, he said, "it's not out in the open as much as it was in the old days before Proposition 9 when there were parties galore all of the time. But it's still there."

Other legislators had different views about how much extramarital sex is going on at the Capitol. Some said it has increased because women these days feel liberated and tend to be more sexually aggressive. Others theorized it has diminished because men fear being hit with sexual harassment charges.

"It used to be pure hero worship. You were a celebrity as a legislator, and there was no fear of (being accused of) sexual harassment in those days," a former lawmaker said. "It was not at all uncommon for a legislator to have something going with a female member of his staff--and maybe other women in the Capitol, too."

The recent defeat of Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk) by Democract Cecil Green in a Los Angeles County special election to fill a vacant Senate seat has been attributed in part to a campaign charge that Grisham sexually harassed and then fired a Capitol secretary because she rebuffed his sexual advances. Grisham denied the charge, but it dogged him throughout the campaign.

Senate GOP Leader Maddy was asked about the temptations and opportunities of a legislator regarding extramarital sex, and said: "The fact that you are in politics means you come in contact with a great deal of new and different people. In some cases, they include women who involve themselves in politics as activists. And, as a politician, you travel around a lot.

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