Really, what the hell happened? Sam Blakeslee used to be our Git ‘r Done state assemblyman, later state senator. Mr. Fix It, Mr. Let’s Work Together Across the Aisles Kinda Guy. Very popular, well liked, going places.
But then it happened. That pang of hunger, that first grip of wanting, that lust, that hankering, the hands twitching and reaching out for . . . fame, for power, vanity stoked, the whispers in the ears from the state’s makers & breakers, the Big GOP Party Boys, the soft susurrus with the head bent near, the soft white manicured hands on the shoulder, the whiff of expensive cologne; “You can go places, Sam. Big places. Play ball with us and you’re a made man. National office, Sam. National office.”
It was the devil and Sam’s soul was the prize and Sam listened and drank the Kool-Aid and signed on with Grover Norquist and his Blood Oath and was lost forever.
Then something happened. The district was redistricted and Sam was facing a tough election race that he may well have lost because more and more people were realizing that the Republican Party had gone batshit crazy and was heading off a cliff, a party of crazy old white guys with no future being led around by the nose by some Ayn Rand fanboy still living in his grandmother’s basement muttering about John Galt.
So did Sam see the handwriting on the wall and put on the fake mantle of elder statesman and announce he wouldn’t be running and, as the August 10th L.A. Times story put it, was “putting personal ambition aside” to announce “he would leave politics to run a nonprofit bankrolled by a big donor?” A nonprofit called the California Reform Institute that was supposed to “promote common-sense solutions to big policy problems vexing Sacramento.” A nonprofit 501(c) 4 “think tank” bought and paid for by Charles Munger Jr, one of Sam’s Republican gazillionaire donors, a guy who “has been working to push the party in a more moderate direction.”
In other words, exactly the kind of front organization a guy like Sam, with his previous Git ‘r Done reputation tarnished by Norquist, would need if he wanted to rehab and reposition himself quietly until it was time for the payoff – national office.
Bankrolled with $750,000 of Mr. Munger’s money, Sam announced he would take no salary, thereby doing a 180’ from the usual politico’s practice of rolling their political office into lucrative “private” consulting jobs or fake-front PACs before revolving back again into political office. But he did take his chief of staff, Christine Roberts, with him, plus another staffer. (Said the Times, “Christine stepped down for now. But a letter from Munger’s attorney to the institute’s officials’ attorney said it is ‘anticipated’ that she will become the compensated executive director when Blakeslee’s term ends,” which is just the usual this-looks-bad-so-let’s-fluff-a bit-until-the-press-turns-away” shuffle.)
And there it sat, until a “Stragetic Plan” memo escaped, a memo that outlined the strategy so typical in these rehabbing/repositioning fake-front 501s: Use the institute’s stated goals of promoting common-sense solutions to California’s problems, as a “vehicle” to “create messenger credibility” in order to make Blakeslee’s future gubernatorial run possible. And the plan included getting Sam to submit lots of bills in Sacramento, even hopeless, futile bills in order to get the Democrats’ goat, and get the media’s attention as a “maverick” swimming against the tide, and do that before he left office and became a nobody again.
The plan was pretty standard stuff for these shadow organizations but somebody leaked it and the proverbial shit it the fan.
Sam, of course, and his money-guy boss, declared the plan to have been some “blue sky” thinking that was in the original plans but have since been removed from the bylaws. Wink nudge. Wink nudge. And Sam stoutly reiterated that he was done with politics and had no intention of seeking higher office. His boss also noted that, “I did not discuss with Sen. Blakeslee the possibility of this being a vehicle that would propel him to state-wide office. Whatever other ideas were developed in Blakeslee’s shop, that’s not what I signed on for and it’s not what the institute is set up for.” Wink nudge.
Well, yes. Such denouncements are vital since using 501s as political vehicles is an IRS no-no. The same problem besets the 501s’ sisters, the various SuperPACS who wink-nudge their way into bankrolling political ads that, of course, are in no way related to or controlled by the candidate they are supporting, nossir, nossir.
And there it sits. The IRS will look into Mr. Munger’s 501 and will announce that there’s nobody there but us mice and everyone will happily go forward to Reform California with “big ideas,” and everyone will be shocked! Shocked! in a few years to see Sam again. Scrubbed fresh, not a drop of Norquist’s blood oaths on his new suit, hands full of great new ideas, ready for a draft that would allow him to overcome his “I will not run” pledge. After all, California is in dire straits, so if a public servant with great ideas that will save the state refused to serve? Well that would be churlish.
Unless, of course, Sam’s fall from his ass on the road to Damascus was real. That his temptation into the alluring world of fame and political ambition temporarily blinded him. Until he woke up on the ground, tasted Grover Norquist’s hot blood on his lips and realized with abject horror that his soul was in mortal peril and if he continued down that road he would be doomed. And so he fled.
Leaving the rest of us to ask, What the hell really happened to Sam?
Personally, I wish Mr. Munger’s wink-nudge organization luck. God knows we need some sort of think tank that will figure out ways to cure all these batshit crazy Republicans before the party completely implodes. And God knows California’s got enough problems to be solved that we need more such think-tanks filled with smart, Git 'r Done people putting their heads together.
And for the sake of Sam’s soul, I hope the second scenario I suggested above is the real one. If it is, then I wish him well. Much good in the world can be done without drinking poison.