In Dianne Harman’s Sacramento, seasoned legislators take the newbies out to dinner to explain to them:
“Some of our constituents might be shocked at what goes on up here. We all know we can do whatever we want, and no one will know the difference. There are more good-looking available women in this town than you can imagine. And almost all of them want to get in bed with an assemblyman.
“What our constituents and spouses don’t know won’t hurt them. You’ve come to the land of free money and free sex. The lobbyists have to give us money because they need our votes. You can get anything you want here, and the beautiful thing is, no one’s going to tell you no. You don’t have a boss and you get paid eight thousand a month in salary, come rain or shine. And don’t forget the state’s also paying you a thousand bucks a week to cover your living expenses while you’re in Sacramento. That’s called a ‘per-diem’ and it’s tax-free.
“What a racket, and best of all, you don’t have a wife up here. If you want to sleep in after a night of drinking, who’s going to tell you that you can’t? If you miss a committee meeting, oh well. I mean, man, is it sweet up here. If my wife wasn’t rich, I’d just stay up here seven days a week, and get my brains screwed out every night.”
Within the first couple pages, in Dianne’s Sacramento, the sexy lobbyist is fucking the athletic movie-star Governor. Perpetually drunken lawmakers bum rides home off sergeants-at-arms, but only when they have the good judgment to do so.
All names are changed, in this pageturner, “to protect the not-so-innocent.” The Republican delegation cowers in fear of both The Flush Report (LOL), a website that enforces “conservative” orthodoxy, and two unnamed LA radio “shock jocks” who whip up anti-immigrant frenzy and put politicians’ heads on sticks. This is fiction?
But the bulk of the book IS a work of fiction based on the ascent into the Assembly of Mexican-bashing zealot Teddy Randall, and his inexorable plunge into a true quadrifecta of grisly comeuppance, the mildest of which is his wife’s ditching him for a suave Latino activist.
Wait – who is this Dianne Harman anyway? Oh – did I forget to tell you? Well, you may remember her husband, one of our county’s blander Republican lawmakers…
Remember Tom Harman?
Well, at least I do. He was my Huntington Beach Councilman from 1995 to 2000, well-liked as a genial and moderate Republican instrumental in saving the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. In 2000 he made it into the state Assembly, and seemed to become a little more conservative, sometimes disappointing his old environmentalist friends. Then in 2006 when state Senator John Campbell slithered into Chris Cox’ congressional seat, Tom managed to slip into Campbell’s old Senate seat, where he stayed until being termed out last year. After a largely limp run for Attorney General, he retired from politics and is now once again the nice Tommy Harman his Huntington neighbors liked, mostly spending his time golfing and fishing.
In ’06 when he left Assembly for the Senate, he had what he and his close friends thought was a really cool idea – he would run his wife Dianne for his old Assembly seat! Because after all, the people of HB love them some Harman, don’t they? No, actually, voters HATE that shit, as they did when Dick Ackerman tried to foist the Ackerwoman on Fullerton, and just as Anaheimers would have resented Lorri Galloway‘s short-lived idea to move her taciturn hubby into HER council seat.
As Dianne describes it now, she was “road kill” in that election, coming in third after Jim Silva and some troglodyte. I remember local conservatives making fun of her, calling her a closet liberal, with their main evidence being her ownership of two *YOGA SHOPS.* Actually, she tells me, she unburdened herself of these properties later on when Tom ran for re-election, since yoga IS perceived as un-American and anti-Christian by a wide swath of knuckledraggers. (My paraphrase)
I had my share of fights with my state Senator over the years. In 2007, when I was a single-payer healthcare activist, Harman penned a diatribe against Michael Moore’s Sicko in the Huntington Beach Independent; that paper allowed me to write a lengthy rebuttal, leading to a back-and-forth which I still think was pretty good, and saved on my website. (I wasn’t a blogger yet.)
The following year, as it became clearer and clearer that, the higher office Harman achieved, the more reactionary his politics, I began a series for the Orange Coast Voice entitled “The Descent of Tom Harman.” The first installment detailed the new Senator’s immediate abandonment of his environmentalist values, and how that allowed people like Matt Cunningham to crow about how even a politician with “strong green credentials” like Harman was backing environmentally destructive projects like the 214 Highway.
