The ever-combative Baxter Ward retired from political life with Tuesday's one-sided election loss--but not before engaging in one final dispute that had him jabbing away at a television commentator while Ward supporters chanted "cheap shot, cheap shot" at the journalist's remarks.
Ward, who lost his bid to win back a Los Angeles County supervisorial seat, chided KCBS-TV reporter Bill Stout for relating a story claiming that Ward had celebrated his 1972 victory over incumbent Warren Dorn with callous remarks about Dorn's dead father.
"I don't mind losing an election in one night, but not my reputation," said an angry Ward on camera early Wednesday.
It was in the waning hours of the Channel 2 election coverage when Stout, a veteran newsman, likened the political resurrection of the 69-year-old Ward to taking "the lid off Forest Lawn. All these people were suddenly popping up and running for office."
Stout expressed little sympathy for Ward and his imminent defeat, recalling a conversation he had with Dorn, who lost to Ward in a bitter campaign. According to Stout, Ward consoled Dorn shortly after that election by referring pointedly to Dorn's father, who had worked as a forest ranger.
"Well, Warren, you shouldn't feel so bad about this," Ward was quoted as telling Dorn. "After all, your old man is still feeding on the public trough, isn't he?"
Pointing out that Dorn's father had died several months earlier, Stout used the story to buttress Dorn's portrayal of Ward as "an evil, terrible man" with little feeling.
'Hope You're Still Listening'
"So when the balloons are popped back there (at Ward headquarters)," Stout said, "I hope one of them is where Baxter Ward is sitting and it sends him jumping right through the ceiling. Baxter, I hope you're still listening."
Ward was indeed watching the show on a television monitor in his Encino headquarters. And several minutes later, he was on the air denouncing Stout's account.
Ward told KCBS-TV reporter Patty Ecker he had met Dorn only once after the election and never mentioned any family member.
"I thought his parents lived in Green Valley and I thought his father was retired. I never have discussed his father, I've never mentioned his father to Mr. Dorn or to anyone else," said Ward, who ended his rebuttal with crowds of supporters crying "cheap shot, cheap shot" at the television camera.
Dorn, reached in Hawaii where he is on business, backed Stout's account of their conversation, although he said the Ward incident actually took place during the opening of a sheriff's facility months after the election.
"I'm sure he didn't know my father had died in the interim," Dorn said, "but he said some very cruel things about my family."
Ward said the flap marked a disappointing end to what already was a dismal night for him. Hoping for a political comeback, Ward garnered only 36% of Tuesday's vote to lose to Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the same man who defeated him in 1980.
Now, those election night pictures of Ward--with his trademark tie tucked into his pants and his sparring personality--may be his last. Ward said he is through with politics and will turn his attention to his novel about Proposition 13--a murder-mystery that he began writing after his last election defeat.
"I have eight chapters to go," he said, "and now it looks as if I'll have time to finish it."