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Cathie Wright

Outgoing State Senator Looks Back on 22 Years in California Politics

December 17, 2000|BOB RECTOR | Bob Rector is opinion editor for the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County editions of The Times

The media reports say Cathie Wright is retiring. But there is nothing retiring about Cathie Wright.

Never has been. Never will be.

The state senator from Simi Valley is concluding a 22-year political career that has included stints on the Simi Valley City Council and the state Assembly. It has been a 10-round prizefight all the way.

Feisty, quick-tempered, a self-described "coal cracker from Pennsylvania," Wright, a 70-year-old Republican, has fought with the best and the brightest on both sides of the aisle.

She has taken on the leadership of both parties. Her featured opponents have ranged from former Gov. Pete Wilson to state Sen. Jack O'Connell (D-San Luis Obispo) to former state Sen. and LAPD Chief Ed Davis. (When asked once if he would endorse Wright, Davis replied, "Maybe, if she was running against a mass murderer. But it would depend on how many people he killed.")

Her admirers see her as passionate about issues, making sure things are done right. She has been accessible and visible in the 19th Senate District, which straddles Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

She is a self-described conservative who nonetheless often has found herself siding with Democrats such as former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown of San Francisco and then-Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl. In 1997, she voted for a Democrat-backed welfare reform bill that was opposed by Wilson.

It was a trait that got her bounced from the powerful vice chair position of the state Senate Budget Committee last year by her own party leadership ("This is how Republican men treat Republican women," she huffed at the time).

But she leaves politics with no apologies. "I don't plead and beg. I don't cry and whine. I just do," she said about her style.

The Times recently talked to Wright about her career.


Question: Your legislative career is ending because of term limits. Do you think term limits should be revised or terminated?

Answer: When it was first being discussed, I had no problem with the idea of term limits. But I thought there should have been much discussion and a consensus as to what was the right time frame. Term limits were devised out of vindictiveness on the part of [former Los Angeles County Supervisor] Peter Schabarum. He didn't get what he wanted out of the Legislature and so decided he would get even with them.

Q: Do you see anything being done about it in Sacramento?

A: It's not going to happen until the people of the state of California see what it has done. It's adding to the costs of campaigning because you have so many open races all the time.

Q: Have you enjoyed being a state legislator?

A: It was the most fulfilling job I have ever had in my whole life, and believe me, I've had a lot of jobs. It was fulfilling because no two days were the same. If I bitched about anything, it wasn't bitching about the job, it was bitching about some of the people I had to deal with. You really have to keep in mind when you get into office that you're dealing with people's lives. You don't see their faces, but that doesn't mean that you're not making some, in most cases, positive effect on people's lives.

Q: And the downside?

A: Too many of these fellows get into political power: How do we get the other guy to do something wrong so we can use it against him in the next campaign? And we sit and we have meetings trying to decide what issue we can build up to a great crescendo so that everybody wants to come out and vote for us.

Q: Looking back on your career in Sacramento, what are your proudest accomplishments?

A: First of all, there was the Systems of Care mental health program. In 1984, Ventura County was the site for a state-funded pilot program that demonstrated the benefits of a community-based interagency case management approach to the delivery of services to emotionally disturbed children.

It didn't create a new program. It took programs that were available for children and put them all in contact with each other, a collaboration of all the agencies that deal with the youngster. This year was the first that I got Systems of Care for the children completely funded for the entire state. Now we have been able to expand it to adults.

Then, there was welfare reform. [Gov. Pete] Wilson wanted to be tough because we have all these lazy people. Well, if you really looked at the population on welfare, most of it is single mothers. What they were going to do was tell women that 60 days after a child was born, they had to go to work. And with no child-care provision.

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