Riding into office on the 1974 Watergate outrage-reform voting wave, California assemblyman Henry Waxman was placing the finishing teaches on an easy ascent into progressive politics. Facing his only challenge for office in a Democratic primary in 1968, Waxman held onto power with relative easy, never investing in lawn signs or other political advertising during his nearly forty-year tenure.
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. Gubernatorial candidates like Gray Davis had to meet with the Waxman-Berman machine before going ahead for a viable statewide run. Meeting in the stereotypical backrooms with cigar smoking fleeting about, Waxman and Co. could decide who would run, who wouldn't, and determined the dwindling inefficacy of the Republican Party in the region.
Working with Barbara Boxer, when she was a House Rep, Waxman pioneered legislation on AIDS, nutrition labels, and then smoking. As head of the House Sub-Committee on health, Waxman forced the CEOs of major tobacco firms, under oath, and they declared that smoking is not hazardous to one's health. These maneuvers before the camera positioned Waxman for greater influence in state and federal politics.
The machine's influence had its limits, such as California's 1992 US Senate race, in which Waxman christened West Los Angeles Congressman Meldon Levine for the Democratic nod, against San Francisco/Marin County's rep Barbara Boxer. The "Ma'am" became Senator, and Levine retired, only to resurface this year as President of the Department of Water and Power Board's president. Twenty years later, voters reforms would force Waxman and Berman to compete for their seats instead of rely on the back-rub, backroom Sacramedealings
Even though the Democrats lost the House majority in 1994, Waxman worked behind the scenes to get back into the majority. In 2006, the work paid off. First, 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".
Two years later, Democrats swept more seats in the House and the US Senate. Cajoling colleagues to support his ascension to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman defeat Michigan Congressman John Dingell, the heir presumptive for the post. From there, he authored Cap and Trade, including a last-minute three hundred page rider, filled with pork and paybacks for political allies. 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. Unlike in decades past, though, Waxman has not avoided the heat for this terrible law.
In 2012, just as his machine pal Howard Berman was facing the fight of his political career in the West Valley, Waxman found himself facing his first serious threat in decades, and from a Republican-turned-Independent named William Bloomfield.
And then there was me. My first foray into electoral politics, and I was taking on the liberal lion of the House.
I first confronted the man 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 respect to me. At the end of the meeting, I confronted him about his support for Cap and Trade, then showed him a slip of paper with my blog "Waxman Watch." He was evidently concerned.
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.
Then, I realized that politics had become a new game, one in which elections were becoming harder fought, and Rep. Waxman was not ready for it.
I confronted him at a Town Hall in Hermosa Beach the next year, since he weathered in to reelection by the slimmest margin of his career. 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 later comments and columns I wrote 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.
I later discovered that I was not the only constituent 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 leader of the club 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.
And there were the frequent pushing back from Republican lawmakers in the majority. One has to wonder how much more of minority government rule Waxman and his Democratic colleagues were willing to endure. Waxman was shut down numerous times as ranking member, from Rep. Whitfield of Kentucky to Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina. Assessing whether he wanted to remain in the minority of another decade, Waxman decided to retire.
Henry Waxman was the policy wonk and pork-barrel legislator which everyone despises, even though lawmakers left and right have to work with them. His tenure has ended in a whimper, much like his political-machine pal Howard Berman.