After arriving in Sacramento in March of 2015, my first legislative hug was from Senator Bob Hertzberg. Senator Hertzberg is very sociable and warm to both sides of the aisle.
He has had a longstanding relationship with former Republican Assembly Leader Scott Baugh of Orange County. A couple of years ago Scott brought his son, Jackson, up to visit and spent some time with the good Senator. They referred to it as a “Baugh Mitzvah.”
I, too, enjoy my relationship with the good Democratic Senator from Los Angeles and the LA Daily News provides a glimpse of it in the profile piece below.
Bob Hertzberg embraces an active final term in California Legislature
Former Assembly speaker is a leader again, unbowed by political changes, his #MeToo controversy
By kmodesti | Daily News
After more than a decade out of public office, Bob Hertzberg strode back into Sacramento four years ago to find state politics had changed. The game was different, with new rules and a new online playing field. The players were new, too, and no longer called him Mr. Speaker.
Not all of them enjoyed what he viewed as a friendly hug, the way human beings used to.
The one-time California Assembly boss, one-time Los Angeles mayoral contender and all-time big thinker said recently of his first term in the state Senate: “It’s been much harder than I anticipated.”
If you think this discouraged Hertzberg, you don’t know Hertzberg.
The now-gray-haired Democrat recently sat in the backyard of the Van Nuys home he shares with his girlfriend, Cal State L.A. criminology professor Katharine Tellis, as well as female mutt named Quinn and mementos of five decades in politics. He talked about the Senate term just past, and the one that started Jan. 7. He was the same ticking package of personality and brainpower as he ever was.
He would lean forward to discuss such gripping topics as bail reform and the political effect of legislative rule changes that allow a budget to pass with a simple majority. He would recede into his soft chair when forced to address the run-in with the #MeToo movement that might have cost him a shot at the Senate presidency.
But he could sit in one place for only so long. He would bounce to his feet, leading an interviewer to his office-at-home to show off a book proposal he’d written and a token of his parallel life in the alternative energy business, a huge wall photo of the Cardiff, Wales, headquarters of a flexible low-light solar company he founded. Then, walking over to flip a wall switch to raise what looks like an innocent garage door, he reveals a well-appointed backyard bar, its walls painted with images of tequila bottles bearing the names of political luminaries who’ve visited.
Hertzberg’s district office on Van Nuys Boulevard shows a similar obsession with meaningful detail, from its welcoming open design to its San Fernando Valley historical photos and unofficial Valley Hall of Fame, to its staff play area done in bright kindergarten colors. One thing you don’t see is photos of Hertzberg with famous people, a traditional hallmark of politicians’ lairs. The “ego photos” are displayed out of public view, in the little room with the copy machine.
The play area might be necessary for a staff that’s used to receiving 2 a.m. phone calls from the boss, a round-the-clock idea machine undeterred by political setbacks.
“I like to legislate,” Hertzberg said. “I like to work on the big ideas.”
“You have to keep fighting on the things you care about, and not let (politics) dampen your enthusiasm,” said Barbara O’Connor, who observes the capitol as director emeritus of Sacramento State’s Institute for the Study of Politics and Media. “And (Hertzberg) hasn’t let it dampen his enthusiasm.”
Hertzberg could be known for any of a number of distinctions:
He was Assembly speaker in 2002-04. He ran for mayor of L.A. in 2005, softening up incumbent James Hahn before Antonio Villaraigosa swooped in and edged Hertzberg out of the runoff, which Villaraigosa won. He’s the guy who, while an undergraduate at the University of Redlands, wrote a 400-page book called “A Commonsense Approach to English.” (He still has a copy around somewhere.) He was ranked one of the top 10 lawyers in L.A. by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
But in 2018 he was mostly known as the politician who was ordered to stop hugging people so much.
In March, the Senate Rules Committee reprimanded Hertzberg after three female lawmakers and a male sergeant at arms said his frequent hugs made them uncomfortable. Investigators concluded the hugs weren’t intended to be sexual. Still, the episode came to be lumped in with the sexual-harassment scandals that led to the resignations of Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh and state Sen. Tony Mendoza, and sanctions against Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. So much for Hertzberg succeeding Kevin de Leon as Senate president pro tem.
