The Return of the Moderates

Former Marin Assemblyman Bill Bagley is a gregarious and genial man. Those who drive highway 101 just beyond the Golden Gate Bridge might recognize the freeway, named for this Republican, that begins just before the Waldo Tunnel on the Marin side of the structure.

Yes, a Republican once represented the now liberal enclave that is Marin County.

But Bagley’s greatest contribution to our state and to our politics may not be fully realized for a generation. To understand why, you have to know the man, what makes him tick and why the issue is so important to him.

Two of Bagley’s closest friends are Jack Knox, a former Democratic Majority Leader in the state Assembly, and former Democratic Senator John Foran, the former chairman of Transportation in the state Senate. These gentlemen used to be among the most powerful leaders in California.

They would argue by day and party at night. Knox could claim the best office bar in the State Capitol and Foran knows virtually every transportation system in every major city in the world. Not surprisingly, these men also have freeways named after them in the Bay Area.

Even after leaving government service, along with another Republican pal, former minority leader Paul Priolo, Knox and Foran met every Friday for lunch at North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. The group grew among political insiders, and Sacramento Seminar—an educational 501c4—was formed. Priolo chaired the organization until recently.

Each week the group still meets for off-the-record conversations with newsmakers, media types and others. Currently chaired by radical moderate Dick Spotswood, the group now includes 100 members who range from Ron Smith, Republican Ed Zschau’s former consultant, to Democratic Senator Alan Cranston’s liberal former aide, yours truly.

Every week we argue the merits and substance of current political issues. We question current politicians from both sides of the aisle. But, most importantly, at the end of the day we part friends. We are friends who are able to agree to disagree, understanding that although we hold widely diverse political views, we do not hate each other.

This is the world that Bill Bagley flourished in as a legislator and a time that he chronicles in his book, California’s Golden Years: When Government Worked and Why.

Yes, Bagley disagreed with his Democrat colleagues. But he governed. He made compromises, he moved the ball and he recognized his adversaries as people who loved their state and their country.

Bagley started as a Republican who believed in the institutions of government. Obstruction was unthinkable—vote and win on the merits or lose on the merits. The ultimate goal of government is to govern.

Long disenchanted with a party he no longer recognized as his own, frustrated that moderate Democrat and Republican voices were forced out of government by extremists, and steadfast in his belief that bipartisanship, compromise and governance are essential and not a betrayal of fidelity to principle; Bagley decided to act.

He led the reform created an open primary system. He believed an open primary would lead to more moderate elected officials over time. He is right. The primary system only allowed partisans on both sides to be successful.

Former Congressman Pete Stark was the first casualty of the new system, and he will not be the last. Democrats and Republicans in formerly “safe” districts will compete against their own party. The swing voters who decide the election will be from the other party. No longer can a politician afford to engage in the mindless vitriol of denouncing the opposition party, because come November their votes will be needed to win an election.

The result is more moderate elected officials from both parties. For partisans it is a nightmare.

For leaders like Bill Bagley, it is the solution to bring back bipartisan solutions. Now, if he can just get rid of Proposition 9. Why? You should read his book.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. What Rich Robinson seems to be blind to is just how far to the left the entire political scale has shifted.
    The people who he now calls extremist, obstructionist right wingers would have been considered moderates just a few short years ago.
    Hey kids. Take Mr. Robinson’s class. He grades on a curve.

  2. He led the reform created an open primary system. He believed an open primary would lead to more moderate elected officials over time.

    That’s probably true.  It’ll likely lead to the demise of political parties too.  Once a party gets a super majority, it isn’t a given that party will always be able to vote as a super majority.

  3. Were I a member of the news media I would resent your neglecting my profession’s role in the widening of the partisan gap. After all, absent the media’s wholesale dismissal of its code of ethics—its commitment to the accurate, objective, and impartial reporting of events—participants in our two-party system could tread on common ground almost without peril.

    The opposing corners of virtually every political issue of consequence have been designated by the news media—not by way of responsible reporting, but through subjective story selection, information suppression, calculated distortion, and the political blackmail of elected officials. It has been the work of the media to create and infect the public discourse with a strain of “us or them” partisanship unwarranted by the issue themselves or the stake held in them by the general public.

    It has been the media, acting in its self-appointed role as the bullhorn of its favored fringe lunatics, that have made it commonplace for those good people holding rational, moral, and traditional views on marriage, foreign policy, abortion, citizenship, limited government, and a host of other issues to be branded as haters, anti-Semites, misogynists, racists, heartless, etc. The common ground, where once the public interest was served by measured and intelligent discussion, has been mined by the scoundrels in the media—political operatives posing as objective journalists.

    Locally, the Mercury’s Barbara Marshman, a woman whose position affords her considerable impact in the shaping of minds, was outed for using her position—and the implicit threat of unfavorable press, exactly as would be expected of a corrupt and power-hungry political boss. Hers is an example of what happens nationwide, on every political front and affecting every political issue, as the mutts and mongrels employed as so-called public watchdogs wag the tail of government.

    • Hey, Rich!

      What are you doing on the loose?

      I thought you were supposed to be in purgatory!

      At least, I would think that would be the minimum consequence for someone who put $40K worth of his personal blood, sweat, toil and tears into getting George Shirakawa elected to public office.

      I think it is generally expected that miscreants who offend the public good should show some remorse.

      So far, I am not aware that there have been any public displays of Rich Robinson remorse, only lame pretensions to victimhood for being stiffed out of forty grand by the nutritionally advantaged Shirakawa.

      You’re a pro, Rich.  I’m sure you’ve advised politicians how to do remorse.  It’s time for a clinic.

      How about some real, wallowing, gut-wrenching, blubbering remorse.  Something like a television preacher would be proud of. 

      THAT kind of remorse.

      • Ghandi says a sincere apology followed by a promise never to commit the act again is the highest form of contrition.

        Of course that assumes an act is committed that requires such contrition.  There have been many times in my life I have issued an apology to the appropriate person or persons and promised not to commit the offense again.  I like to learn from my mistakes.

        That said, my help in getting George elected requires no such apology.  At the time, given the facts I knew, I would have done the very same thing.  In politics we can only act on the information we know at the time we make a decision.  Clairvoyance has never been a trait with which I am associated.

        Finally, it is not that I don’t have any remorse for anything, I am sorry of you and I;m sorry for George.

        • > . . . . my help in getting George elected requires no such apology.  At the time, given the facts I knew, I would have done the very same thing.


          This is not a good start on remorse.

          I don’t think this is going to go down well with the jury.

          I predict the maximum sentence.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *