Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The post-election family letter

Coming to terms with the 1980 election

Shortly after his defeat for re-election in the 1980 general election, Albert Rodda took some time to write a letter that he distributed to his family members and his closest friends. More than two decades in the state senate had taken their toll on Albert and the silver lining in the 1980 election was the unsought opportunity to step back from the thick of things. As Phil Isenberg commented at the Senator's memorial ceremony in April 2010, Albert even suspected that his health was the better for his defeat. The additional time he had to spend with his wife Clarice was a sweetener in the face of disappointment.

The Senator kept the family letter in his files and occasionally sent it out in response to queries from political supporters. My copy comes from a packet of his writings that he shared with the members of the Friday lunch group. It includes the following preamble, a personal letter to Marge Burgess of Davis:
December 1981

Dear Marge:

Enclosed is an analysis of the election. Note the involvement of the Mormons and the radical right.

Incidentally, the indictment of Al Robbins occurred on Friday, the week-end of the election. The Gun Owners' campaign money was contributed after October 20, the last day for filing campaign contributions before the election. Senator Bill Richardson had told the County District Attorney that the Republicans had a “gimmick” against Rodda. The D.A. was elected because of the financial support of one of the Kelley brothers—a conservative who is an owner of Channel #3—traditional enemies of mine. Incidentally, many of our campaign signs were torn down, one had.a centerfold from Play Boy posted on it. Gross misrepresentations were made with respect to my voting record and my legislative activities. Telephone polls were used to confuse the voters about Robbins and to imply that I had the support of the Hayden Fonda group.

I am mailing this because I know of your interest in politics and your involvement in the local Democratic Party with Clary and me over the years. It was lovely to chat with you at the Wood's party. It is always a delight to meet our friends at the Wood's home. Clary sends her best wishes.

Albert S. Rodda
Executive Secretary

“Clary,” of course, is a reference to Albert's wife Clarice. At the time of his letter to Ms. Burgess, the Senator was serving as executive secretary of the Commission on State Finance. The lunch group packet did not include the newspaper clippings, but it did include the four-page “family letter.”


As you know, I have been defeated for re-election. Philosophically, I have accepted the defeat and I am looking forward to other activities. Clarice is also quite philosophical about the outcome. We will work to achieve a good life in retirement.

The reason that I am writing is to indicate to you the factors responsible for the defeat. As an incumbent, I have been a traditional liberal who reflected in his thinking the philosophy of Adlai Stevenson and progressive Republicans, such as Tom Kuchel. Today, the trend is away from that political perspective and the word liberal has become, in effect, unacceptable to many people. I knew that and I could have enhanced my chance for re-election if I had somewhat modified my image by denying my liberal convictions. But I would have presented myself improperly to the public. I decided not to do that. I preferred to accept the risks which were involved in continued adherence to my basic philosophy, responsible, not radical, liberalism.

I knew that I was in trouble when John Doolittle won the nomination in the Primary because it was well known that he was sponsored by Senator H.L. “Bill” Richardson, a very reactionary State Senator who collects substantial amounts of money from gun owners for the purpose of financing political campaigns against liberal Democrats. Richardson also has ties with the Moral Majority and has their support in his political activities. He is very negative with respect to government. In fact, Richardson, a former John Bircher, voted “no” on practically all substantive issues recently under consideration—the “bail-out” of local government, the State Budget, legislation to achieve tax relief-reform and environmental protection and to provide special education for handicapped children. It is clear that my opponent reflects in his thinking the basic political. philosophy of Senator Richardson, although the public is not aware of that fact because Mr. Doolittle did not indicate to the voters during the campaign what his philosophy was, nor did he discuss the significant issues that are known to confront the state.

John Doolittle is a Mormon and had the backing of the Mormons in the Sacramento community; in fact, they did much of his campaign work for him.

The fact that Mr. Doolittle received money from the gun owners' organizations enabled him to hire professional people to plan and direct his campaign. The campaign strategy the experts designed was to establish the fact, through a campaign brochure, that he was a decent, respectable, young conservative whose back ground was religious and moral. Once that was done, the strategy was to attack me during the last days of the campaign, when there was little time for me to respond. Radio and television time was used, to that end, as were campaign mailers. The mailers, incidentally, were very scientifically designed and sent out to a computer-selected list of voters. The material misrepresented my position on two basic issues—crime and education. The voters were told that I was soft on crime and responsible, therefore, for the increase in crime which occurred in the last 20 years in Sacramento County. They also were told that I advocated permissiveness in the schools and that I was responsible, therefore, for the decline in the educational achievement of students in California. In both instances, the statements made were unfair and inaccurate. With reference to the soft on crime issues, my opponent cited a number of votes and actions by me to sustain his argument; unfortunately, he omitted important information and clearly misstated some of the facts. We responded to the charges through a newspaper ad, which is enclosed, and it was printed in the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union on Sunday, November 2nd; unfortunately, as I feared, not too many people read the ad; had they done so, they would have realized that my record was being grossly misrepresented. I also tried in the ad to answer another charge, which was that I had authorized teachers to strike. The collective bargaining law, which I authored, was well understood to deny the right of concerted action, or the strike, to employees of the public schools and in that respect was the same as the previous law, the Winton-Russell Act.

