by Arthur Christopher Schaper
Riding into office on the 1974 Watergate outrage-reform voting wave, California assemblyman Henry Waxman launched his steady ascent into progressive politics. Working behind the scenes with local donors and federal power players, Waxman and his fellow liberal Democratic UCLA pal Howard Berman formed a political machine in West Los Angeles which dominated California politics for two decades, and determined the dwindling inefficacy of the Republican Party in the region.
Henry Waxman 1979
Waxman pioneered legislation on AIDS, nutrition labels, and smoking. As chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Health and Safety, Waxman forced the CEOs of major tobacco firms, under oath, and they declared that smoking is not hazardous to one’s health.
Into the 90s, Waxman’s influence seemed to peak. In California’s 1992 US Senate race, Waxman christened West Los Angeles Congressman Meldon Levine in the race against San Francisco/Marin County’s rep Barbara Boxer. The “Ma’am” became Senator, and Levine retired, only to resurface years later as President of the Department of Water and Power Board.
Then the Democrats lost the House majority in 1994, but Waxman kept politicking. In 2007, with Democratic returns to power in Congress, he landed the Oversight Committee Chairmanship, dragging baseball players and professional commissioners before the committee to investigate steroid abuse in baseball. His efforts were laughable, and exposed as such in this clip from Documentary “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”.
In 2008, Democrats swept the House and the US Senate.
Cajoling colleagues for support, Waxman defeat Michigan Congressman John Dingell presumptive for the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. From there, he authored Cap and Trade, including a last-minute three hundred page rider, filled with pork and paybacks. Thankfully, the measure died in the US Senate. Still, Waxman’s work was not done yet, working in line with leading Democrats to push the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. To this day, the American People do not care for this mangled monstrosity. Waxman has not avoided the heat for this terrible law.
In 2012, his waning was on the ascent. California’s electoral reforms forced him out of his West Los Angeles comfort zone into the moderate South Bay regions. Machine pal Berman faced the fight of his political career in the West Valley, and Waxman faced his first serious threat in decades, from Republican-turned-Independent William Bloomfield. And then there was me. My first foray into campaign politics, and I was taking on the liberal lion of the House.
I first confronted the Congressman in Palos Verdes, the most conservative section of his new Congressional district. A small man with a large nose, he did not command a great deal of. At the end of the meeting, I questioned him about his Cap and Trade bill, then showed him a slip of paper with my blog “Waxman Watch.”
I met him in Venice next, where he shook my hand. Then I tried to confront him a third time in an open forum in Redondo Beach. There, he shut me down, and the moderator of the forum blocked me from speaking. He was visibly scared about all the information I had accumulated and published about him. Politics had become a new game, one in which elections were becoming harder fought, and Rep. Waxman was not ready for it.
After his close reelection, I confronted him at a Town Hall in Hermosa Beach. Again he was visibly disturbed, and he ducked my questions. After the meeting, I confronted him with the same remarks from Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina: “What would you like to tell them?” This theme dominated my subsequent comments and columns about Waxman. “What would you like to tell them, Henry?”
From the postal workers in Redondo Beach, to the West Los Angeles homeless veterans still not receiving adequate care, to the residents of the South Bay who have lost their health insurance because of Obamacare. To this day, he has not told us anything.
Reduced to ranking status in the House minority, Waxman had to tolerate the frequent pushing back from the House Republican majority. Waxman was shut down numerous times as ranking member, from Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky to Renee Ellmers of North Carolina (as well as Rep, Mulvaney). Not just lawmakers, but constituents were giving him a hard time.
At a public forum in Santa Monica, another riled activist yelled at him in the middle of the meeting, then tried to confront him after the meeting. A few months later, the Torrance Democratic club invited Waxman to South Torrance.
When local conservative protestors wanted to attend, the club’s leader blocked them from attending. I reported that “Henry Waxman doesn’t do town hall meetings“, and the public response was quite something. A reporter from Detroit, Michigan also confronted him about the government bailout (and fail) of General Motors.
Assessing the dwindling Democratic House minority and rising voter angst against his policies for another decade, Waxman decided to retire.
Congressman Henry Waxman, the policy wonk and pork-barrel legislator whom many despised and feared, has ended his tenure in a whimper, much like his political-machine pal Howard Berman, and not a moment too soon.
Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance.
Twitter — @ArthurCSchaper