The following interview appears in the December edition of Los Angeles Lawyer magazine:
What makes you happiest each day?
I love doing the Sudoku and the crossword puzzle in the morning. I love every minute of my work, even when it’s hard. Then I love dinner with a friend and theater, opera, Dudamel, or the movies.
You are the supervisor representing Los Angeles County’s Third District. What are your three major job duties?
I have a hundred major job duties. Essentially, it is to hire the most amazing staff in each area, listen to them, ask them to develop everything we do, and then say either yes or no.
You assumed office on December 1, 2014. What was the biggest surprise?
The sheer amount of work.
You ran against Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family. Tough race?
Everyone but me thought so. I knew I would win. He had no experience in any of the areas that the county supervisors have to oversee.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
People think it is a local government, so they think it’s like being on city council. We are running health care, foster kids, jails, juvenile justice, libraries, parks….
What is the characteristic most important in a leader?
The Third District spans 431 square miles from Santa Monica to Sylmar and up to Westlake Village. Too big for just one person?
It is not about how many people you represent, but how well you represent them.
Your district alone has a population of more than two million people. Do you think five supervisors are enough?
I do. It’s silly to add one or two supervisors because it actually doesn’t lower the number that much. We have gotten so much done; you only need three votes and you have a progressive majority. And, Kathryn [Barger], though she is a Republican, is often with us because she cares so much about people. We can propose, dispose, and spend without a lot of waiting.
As the first woman in California history to be named Speaker Pro Tempore of the Assembly and the first openly gay person to be elected to the state legislature, are there any more firsts we should expect?
I was also the first gay person to serve on the board of supervisors. If I am reelected, both times, I can stay in office until 2026. I don’t know what other firsts there may be.
You termed out of the California Assembly and Senate. Any big difference between the two bodies?
The senate was much more experienced in those days. It was more deliberative and less reactive, more able to focus on very large issues.
As a legislator, you authored 171 bills that were signed into law. Is there one that is closest to your heart?
I can’t pick one. You get to do a lot of stuff, and it affects 40 million people.
You were at UCLA and also working in television. How did you manage to do both?
I had to get permission from all of my professors to miss more classes than usual.
Is it true that an unsold pilot for a Dobie Gillis spinoff called Zelda was dropped because someone thought your character was a “little too butch”?
That’s what I heard. Allegedly, Jim Aubrey, the president of CBS said so. I don’t know if it’s true because no one talks to you directly.
You said that as a young actor, they didn’t treat you like a kid. How so?
I was expected to be professional: showing up, knowing your lines, performing, interacting with other actors, and taking direction
In 1959, you fell in love with a woman, though you were not out at the time. Were you afraid of people finding out you were gay?
Totally frightened. You think your parents won’t love you, you think your friends will abandon you, you think your family will shun you, and you think your career is over. All of those things were very real.
You went to Harvard Law School at 34. Why the career change?
My acting career fell apart. I went back to UCLA, and I learned a great deal from my students. They said, “You’re interested in the rules and fairness; you ought to go to law school.” For kicks, I took the LSAT.
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
I wanted to study the law because if you didn’t understand the rules, you’d be at a disadvantage. It seemed like a good general degree that would serve you no matter what you did.
Were you frightened the first time you were in front of a judge?
Not until he sent me home for wearing a pantsuit.
For many years, you hosted Get Used to It, a national cable show. Used to what?
The chant at the time was, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
Are we used to it?
Yes, pretty much the country is used to it now.
What was your best job?
The one I have now.
What was your worst job?
Trying to be a consultant and piece together clients that I could feel good about representing.
You were voted the smartest California state legislator. Are you a smarty pants?
I’m pretty smart. All of the members, all of the staff, all of the press, and the third house—the lobbyists—voted.
You have been an elected official for more than 17 years. What should people know about the government?
We set, ratify, and change policy that affects virtually every minute of peoples’ lives.
You’ve long been a proponent of the singlepayer health care system. Is the time ripe?
Probably not. What I think is important for the country to understand is how well Medicare has served those of us over 65 and how much of a relief it would be not to have to worry about whether you’re going to have health insurance.
What are your retirement plans?
Writing an autobiography.
What characteristic did you most admire in your mother?
Her love of learning. She only finished the eighth grade because she had to work. It was a generalized being proud of learning things.
If you were handed $10 million tomorrow, what would you do with it?
Invest it so it would grow.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I’m a great singer. Every zero birthday, I give a concert, usually at the Neon Factory in the Valley.
What songs do you sing?
It’s mostly Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra…that genre.
Who is on your music play list?
It’s all classical.
What book is on your nightstand?
Which fictional hero would you like to be?
Frodo Baggins is the quintessential hero, the unintended hero. He’s generally been my role model.
Which magazine do you pick up at the doctor’s office?
I don’t read magazines.
Where do you go on a three-day weekend?
Cayucos, near Morro Bay. But, a three day weekend is not enough.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
Every two years I go to Napili, Maui, for two weeks, and then on the year that’s not that year, I go somewhere I’ve never been before.
Do you answer your e-mail while away?
Out of the country, no.
What is your favorite holiday?
What is the trait you’re most proud of?
My sense of humor.
What is your favorite sport as a participant?
In the old days, I loved bowling.
College basketball. I’ll always be a Bruin. Whatever UCLA does, I’m for them.
Which television show do you record?
I like the different shows that Marvel Comics has put on. I will always love Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
How do you get your news?
L.A. Times, every morning.
Is there a person from your past with whom you’d like to reconnect?
What do you make sure you have in your briefcase?
In an interview for the Archive of American Television, you said you had “never been a star of anything.” Do you still feel that way?
I do. I’ve learned the beauty of collaboration
What are the three most deplorable conditions in the world?
Hunger. Homelessness. Oppression.
Who are your two favorite U.S. presidents?
Abraham Lincoln and FDR.
What is the one word you would like on your tombstone?