The second installment ripped him for his sudden (and thankfully brief) embrace of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy (though not quite Teddy Randall, LOL.) I found his newfound enthusiasm comparable to that great scene in the first Naked Gun where a confused Frank Drebin, disguised as a baseball umpire, reacts to the crowd’s applause at his first call by suddenly becoming a super-umpire:
It was fun comparing Senator Harman to Frank Drebin, since for one thing he does look a bit like Leslie Nielsen. Still, it felt, as blogging often does, like so much pissing in the wind. But NOW Dianne informs me that Tom DID read everything I wrote to him and about him, and took it to heart, and sometimes changed his policies … and that she often agreed with me.
Well! THAT kind of flattery will get you a not-so-bad book review, complete with the gentlest of criticism. To wit:
About that DIALOGUE
This is all I’ll complain about: I may be spoiled from DeLillo, Mamet, and Tarantino, but the dialogue of Dianne’s sympathetic characters – the prosaic, expository paragraphs in which they address each other – neither dances nor sounds like the way people really talk. But still they’re better off than Dianne’s villains.
For example, even if there really ARE mafioso loan sharks holding court in some big Italian restaurant in Santa Ana, preying on desperate novice politicos, I kinda doubt they say things like
“Teddy, weze got a, what do you say, a proposition for ya… We know youze need the money…. Looks like all the parts of your body are healthy and working. If you wanna keep ’em that way, youze be sure to pay on time.”
And the eponymous anti-hero, our nativist firebrand Teddy, uses the practically-quaint words “Beaner,” “Spick,” “Greaser,” and “Taco Snapper” in nearly every sentence. Now, I really haven’t heard anyone talk like that outside of bars or before midnight. I KNOW Tim Donnelly and Allan Mansoor – the most likely models for this character – and THEY don’t speak that way. In fact, these anti-immigrant politicos don’t even call themselves anti-immigrant but anti-ILLEGAL immigrant, and some of them have (submissive) latina wives.
I went to a particularly anti-immigrant Tea Party, and nobody THERE spoke that way. I snuck into Joe Arpaio‘s fundraiser for Bill Hunt, where the brutal and corrupt Arizona sheriff held forth, drunk, in front of 70 likeminded nativists, and HE didn’t talk that way. I even hung out for a long afternoon drinking cheap wine with Barbara Coe’s California Coalition for Immigration Reform – as low as you can go! – and nobody THERE even spoke that way.
But maybe I’m wrong – it’s Dianne Harman who spent twelve years up in Sacramento with the Republicans, not me. And I AM fully prepared to believe her that a Southern Baptist minister heading up the powerful “Family Values Forever” organization would drawl:
“That little fucker. We ought to hang his balls on the wall.” [p. 229]
You Need to Get This Book!
First, because it’s a blast. Second, so you can help me identify the real identities of all the thinly-disguised Sacramento characters. I’m told by an old Harman aide that the book’s chock-full with true stories that were watered down and bowdlerized by the time they got to the press.
The corpulent, priapic and tragically boastful Mike Duvall is easy to recognize – he even uses the phrase “eyepatch underwear,” on which he should own the trademark.
It’s also easy to identify “Shawn Biggins,” the “overweight phony glad-hander” at the helm of the OC GOP, who “always seems to be smiling like he was your best friend.” [p. 102]
But who is the hapless drunken legislator, speeding through town and trying to escape the pursuing cops by driving into the capitol basement, breaking the security gate arm? [p. 147]
And who is the past Republican assembly leader who, hungover, had to run to the capitol basement to throw up? [p. 219]
There’s much more. Although I have to ask, where are the Democrats? Dianne had assured me she hit both parties, but all I see here is Republicans. This book is a Republican-on-Republican bloodbath – catnip for the rest of us!
Which must be why Dianne waited until her husband was well out of politics to publish this book. And it’s also why a couple days ago, when Greg Diamond included Tom Harman on his list of politicians who might try to take over John Campbell’s Congressional seat, I shook my head. Even if he DID feel like leaving his golfing, fishing, and comfy Huntington Harbour home for Irvine and DC, this book would be like fifty nails in the coffin of any such plan.
Get it here. Dianne’s not giving out any more free copies.