SACRAMENTO — Sometime this week, an official-looking letter from the state of California will find its way into the overflowing mail bins of the White House.
With any luck, the fact that it bears the Seal of the Golden State may impress an unsuspecting mail sorter to the point he will let the envelope go through unchecked to the desk of the President. And sometime during the day, the curious chief executive will pick up the letter to see what's on the mind of a certain state assemblyman from Newport Beach, named Ferguson.
It won't be a valentine, that's for sure.
"During your campaign for the presidency, you gave the American people the most precise and unequivocal promise ever made by a presidential candidate; 'Read my lips, no new taxes,' " the letter starts. "Your abrogation of that promise will cost our Republican Party and our candidates across America.
"We will lose elections this November because of it. It has also given glee and renewed vigor to our liberal opposition and to a media that has counted the days, hoping and waiting for you to break your promise . . . ," it says. "I wish there was something encouraging I could say at this point but there isn't anything."
Zing! The commander in chief will become the latest target of one of the Legislature's most notorious poison pens, wielded by Gil Ferguson.
Long known for his unblushing verbal frankness (during a recent gay rights demonstration, Ferguson called a number of protesters "faggots"), the former conservative newspaper publisher is also a prolific letter writer whose acerbic attacks and linguistic parries could easily earn him the reputation as the H.L. Mencken of the Legislature.
On state letterhead and at taxpayer expense, the six-year Republican assemblyman has put down the high and mighty. Besides Bush, he has unloaded on the chief justice of the United States, the Los Angeles police chief, Republican Party leaders, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate and the chairwoman of the Orange County Human Relations Commission.
It's an old habit, this poison pen business, Ferguson admits.
Even when he was fighting for the pride of Old Glory during a 26-year Marine career, which spanned World War II to Vietnam, he couldn't keep himself from dashing off a few pointed missives to those whom he considered to be his more weak-kneed superiors along the way.
One of his favorite targets: Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense between 1961 and 1968, during the escalation of the Vietnam War.
"My career was saved several times by sergeant-majors who would come back to me and say, 'Captain, I mislaid that letter you wrote to the commandant,' " Ferguson recalled, chuckling. "I'd say, 'Thank God. Throw it away.' "
Now that he's older and wiser and a public officeholder, however, the dapper, avuncular Ferguson hasn't mellowed much. In an era when most politicians couch everything they say in equivocating phrases, the 67-year-old Ferguson is not afraid to put his conservative venom where his typewriter is.
The most recent letter to Bush is actually mild compared to the one he sent to the President last year in response to the firing of Harold Ezell, the western regional commissioner of immigration. The controversial Ezell, who raised hackles with his hard-core approach to stemming the tide of illegal immigrants, was relieved of his duties via fax machine.
"Such graceless indignity by your Administration reflects a lack of courage, integrity, loyalty and, last but certainly not least, it shows a lack of class," Ferguson railed in a letter dated July 11.
"Unfortunately, the dismissal of this good man, in response to his detractors (who also detest our party), and the manner in which it was done, will give additional evidence to the pre-election charge that yours would be a 'wimp' administration," it concludes.
Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates received a Ferguson scorcher dated April 6, 1989, for publicly justifying the way his officers used special holds to arrest members of Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion group that forms human barricades outside abortion clinics.
"Several times in my experiences in war, I noted that those men who were most reluctant to face an armed enemy, were always in the forefront of those who wanted to rough up the women and children when we entered a city or village," Ferguson wrote Gates. "But never, in my long experience in the military, even in Vietnam, did I ever hear a senior officer \o7 begin to tell \f7 his men to abuse women and children.
"I really wish you would run for some political office so that the people would have the opportunity to repudiate you at the ballot box," he wrote.
Ferguson used a variation of the wartime carnage analogy to take out after unsuccessful Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ed Zschau. In a letter dated December, 1987, Ferguson criticized Zschau's decision to endorse a Republican who wished to challenge an incumbent congressman from the same party.