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Bob Hertzberg

Assembly Speaker Takes Stock as the Party Gathers in His Backyard

August 13, 2000|BOB RECTOR | Bob Rector is opinion page editor of the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County editions of the Los Angeles Times

Bob Hertzberg's idling speed is usually about 65 mph. Speaker of the state Assembly and one of the most powerful politicians in the state, the Sherman Oaks Democrat is an endless ball of energy as he directs his party's fortunes both in Sacramento and elsewhere.

Now, with the Democratic National Convention in his backyard, Hertzberg may approach the speed of light. He may need to. He is co-chairing round-table discussions and hosting luncheons, dinners, parties and assorted other gatherings throughout Southern California during convention week. He's also a delegate--and a convention speaker.

The Times talked with Hertzberg about the convention and his role in it.

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Question: Many people think that American political conventions have become a meaningless exercise. Platforms are decided in advance. Candidates are selected in advance. Do we really need them anymore?

Answer: You need to have conventions because it's a place where democracy works. You need to have people from New York and Vermont and Texas and Florida and California all come together. It's the only time, really, where we all get to see each other and meet and really understand the fabric of this country. It's an opportunity for us to work together and build relationships that last a lifetime.

Q: And to project an image?

A: That is, to some extent, why conventions are of value. It's an opportunity for the party leaders to send a message to all corners of the country that tells the voters what we're about, what our values are, what we stand for.

Q: What kind of values do you stand for that the Republicans do not?

A: I think that the thing that distinguishes us from Republicans is a real fundamental sense of leveling the playing field, of ensuring that we never forget the importance of opportunity. And that manifests itself in education, ensuring that there are scholarships and continuing education. It's making sure everybody has a chance at the American dream. The Democratic Party is about equal opportunity for everybody. In addition, there's a real sense of trying to grasp the future and to really try to understand it and make sure that we're prepared for it.

Q: What about demonstrators? Will their voice be heard inside the arena?

A: Absolutely. Issues of nuclear disarmament, issues of environment, all are central, core aspects of our party. I think you're going to see that there will be a lot of people who are delegates who will also be in those protests. It's part of getting your message across and getting the attention of the public on issues that people feel are important. That's what protesting's all about.

Q: What is your role going to be post-election?

A: My principal job is to ensure that our membership gets reelected or elected in every corner of the state of California. So I'll spend the next months traveling the state as soon as this legislative session is over, going district to district, meeting with candidates and helping them in their campaigns, both financially and politically. I just came back from Washington D.C., where I was working at the federal level on campaigns. We are strategically coordinating our efforts at the federal level and at the state Assembly level and at the state Senate level and with the presidential operations, so we're going to try to put together an operation that's as seamless as possible.

Q: One of the hottest congressional races in the country is right here in the San Fernando Valley area, between state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) and Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) Will you be involved in that?

A: No, not directly but indirectly because we have two very important Assembly races that are wholly within the congressional district in which Mr. Schiff and Mr. Rogan are running against each other, so there's an opportunity there for us to work together in a way that benefits both the congressional races and the Assembly races. That also applies to each and every other targeted area in which there's a very strong likelihood that Democrats would pick up congressional seats in California.

Q: Are you optimistic about retaining a Democratic majority in Sacramento?

A: I'm very comfortable, as much as one can be in politics, that we will maintain our majority. The question is what will the number be? We currently hold 46 seats in the Assembly, but we have one vacancy because one member went to the Senate. We have another seat that we lost in Oakland, and I think there's a good chance of getting that back. And so I suspect it will be pretty close to where we are now or maybe a little bit better.

Q: What if Vice President Al Gore doesn't do well?

A: There's always a coattail effect in a presidential election. It will have an impact. But we are very comfortable about Gore's doing well in California. His message resonates with Californians. And I'm comfortable that he'll do well in California, but we're preparing for all contingencies.

Q: Do you know Gore?

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