The campaign not only misrepresented my record and created a false image of my role in the Legislature, but, as I stated above, it failed to state the position of my opponent on significant issues. Mr. Doolittle would have had to admit, had he done so, that since he supported Proposition #9, which would have deprived the state of $3 billion of revenue this year, that he favored drastic reductions in the quality of state service and in the ability of the state to finance local government, including schools. This issue and others, which are very significant and which I have been trying to address, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he totally ignored. What I am saying is that no meaningful attention was given in the campaign to the basic issues confronting California. The opposition campaign was drafted very cleverly to place me in a very negative context and to capitalize on the conservative political trend, the people's fears and feelings of insecurity, their almost hostile feeling toward government and their dissatisfaction with the public schools.

Nevertheless, I think that I could have won the election had it not been for two circumstances that affected the election. One was the release by the media of data which indicated that, even before the President conceded his defeat, Carter could not win re-election. As you and I know, many people, after that information was made public, failed to vote and many of them were Democrats. But the second critical factor was the action of the District Attorney of Sacramento County in announcing just a few days before the election that State Senator Alan Robbins had been indicted by the Grand Jury for sexual relations with women who were under the age of 18. A great deal of publicity was given the indictment by the media and it appears that many constituents confused me with Senator Al Robbins. We have reason to think that this confusion happened throughout the district. Reverend Korfhage, a retired Methodist Minister, for example, communicated with several neighbors to indicate his support of me and two immediately commented that “Senator Rodda has been indicted.” Several other friends indicated the same experience—that voters were unable to distinguish between Robbins and Rodda. Incidentally, we have been told that my opponent's poll of voters in the district supported this fact—that there was confusion. That confusion among the voters alone could have significantly influenced the election.

I am enclosing the mailer that we sent to the voters to indicate my philosophy and position on issues. It was positive. As stated above, I am sending also a copy of the newspaper ad which we used in response to the charges that were made with respect to my failure to support meaningful laws to curb criminal activity. I am sending this material to you because I want you to know the facts about my record.

I have tried to be an objective and conscientious Senator. I have not taken honoraria when I made speeches and there were many speeches for which I could have received compensation. I have not maintained a district office and I had the opportunity to do so in two areas of Sacramento. That would have added to the cost of my office. I. did not use a district newsletter and I saved the state, therefore, about $30,000 annually for about 12 years. Unfortunately, as a consequence, I did not establish a strong name identification. Furthermore, I was so much involved in the burdensome responsibilities of my position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that I was not able to become as actively involved in minor local community affairs as I otherwise could have been. I had to make the choice—being responsible, being diligent and performing my burdensome tasks, or being political and making my re-election a first priority. I chose the former. Furthermore, I would not change my style of campaigning and shift from a constructive effort to inform the voters of my philosophy and my actions with respect to the state and this community to one in which I would engage in the campaign style and tactics used by my opponent. I am disappointed that the voters did not perceive the difference between us and that they refused to acknowledge the constructive contribution that I made over the years to the state, to education, and to this community. One has to accept such a response to one's work, however, when one is a “public servant.”

It is not easy to serve as an elected official. One is constantly under pressure and one is deprived almost of the opportunity of being a free person. Now that I am retiring because of my defeat, Clarice and I hope that we will be able to relax and enjoy the years left to us and to have a closer association with our friends and our relatives. So my defeat hopefully will prove to be a blessing. We are grateful that there are many favorable
aspects to this decision on the part of the voters. I do not want members of the family to feel ashamed or to feel bitter about my retirement from public life because of the fact that it was not voluntary. I appreciate very much the support all of you have given me over the years. It has been a great asset to Clarice and to me and we are very proud of you and the contribution that you have made to this community as members of our family.

I am enclosing copies of newspaper articles that may be of interest. One is an editorial and the other is a Los Angeles Times article. Incidentally, newspapers from allover the state wrote favorable comments about my incumbency. We should be grateful that I served so long and received such friendly and positive commendations.

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