Hertzberg accepted the reprimand and welcomed the election of Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, with whom he gets along, as Senate president. But he’s clearly bruised by the controversy, arguing that his hugs were always “about warmth, about humanity.”
He still exchanges hugs with people, if they are people who’ve known him for a long time and welcome Hertzberg’s personal touch.
In December, Atkins completed Hertzberg’s speedy rehabilitation by appointing him as Senate majority leader.
If he survived the flap relatively unscathed, it might be because his hugs had long been a kind of personal trademark, and because he’s almost universally well-liked in the Legislature, said Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne.
Hertzberg started in politics in 1973 as a driver for then-state Sen. (and later Lt. Gov. and Rep.) Mervyn Dymally. First elected to the Assembly in 1996, he has been in and out of state office longer than any current capitol colleague except Tom Umberg, D-Garden Grove. He has honed the craft of legislating.
“When he was speaker, he would get people into a room on different sides of a bill at 1 a.m. to come to a solution,” said Stuart Waldman, a former Hertzberg chief of staff who now is president of the San Fernando Valley Industry & Commerce Association.
“Many times you had both sides walking out unhappy. But something got done.”
The top legislative accomplishment of Hertzberg’s first term in the Senate was passage of a bill that ends cash bail in California, allowing judges — not a defendant’s ability to pay — determine when a defendant can be released from custody before trial. The bill, SB10, received broad Democratic support and one Republican’s vote.
“Obviously his position was persuasive enough to sway me,” said the one, Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa. “I thought his argument that (the cash-bail system) penalized the poor was an accurate one.”
Persuasion, Moorlach said, is a “passion” for Hertzberg.
“If he doesn’t see his bill passing, he kicks it up a notch,” Moorlach said. “He’ll pull you aside, he’ll talk to you, he’ll put the pressure on. He’s professional about it.”
‘Speeding it up’
Hertzberg saw his appointment as majority leader as confirmation that, four years after returning to Sacramento, he had become “part of the partnership, helping to lead the Senate.” It also was confirmation that he’ll get along better with Atkins than with her senate president predecessor, de Leon. This portends a potential big finish for Hertzberg’s lawmaking career.
Asked about his legislative priorities, he launches into a list that includes efforts to promote tax reform, economic opportunity zones, earthquake retrofitting, utilities’ wildfire liability issues, storm water capture, and simplification of government forms. And polishing the bail-reform law, depending on what data show about how judges handle the new rules.
His fourth-floor district office affords a scenic view of the bail-bonds stores in the Van Nuys civic center.
“They’re all going to be Starbucks soon,” Hertzberg said, envisioning that his legislation will put bail bondsmen out of business.
Hertzberg is 64, divorced since 2005 from Cynthia Ann Telles, a clinical psychologist. One son, David, 28, is an acclaimed opera composer, and the other, Daniel, 27, is in hotel sales.
In five elections for Assembly and Senate, Hertzberg has never received less than 59 percent of the vote, and he topped himself on Nov. 6 by getting 78.1 percent against Republican Rudy Melendez — the highest percentage for any candidate in a contested California Senate race in 2018.
That’s not the kind of showing that would have a politician thinking retirement, which is why Hertzberg-watchers don’t imagine him loosening his embrace of elected office.
“I wonder if Hertzberg doesn’t have the governorship on his mind, or maybe trying again for mayor of Los Angeles,” said Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at Cal State Northridge, which is in Hertzberg’s 18th Senate District. “I have a feeling this (the Legislature) isn’t where he’ll end his career.”
Former staffer Waldman, referring to 2022, when Hertzberg will be termed out of his current job, put it this way: “The sky is the limit. It wouldn’t shock me if he wound up running for statewide office or county supervisor or even mayor again.”
Of the possibility of campaigning to succeed L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose own term is up in 2022, Hertzberg said: “I don’t want to say ‘no,’ but I highly doubt it.”
He has always said he runs because he thinks he can use the power to tackle big issues.
That means this is no time to think about what’s next, whether it’s political retirement or a run for higher office.
“Just because I’m in my last term doesn’t mean I’m going to be slowing it up,” he said. “I’m going to be speeding it up.”
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District. If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.